In years past, the easy answer to why the Steelers would choose not to use the franchise tag would be “money.” In 2022, the Steelers are not in nearly as bad of a situation in regards to the salary cap. While it is quite the blessing the Steelers do not have to let players go who they would like to keep simply to become salary cap compliant, it also does not mean that the Steelers should be frivolous with their money.
Even if the Steelers had the most cap space in the NFL, a designation currently held by the Miami Dolphins, it still wouldn’t be likely they use the franchise tag in 2022. It’s not about spending money the Steelers have available, it’s more about the players not being worth the huge one-year contract that comes with the franchise tag.
To better explain, let’s look at some of the top Steelers players who had the biggest salaries last season that will become free agents when the league year begins on March 16. Before diving in, I do want to mention another option which is slightly less expensive, the transition tag. There is no compensation tied to losing a player if they sign a deal elsewhere, as it would only be a right of first refusal in order to match the contract. Even though the transition tag is generally a couple million dollars less than the franchise tag, we’ll stick with the franchise tag numbers for now. All franchise tag estimated amounts come courtesy of overthecap.com.
Joe Haden & Ahkello Witherspoon
Franchise Tag: $17,295,000
I combined players at the same position for the Steelers as it didn’t make sense to have to list the numbers again. In looking at the franchise tag for cornerbacks, I don’t think Steelers fans would be happy if they signed both Joe Haden and Ahkello Witherspoon for them to total more than $17 million next season. There’s no way the Steelers would consider even one of them at this amount. Even after Haden having such a big contract with the Steelers, his huge cap hit from last season was just over $15.5 million and the amount of cash paid was $7 million. There is no way Joe Haden gets a raise at 33 years old. As for Witherspoon, although he finished the year strong, it wasn’t $17 million dollars strong. If the Steelers are going to be willing to spend that amount of money on a cornerback, it’s not on someone who was on their roster in 2021.
Franchise Tag: $19,127,000
Even if he wouldn’t have been injured for most of the 2021 season, there are plenty of Steelers fans who did not like paying JuJu Smith-Schuster $8 million last season. Could you imagine the reaction if the Steelers decided he was worth $19 million for one year? And we thought the addition of Pat Meyer got Steelers Nation fired up.
Franchise Tag: $13,544,000
I know the Steelers are not seriously considering Terrell Edmunds for the franchise tag, but I thought I would throw him into the mix, if nothing more to show how much it would cost for a safety. The fact the Steelers declined the fifth-year option last offseason, which would have paid Edmunds about $6.5 million, is enough to know there’s no way they are touching $13.5 million. But just so everyone knows that this is the estimated number for 2022 and it will only go up for 2023 if the Steelers find the need next year to tag Minkah Fitzpatrick if they can’t work out a deal.
Trai Turner & Chuks Okorafor
Franchise Tag: $16,698,000
The Steelers have two starters on the offensive line who are set to become free agents next month, but neither Trai Turner nor Chuks Okorafor should even have their names mentioned in the same sentence as the words franchise tag. Any member of the offensive line would cost close to $17 million in 2022 to hold onto for just one season as the NFL does not differentiate based on position. A little known fact, the Steelers entire spending on the offensive line last season was less than the 2022 franchise tag.
After looking at the numbers at a few specific positions, it’s easy to see that the Steelers don’t have impending free agents who would bring in anywhere close to this type of contract. When looking at the actual numbers, the only player on the team who will be earning more money this season than what they would get under the franchise tag is T.J. Watt. As for Cameron Heyward, even though his salary cap number is higher than that of a defensive lineman playing on the franchise tag, the actual cash paid for the season is not.
Knowing how much it would cost to use the franchise tag in 2022, don’t look for the Steelers to be making an announcement of tagging a player anytime soon. Although the window opened on Tuesday for teams to use the franchise tag, they still have until 4 PM on Tuesday, March 8 to make a decision. As for the Steelers, the decision should be fairly clear and their effort should be focused on which of their players set to become free agents they want to sign back for a reasonable contract.