The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of salary cap space this offseason, and while the majority of fans are looking at bringing in new names, it should be noted several of the Steelers’ free agents should be primary targets to be retained.
Yes, I’m suggesting some of the players from the 9-7-1 team from 2021 should be retained. Below are the Top 5 players I believe the Steelers should retain, and my reasoning behind it.
Not sure who is on the Steelers’ complete list of free agents? Check the list below:
Of course, you are free to choose your own Top 5 and let me know where I was wrong in the comment section below.
Now onto the list...
1. JuJu Smith-Schuster
When it comes to the stock of a player, Smith-Schuster’s stock has never been lower after missing the vast majority of 2021 with a shoulder injury. He did himself a huge favor by battling back and playing in the Steelers’ AFC Wild Card game, but if the Steelers want to lock up Smith-Schuster for multiple years, now is the time. On top of the price tag for Smith-Schuster, the Steelers could use his grit and experience in the team’s wide receiver room.
2. Akhello Witherspoon
It is still wild for me to consider fans’ attitudes, and I would definitely be in this category, who went from ‘Witherspoon is a waste’ to ‘Witherspoon must be retained’. However, here we are, and Witherspoon’s play has fans seeing how important he can be to the future of the team’s secondary. His play down the stretch certainly will ratchet up his price, but if the organization feels he is a long-term solution at cornerback, you don’t want to let him get away.
3. Terrell Edmunds
There is definitely a “Terrell Edmunds Hate Club” in the Steelers fan base, and those who are a part of that club don’t want the Steelers to bring him back. However, the Steelers should absolutely consider bringing back Edmunds if his price tag doesn’t go through the roof. Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who’s contract will be taken care of like T.J. Watt’s last season, could be a tremendous safety duo for years to come. But if Edmunds’ price tag is too much, the Steelers would be wise to let him walk and try to address safety in either free agency/the 2022 NFL Draft. Edmunds should still be a priority.
4. Montravius Adams
Similar to Witherspoon, Adams came on strong for the Steelers down the stretch. Despite Tyson Alualu returning in 2022, the team could use a more permanent fixture at nose tackle. The 26 year old Adams came to the Steelers via the New Orleans Saints practice squad, and hit the ground running. Adams showed tremendous get off all season, an ability to get after the quarterback and a motor which was impressive when tracking down ball carriers. He isn’t the next coming of Casey Hampton, but could be a very valuable asset for the Steelers to bring back in 2022.
5. Joe Haden
This was a difficult decision for me when narrowing this list down to five players. I would love nothing more than the Steelers to keep Haden, but only at the right price. If Haden is expecting anything more than a two-year contract, then he can find that contract elsewhere. On top of duration, if Haden is expecting market value, considering he is on the wrong side of 30 years old, he can find that contract elsewhere. But if Haden is willing to stay in Pittsburgh, and give the team a fair contract for both his age and value, I’d gladly bring him back to help solidify the back end of the secondary.
Other players the Steelers should consider bringing back:
It isn’t McCloud’s fault he was targeted a ridiculous amount of times filling in for JuJu Smith-Schuster. To me, he showed value not just as a returner, but also as a receiving threat. If the Steelers can get him on the cheap, he can be a valuable member of the offense in 2022.
I’ll be ripped for this, but if the Steelers bring Okorafor back as someone who will compete for a starting job, or be the team’s swing tackle, they should see if they can get that deal done. Okorafor can be serviceable at both left and right tackle, and that brings value. Let him test the free agent waters, and if he remains unsigned after the first wave, see if you can find some middle ground on a two-year deal.
Killebrew was a special teams demon for the Steelers, but also played a role on the defense. When you are talking about retaining players who are specifically special teams players, you have to adjust the pay accordingly. If the Steelers lose Edmunds, Killebrew could have some leverage with the team, but if they can retain this core special team player, it would be a good addition for the next season, or two.
If, and only if, Charlton is willing to take a veteran minimum contract, I’d bring him back to compete at OLB. Considering when he was signed in 2021, there is a chance that happens. Given a year in the system, Charlton would be able to take that experience and turn it into production in 2022.
I talked about these players, and much more, on the latest Let’s Ride podcast. Check it out below: