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 will get things rolling with the quarterbacks and running backs.
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.
Today, we will be finishing out the offensive skill positions by taking a look at the wide receivers and tight ends.
For a couple years now, the idea of bringing in a veteran receiver has been tossed around. Whether or not you have an issue with JuJu Smith-Schuster dancing on logos and making TikTok videos, and whether or not you have an issue with Chase Claypool celebrating a reception while the clock is running and the team is behind, one word has defined the Steelers wide receiver room over the past couple years: immaturity. I would not be surprised at all to see the Steelers bring in a veteran free agent at wide receiver.
Let’s take a closer look and see which receivers and tight ends could be available when the new league year begins.
Here are the top free agents at the wide receiver position, per Spotrac.
Allen Robinson (Age: 28)
Chris Godwin (Age: 25)
Davante Adams (Age: 29)
Will Fuller (Age: 27)
Jamison Crowder (Age: 28)
JuJu Smith-Schuster (Age: 25)
Emmanuel Sanders (Age: 34)
A.J. Green (Age: 33)
Keelan Cole (Age: 28)
Mike Williams (Age: 27)
Here is the Steelers’ current depth chart at wide receiver:
Diontae Johnson (under contract through 2022)
JuJu Smith-Schuster (UFA)
Chase Claypool (under contract through 2023)
James Washington (UFA)
RayRay McCloud (UFA)
Anthony Miller (under contract through 2022)
Steven Sims, Jr. (under contract through 2022)
Based on the current depth chart, it is evident that the Steelers will need to replace several of their receivers in the near future. Bringing back JuJu Smith-Schuster or James Washington is not out of the question, but there may be cheaper alternatives that will serve the Steelers better in the long run.
Let’s take a look at who a few of those alternatives could be.
A.J. Green may not be the same player he once was, but if he can get through a full season healthy, I believe he still has some gas left in the tank. Most importantly, though, he is a seasoned veteran who has never been a distraction to his team, and he has always displayed good character on and off the field. A 33-year-old Green would not break the bank, and his influence inside the locker room would be huge for the development of Chase Claypool. Green is also a willing blocker, which is something that could be of value to the Steelers if JuJu Smith-Schuster is not retained.
Preston Williams (RFA)
Miami has a chance to match any offer another team gives if they want to keep Williams, but more than likely, he will become available for the taking. Williams battled off-the-field issues during a portion of his collegiate career, but he seems to have matured as he has gotten older, as those issues seem to be in the rear-view mirror. If not for a surprisingly bad pro-day performance, the 6’5”, 220 pound Williams would have gone much higher in the draft. He is a good athlete who displays impressive instincts and hands as a receiver. The most intriguing part of his game, however, is his ability to win the contested catches, and that was one of the few things James Washington excelled at despite his size. As a low-cost option, I like Williams’ upside.
The Steelers have lacked a true burner at receiver since the days of Martavis Bryant, and finding that deep threat with sub 4.4 speed should be a priority. MVS is no Tyreek Hill, but at 6’4”, 206 pounds, he has impressive long speed. He ran a 4.39 at the scouting combine in 2018, and he has displayed his big-play capability with the Packers, averaging 17.7 yards per catch throughout his first four years in the NFL. Although he struggled with drops earlier on in his career, he rebounded nicely in that department in 2021, dropping 0 passes in the 11 games he was healthy enough to play in. If the Steelers can get him from the bargain-bin, it could pay big dividends down the line.
Other potential signings: DJ Chark, Will Fuller
Ideal scenario: Sign A.J. Green to a two-year deal, and choose one of the size/speed combo guys to sign, whether it be Preston Williams, DJ Chark, Will Fuller, or Marquez Valdes-Scantling. DJ Chark was on the rise before his ankle injury, and Will Fuller is one of the most dangerous receivers in football when available. The only concern is price. The Steelers have the money to sign either one of them if they so choose, but does the value outweigh the risk? There are injury concerns with both of them, and Fuller cannot stay clean off the field. I would not rule out JuJu Smith-Schuster re-signing with the Steelers, but with the team likely to invest in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool long-term, both parties may be better off financially if Smith-Schuster moves on.
Here are the top free agents at the tight end position, per Spotrac.
Zach Ertz (Age: 31)
Jimmy Graham (Age: 35)
Rob Gronkowski (Age: 32)
C.J. Uzomah (Age: 29)
Eric Ebron (Age: 28)
Gerald Everett (Age: 27)
Jared Cook (Age: 34)
Maxx Williams (Age: 27)
Mo Alie-Cox (Age: 28)
Robert Tonyan, Jr. (Age: 27)
Here is the current Steelers depth chart at tight end:
Pat Freiermuth (under contract through 2024)
Eric Ebron (UFA)
Zach Gentry (under contract through 2022)
Kevin Rader (under contract through 2022)
Jace Sternberger (under contract through 2022)
Based on the current depth chart, the Steelers will likely need to add somebody to the tight end room through either free agency or the draft. Pat Freiermuth is emerging into a star, but he is the only tight end under contract in 2023. Let’s take a look and see which players could be viable options in free agency.
Howard has never been given a chance to be a number one tight end. Jameis Winston developed a better chemistry with Cameron Brate, and when Tom Brady came to town, Rob Gronkowski came with, forcing him to accept a backup role once again. He was primarily used as a blocker early on in his career, but his athleticism is what turned him into a first-round pick back in 2017. He has not reached his full ceiling as a prospect, and I can not help but think of what the damage he could do to defenses in 2-tight-end sets with Pat Freiermuth.
Rumor had it that the Steelers were high on Njoku back in 2017 when he was coming out of college. He will not be of much help as a blocker, and there have been periods of time when his hands were not the most reliable, but he is an explosive tight end who is incredibly dangerous up the seam. In other words, he is a slightly more reliable version of Eric Ebron. I generally prefer tight ends that can block, but at the right price, I could see Njoku as a nice complement to Freiermuth.
Dissly is a better receiver than people give him credit for, but blocking is his forte. After the Seahawks brought in Gerald Everett last season, it became evident that the 2021 season would likely be his last with Seattle. He may not have the ceiling of O.J. Howard or David Njoku, but he would be a solid number two tight end who can be of assistance to an offensive line that is in a state of transition.
Other potential signings: Ricky Seals-Jones, Chris Herndon
Ideal scenario: Howard and Njoku remain unsigned through the first week of free agency, causing their price to come down and making it more feasible for the Steelers to sign one of them. At the end of the day, I do not see this as a position that needs to be addressed in the first wave of free agency. Fill the more pressing needs first, and then come back around to other positions if there is money left over.
Which wide receivers and tight ends would you like to see the Steelers sign in free agency? Do any of the names on these lists appeal to you? Is there someone not mentioned in the article that you believe to be a good fit? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!