NFL free agency is right around the corner, and the 2022 free agent class is a strong one. Considering 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 will continue looking at what the Steelers should have more interest in than anything: the 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 each player was cut. It is true this team has plenty of needs, but it is encouraging to know several of these needs can be filled with quality free agent signings, thanks to the unusually large amount of cap space.
Let’s dive into a position near and dear to the hearts of Steelers fans: Center
Here are the top free agents at the center position based off 2021 Average Annual Value, per Spotrac.
Ryan Jensen (Age: 30)
Matt Paradis (Age: 32)
Ben Jones (Age: 32)
Justin Britt (Age: 30)
Ted Karras (Age: 28)
Tyler Shatley (Age: 30)
Nick Martin (Age: 28)
Josh Andrews (Age: 30)
Tyler Larsen (Age: 30)
B.J. Finney (Age: 30)
Aside from Kendrick Green, who is listed as a guard on Spotrac; and B.J. Finney, who is a pending free agent; the Steelers do not have any centers on their roster.
Let’s take a look at my favorite options at center in free agency, beginning with what I believe is the best value signing at the position.
Cole is a former third-round pick of the Cardinals who was a starter two of his three years with the team. After being traded to the Vikings in 2021, Cole was expected to be the primary backup at both center and guard, but with Garrett Bradbury’s struggles, Cole saw increased playing time as the season progressed. He finished the season with 0 penalties and only 2 sacks in 471 offensive snaps. As a matter of fact, Cole is only responsible for 7 sacks and 12 penalties in 2,537 snaps in his NFL career. Those are incredibly solid numbers, especially for someone who is perceived by many as just an average starter at best.
Communication and consistency have been the driving forces to Cole’s success, and while he is not the most athletic or powerful lineman, he provides stability at one of the most important positions in football. Another interesting part about Cole is that he played a good amount of left tackle in college as well, earning a second-team All-Big Ten nomination at that position in 2017. His pass blocking was not strong enough to last on the outside when transitioning to the pros, but in an emergency, he could move outside at the snap of a finger. Cole is the best buy in the pool of free agent centers, as he will provide starter-capable play at a relatively cheap price. With the uncertainty surrounding Kendrick Green at center, he would be an ideal player to target.
Jensen is the only name most Steelers fans bring up when discussing free agent centers, as he is undeniably the best one available. On the down side, he will come at a very high price. Spotrac has his market value at $10 million, but it would be a surprise to nobody if he matches, or even surpasses, Corey Linsley’s $12.5 million per year contract that was agreed to last offseason. Considering he will be 31 by the time the 2022 season rolls around, I do not expect him to get quite what Linsley received, but I see something in the $11 million range as the most likely outcome, as it would make him the third-highest paid center in the NFL. If the Steelers want him badly enough, they have the money to make it happen.
Allen is yet another intriguing option for the Steelers. If you want someone who is half the price of Jensen, four years younger than Jensen, and potentially a better schematic fit than Jensen, Allen and Cole are both names you should pay close attention to when the free agent market opens. Allen earned an impressive 80.2 PFF grade in 2021, getting penalized only 5 times allowing only 5 sacks in 903 offensive snaps. Despite his lack of elite athleticism, Allen is almost exclusively a zone blocker who could be an ideal fit in Pat Meyer’s scheme. I expect the Steelers to show significant interest in Allen if the Rams do not re-sign him.
Allen's overtake on this zone combo pic.twitter.com/WFB1E5fhJe— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) January 8, 2022
Which centers would you like to see the Steelers consider in free agency? 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!