NFL free agency is right around the corner, and the 2022 free agent class is a strong one. Considering that the Steelers will have more money than normal to work with in free agency, there are likely to be more roster moves than normal this March. With excitement raging among the fan base, it is time to take a closer look at which free agents the Steelers should consider signing.
Between now and March, I will be breaking down each position’s outlook in free agency, listing the top players at each position and determining which ones make the most sense for the Steelers. Today, we be looking at yet another area the Steelers need to add talent at: interior offensive line
As it currently stands, the Steelers have an estimated $34,018,712 to spend, and that number will likely grow. Potential cut candidates Joe Schobert, Zach Banner, Chris Wormley, Joe Haeg, and Derek Watt could free up as much as a combined $20,584,352 in the event that each player was cut. It is true that this team has plenty of needs, but it is encouraging to know that several of these needs can be filled with quality free agent signings, thanks to the unusually large amount of cap space.
Let’s begin with a the guards.
Here are the top free agents at guard based off 2021 Average Annual Value, per Spotrac.
Brandon Scherff (Age: 30)
Andrew Norwell (Age: 30)
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (Age: 31)
Alex Lewis (Age: 29)
Laken Tomlinson (Age: 30)
Mark Glowinski (Age: 29)
A.J. Cann (Age: 30)
Dan Feeney (Age: 27)
Trai Turner (Age: 28)
Ethan Pocic (Age: 26)
*Austin Corbett, James Daniels, Alex Cappa, and Connor Williams will be among the most popular names available but did not make the top 10 in 2021 AAV.
The Steelers’ current depth chart at guard is as follows:
Kevin Dotson (under contract through 2023)
Trai Turner (UFA)
B.J. Finney (UFA)
John Leglue (Under contract through 2022)
Malcolm Pridgeon (under contract through
Nate Gilliam (under contract through 2022)
Based on the current Steelers depth chart, guard is a position that will need to be addressed in some sort or fashion this offseason. I do not expect to see Trai Tuner back, but perhaps the Steelers bring back Finney as an experienced backup. John Leglue filled in admirably for Kevin Dotson last season, and he looks like the number three guard of the future. However, that still leaves one starter spot open. Perhaps the Steelers try to move Kendrick Green to guard, but I do not think one can reasonably expect him to be an immediate starter at that position. There are several guards I like in the middle rounds of the draft, but let’s take a closer look at who could be a nice fit in free agency.
Corbett was not on the trajectory he was hoping for his career when in Cleveland, but after being moved around the Browns’ offensive line that was constantly in flux, he was traded to the Rams for day three compensation. The Rams made him exclusively a right guard this past season, and he became one of the strongholds of their offensive line. Personally, I would rather find a left guard and move Kevin Dotson back to his natural position at right guard, but a combination of Dotson and Corbett could be one of the best guard combos in the league for years to come if Dotson can remain healthy.
I do not see Daniels hitting the open market, but if he does, he will be a hot commodity. He is not the biggest or most powerful guard, but he is a fantastic athlete who can pull and move laterally as smoothly as any guard in this free agent class. He is projected to make nearly $10 million per year if he hits the open market, but if the Steelers are going to commit to their outside-zone rushing scheme, he may be the better fit with the Steelers than any other free agent guard.
An intriguing trait that distinguishes Pocic from many of the other free agent guards is versatility. He has experience at both guard and center and has had some success at both sports, although he seemed to be a more natural fit at guard. His length sometimes works against him, as he can struggle to get his pads low enough as a run blocker from time to time, but he has good footwork, good balance, and an ability to pull when asked to. If the Steelers lose out on Daniels and Corbett, Pocic may be an intriguing fallback option.
Other potential signings: Elijah Wilkinson, B.J. Finney
Ideal scenario(s): Steelers draft Virginia Tech guard Lecitus Smith in the third round of the draft and sign Elijah Wilkinson in the second wave of free agency. Considering the gaping hole at guard, though, I would not be surprised to see the Steelers go after a big name here. If they do indeed go after a big name, I expect them to sign either James Daniels or Austin Corbett to a four-year contract in the range of $40-42.5 million.
Which guards pique your interest? Do you see the Steelers spending money at this position in free agency? Light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!