Remember the EA Sports game NFL Head Coach? Perhaps you enjoy Madden Franchise Mode, no? Maybe you are like me and not a big gamer, but you still love to fantasize over what could happen in the NFL offseason. If you can relate to any of the above, you will enjoy today’s article.
With the legal tampering period for pending free agents beginning today, it is time to take a look at what the perfect scenario would be for the Steelers this offseason. Today, we will look at everything from the general manager’s eyes, from restructures, to trades, to free agent signings, to the draft, and even to roster construction. In other words, we play the role of general manager and make every decision this offseason.
At the time when this article was written, Spotrac had the Steelers listed with $29,598,950 of cap space. However, they had not put into account the $2.54 million tender the Steelers are placing on Dwayne Haskins. They also had not accounted for the signing of Miles Killebrew, which will likely cost the Steelers $2 million in 2022. This knocks the projected cap space down to $25,058,950.
To keep things simple, we are going to use as many round numbers as possible when it comes to signing new free agents. In other words, we will be rounding every contract up to the next ten thousand dollar increment rather than breaking it down dollar per dollar. We are also not going to use void years in any of these contracts. The goal is to make this exercise as simple as possible and easy enough for any Steelers fan who can pass a basic math class to understand.
Disclaimer 1: Unlike my mock drafts, this is an exercise showing what I would like to see done this offseason, not necessarily what I think will happen this offseason. This is just for fun, and I realize that the vast majority of these recommended moves will not happen.
Disclaimer 2: If you are a Mason Rudolph, Zach Banner, or Joe Schobert apologist, do not read too heavily into the analysis underneath, as it will cause massive, uncontainable, and bombastic jargon that only my buddy JV2K13 would understand (no shade intended, Jim! Appreciate your faithfulness to the site, and love reading your long-winded rants!).
Disclaimer 3: If you do not want the Steelers to have an elite left tackle on their roster, ignore the free agency part of the article. Side effects could include nausea, dizziness, and trouble swallowing.
Disclaimer 4: If you feel about Mitchell Trubisky like most Steelers fans feel about Joe Flacco, ignore the free agency part of the article, because Joe Flacco is not Trubisky. That is a horrible comparison! Mitch is literally Peyton Manning with a beard... except with about eight inches less of forehead. The Steelers should sign him for that reason alone! I just wanted to make sure you all know I want to sign him, especially since I am telling you not to read the part where I talk about why we need to sign him. At least this way, you should be able to keep your temperament and not throw an Antonio-Brown tantrum in the comment section since you be completely unaware of the amount of money we will pay him.
I think I got all the announcements out of the way, but if I think of anything else, I will let yinz know! Until I do, you are welcome to begin reading my plan. Just remember, if I think of any other important information to share, you will need to stop and read it before moving onto the rest of my perfect plan. Here we go!
Cap savings on the restructures are approximate amounts.
Cameron Heyward is due a $4.5 million roster bonus on March 20. In this exercise, we will spread that $4.5 million evenly over 2022, 2023, and 2024.
T.J. Watt’s 2022 cap number is currently just north of $31,000,000. However, the Steelers have the ability to convert as much as $23,000,000 of his salary into a signing bonus, per BTSC’s Dave Schofield. This would lower his cap hit by just under $17,250,000 this season. In this exercise, we will do exactly that, That $23,000,000 will be spread out evenly over the next four seasons, creating an additional $5,750,000 cap hit in 2023, 2024, and 2025.
Total 2022 cap savings: $20,250,000
Updated Cap Space: $45,308,950
Disclaimer 5: Do not feel too bitterly if I decide to replace all three of last year’s starting corners. Feelings have to be ignored in this industry. You have to treat everyone that enters your office as if they are Myles Garrett. Don’t worry, we all have our helmets locked and loaded around here! I could have asked Mason for his, but since I am about to release him, I felt it would be in bad taste. Instead, I have the helmet AB left in his locker that he forgot to clean out after being traded to the Raiders. And yes, it is an AiR Advantage helmet from 2009. How many players wear 3XL sized helmets, though? Apparently, AB had a big head long before we knew about it.
Arthur Maulet (this article was written before the reports of Maulet re-signing with the Steelers were announced)
Wild Card: Joe Haden
It would be ideal to bring back Joe Haden as the veteran leader in the secondary, but we started to see some regression last season, and he is no longer a scheme-versatile player. Haden has said that he wants to test real free agency for the first time in his career, and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, says that Haden is expecting a very strong market. Unless Haden is willing to come back to Pittsburgh on a contract worth less than $5 million per year, I would not consider it wise to bring him back.
Joe Schobert (cap savings: $7,934,352)
Zach Banner (cap savings: $5,000,000)
Mason Rudolph (cap savings: $3,000,000)
Do not get your hopes up, because this one is not happening. Nonetheless, we have seen what Rudolph brings to the table, and everyone has come the realization that he is not the future. Yes, experience with the team matters, but if we are being honest, the $3,000,000 the Steelers would free up by making this move could be used toward much better things than Rudolph. At this point, both sides just need a fresh start. Josh Dobbs could be brought back on a cheaper deal if in-house experience is the only reason they have to keep him.
Derek Watt (cap savings: $2,750,000)
The Steelers can get Connor Heyward on day three of the draft and save a nice chunk of money in the process.
Joe Haeg (cap savings: $2,600,000)
I can understand where Schobert would have value on this roster, but there are several intriguing names the Steelers can replace him with in free agency, and they would not cost any more than Haeg.
Chris Wormley (cap savings: $2,300,000)
Wormley contributed nicely as a pass rusher in 2021 but struggled against the run. If Stephon Tuitt comes back, there is no reason to keep him.
Justin Layne (cap savings: $965,000)
This one hurts a lot, as I have always been a big supporter of Justin Layne. However, as you will see down below, the chances of him making the roster in this scenario would be almost nothing. So let’s get what we can while we can.
Ulysees Gilbert (cap savings: $965,000)
I have always liked Gilbert, but the nagging injuries have derailed his career. When you can save $1 million by cutting a guy who is not likely to make the roster anyway, you do it.
Benny Snell, Jr. (cap savings: $965,000)
Snell simply lacks the explosiveness to make a big difference at the NFL level. I would take the $965,000 of extra space and run with it.
Carlos Davis (cap savings: $871,264)
With a deep pool of talent at defensive line in both free agency and the draft, he could be on the outside looking in when it comes to making the 53-man roster.
Total cap savings: $27,350,616
Cap space after cuts: $72,659,566
Listed in order of importance
SS Terrell Edmunds (3 years, $18,000,000)
DL Montravious Adams (2 years, $2,500,000)
EDGE Taco Charlton (2 years, $2,000,000)
QB Josh Dobbs (1 year, $1,100,000)
RB Kalen Ballage (1 year, $920,000)
ILB Robert Spillane (1 year, $1,500,000)
J.C. Hassenauer (1 year, $850,000)
Total 2022 cost: $12,620,000
Remaining Cap Space: $60,039,566
Greetings and Salutations!
Before we dive in, let me make it clear that I am not generally a proponent of pushing the weight of a contract to future seasons. However, Spotrac is projecting the 2022 salary cap to take another big rise and reach $239,000,000. The basic laws of supply and demand teach us that player’s salaries will inflate along with the increased cap, but I do not believe the effect will be felt until the following offseason. With that in mind, you will see slightly larger cap hits in 2023 on a couple of these players, but I tried to keep it within reason and keep the cap situation somewhat manageable in 2023.
First Wave Signings
Terron Armstead — 3 years, $60,000,000
Cap hit spread out as follows: 2022- $15,000,000; 2023- $22,000,000; 2024- $23,000,000
The Steelers have not spent much capital on the left tackle position in recent memory, and it would be nice to finally find an elite blind-side protector. While Dan Moore showed progression down the stretch last season, his skill set translates better as a right tackle, where his nastiness would be more effective in the run game and his technique issues would not be as big of a concern. Armstead is 31 years old, but he has shown no signs of regression. He is clearly one of the few elite tackles in the NFL.
Stephon Gilmore — CB — 2 years, $25,000,000
Cap hit spread out as follows: 2022- $10,000,000, 2023: $15,000,000
Gilmore’s age will keep him from getting the money that a J.C. Jackson will on the market, but he should still see a sturdy paycheck coming his way. Do not forget that there is familiarity between Gilmore and Brian Flores from their days together in New England. J.C. Jackson would be my dream at corner, but to sign everyone else I wanted to in this exercise, there simply was not enough money to sign him.
Mitchell Trubisky — 2 years, $20,000,000
Cap hit spread out as follows: 2022- $10,000,000; 2023- $10,000,000
I am not getting into a bidding war with the Giants to bring Trubisky in, but I would be willing to pay him the $10 million insiders are saying he might get. His ability to play under center combined with his mobility inside and outside the pocket makes him an intriguing fit in Matt Canada’s scheme.
Mason Cole— OC — 3 years, $6,000,000
Cap hit spread out as follows: 2022- $2,000,000; 2023- $2,000,000; 2024- $2,000,000
Cole is by no means an elite center, but he was rock solid for both Minnesota and Arizona, and he has enough versatility to play guard and even tackle in an emergency situation. The biggest thing here, though, is the consistency and stability he would bring to the center position. It would allow the Steelers to take it easy on Kendrick Green and let him press the reset button. The Steelers do not need someone spectacular at center, but they need someone who will stabilize the line in the short-term. Cole will do exactly that.
Tyrell Crosby — 3 years, $8,000,000
Cap hit spread out as follows: 2022- $2,000,000; 2023- $2,000,000; 2024- $4,000,000
Crosby is an interesting story. He was knocked out of a starting role when the Lions drafted Penei Sewell in 2021, and nothing went right for him afterward. He was surprisingly released at roster cuts due to an injury. After clearing waivers, he ended up returning to the Lions but was placed on injured reserve with a back injury before the season began. However, this injury was misdiagnosed by the Lions’ medical staff, causing serious ripple effects on his 2022 free agency outlook. Crosby finally had back surgery in December to fix the actual problem, but this unfortunate occurrence destroyed any chance he had at getting a big payday in free agency. He has starting experience at both tackle positions, and he would actually be cheaper than any of the Steelers’ in-house candidates for the swing tackle role in 2021.
Preston Williams — 2 years, $1,800,000
Cap hit spread out as follows: 2022- $950,000; 2023- $850,000
Williams dealt with some nagging injuries last season, but when he was given a larger role back in 2019, he proved that he is capable of winning on contested catches and beating defenses over the top. If the Steelers lose James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster, this is exactly the type of receiver the Steelers could use. What is most exciting about Williams is that he will cost almost nothing. When we look back at this free agency class five years from now, Williams may go down as one of the best value signings in the class.
Jarrad Davis — 1 year, $2,500,000
Much like Crosby, the beginning of Davis’ career was hampered by a lousy head coach who failed to relate to his players. Davis signed a one-year $5,500,000 deal with the Jets last year but could not stay healthy. Davis appears to be 100% and ready to go for 2022, but whoever signs him will not be offering much more than a one-year prove-it deal.
Tavon Young — 2 years, $7,500,000
Cap hit spread out as follows: 2022- 3,000,000; 2023- $4,500,000
Young has suffered three season-ending injuries in the past four seasons, but I could actually see this signing as a possibility, especially when you consider the fact that the Steelers were supposedly high on him coming out of college. I do not expect him to make anywhere near what he made on his last deal with the Ravens, but he will still provide a team with good production from the slot.
Sidney Jones — 1 year, $3,500,000
OverTheCap is valuing Jones at just over $3,000,000, but to play it safe, we will round up to $3,500,000. Jones was targeted a plenty during his time in Seattle, but many feel as if he was a number two corner being asked to play the role of the number one corner. Jones is not going to break the bank on the open market, but if he can sign a one-year deal with a team that will allow him to be a number two corner, he will likely get a bigger paycheck in 2023.
Maurice Hurst — 2 years, $2,500,000
Cap hit spread out as follows: 2022- $1,500,000; 2023- $1,000,000
Christopher Herndon — TE — 1 year, $850,000
Total 2022 Cost: $51,300,000
Remaining Cap Space: $8,739,566
To Trade For
If Packers quarterback Jordan Love were in the 2022 NFL Draft, he would probably be the first quarterback off the board. That said, there are warranted concerns with Love. For one, Love did not look extremely impressive in limited action in 2021. However, I think much of that was due to the newness of playing in a real NFL game, as he looked unsure of himself in the pocket. If a coaching staff can get him to trust his ability as a passer, I think he will be fine. The other question that is brought up with Love is, “If the Packers thought he was the answer, why did they decide to bring back Rodgers?” In my opinion, it had everything to do with Aaron Rodgers still playing at an MVP level, and it had nothing to do with Love. Nonetheless, it is a valid question that I do not have the definite answer for.
If the Steelers could bring in Love for a third-round pick, I would pull the trigger. I would even toy with the idea of offering a second-round pick, but because we do not know his availability just yet, I am going to leave any Jordan Love trade out of this exercise.
To Trade Away
I like Cameron Sutton, do not get me wrong. However, with Teryl Austin in charge of the defense, it is time to make the transition to more man coverage looks. As much as I think Sutton can be a nice third cornerback on a roster, he would hinder what the Steelers could potentially do in a man-coverage-oriented scheme. Austin does not a pure man defense, but he does mix in a lot of man coverage looks, and every Steelers fan in their mother knows that playing more man coverage on defense is the only way the Steelers defense is going to be able slow down the elite quarterbacks of the AFC. Sutton would still provide value when the Steelers are in zone, but if they can get something in return, it would be worthwhile to trade him after signing multiple corners as suggested above. In this exercise, we are trading Sutton to the cornerback-needy Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a fifth-round pick (153) and cornerback Mac McCain III.
Total 2022 Savings: $1,700,000
Remaining Cap Space: $10,439,566
This gives the Steelers enough money to sign the draft class and practice squad while also being able to account for all 53 players on the roster come September.
Round 1- Malik Willis | QB | Liberty
It would take a miracle for Willis to fall to 20, but it is not impossible depending on what the teams picking ahead of the Steelers do in free agency. If the Steelers must trade up, the highest I would move up is to pick 8, and I would not trade any more than our 2022 and 2023 first round picks. But since so many mock drafts are predicting the Steelers to land him at 20, we do not have to trade away a future first-round pick in this exercise.
Round 2- Travis Jones | DT | Connecticut
Tyson Alualu is coming off an ankle injury and is entering the final year of his contract. Jones not only provides immediate help in run defense, but he will also brings three-down upside once he refines his game as a pass rusher.
Round 3 (Pick 69)- Tyler Smith | G | Tulsa
To secure Smith, the Steelers would likely need to move up. In this mock, we will have the Steelers trading with the Jets at pick 69, getting ahead of the guard-needy Jaguars. The Steelers give up a 2023 fourth-round pick along with their pick at 84 to move up. Smith played tackle in college but will likely slide inside to guard. This is closer to his floor as to when he could realistically be selected, but I would not rule out the possibility.
Round 4 (compensatory)- Darrian Beavers | ILB | Cincinnati
Quay Walker from Georgia and Troy Andersen would be my top options, but they are likely day-two selections after their impressive combine performances. Beavers dropped weight in between the Senior Bowl and Combine and looked much more fluid at a lighter weight. He would be an ideal BUCK linebacker next to Devin Bush for years to come.
Round 5 (via Sutton trade)- Velus Jones, Jr. | WR | Tennessee
The Steelers need a true speedster who can take the top off any defense. I still have concerns with Jones’ consistency and route-running ability, but he is one of the most explosive players in the draft.
Round 6- Jack Jones | CB | Arizona State
Jones had some character concerns early in his playing career, but he has turned his life around and is now trending upward in terms of draft stock. His impressive workout at the combine put a lot of people on notice. He could develop into a starting slot corner in the NFL.
Round 7- Connor Heyward | FB/TE | Michigan State
Connor is the younger brother of Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. Saving money and cutting Derek Watt could open a spot on the roster for the versatile Spartan.
Round 7- Quentin Lake | S | UCLA
The son of former Steeler Carnell Lake, Quentin is an instinctual safety who has a nose for the football. He is a sound tackler, he feels comfortable coming downhill to make a hit, and he displays decent fluidity in coverage. Be sure to check out our interview with Quentin on this week’s episode of the Steelers Draft Fix Podcast, which will come out later today.
Undrafted free agency
Jesse Luketa | EDGE | Penn State
Luketa turned in one of the worst combine performances possible, but the tape is intriguing. He played out of position at Penn State and will likely move to EDGE in the NFL. I think he is one of the true hidden gems in this class.
Isaiah Pola-Mao | S | USC
There is no way the Steelers do not end up with at least one of Quentin Lake or Isaiah Pola-Mao, is there? The Steelers lack depth at safety, and Pola-Mao is a long, impressive athlete who could play either safety position.
Tyrese Robinson — G — Oklahoma
Robinson is another player who had an awful week at the combine but has impressive tape. His power, pad level, and consistency makes him an intriguing option at guard.
Daylen Baldwin — WR — Michigan
Baldwin is a double-transfer from the FCS who was underutilized at Michigan. You can check out my interview with Baldwin below.
Here is what the 53-man roster would look like in this scenario.
Quarterback (3)- Mitchell Trubisky, Malik Willis, Dwayne Haskins
Running Back (4)- Najee Harris, Anthony McFarland, Jr., Kalen Ballage, Connor Heyward
Wide Receiver (6)- Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Preston Williams, Velus Jones, Jr., Anthony Miller, Steven Sims, Jr.
Tight End (3)- Pat Freiermuth, Chris Herndon, Zach Gentry
Offensive Line (9)- Terron Armstead, Tyler Smith, Mason Cole, Kevin Dotson, Dan Moore, Jr., Tyrell Crosby, Kendrick Green, John Leglue, J.C. Hassenauer
Defensive Line (6)- Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Cameron Heyward, Travis Jones, Maurice Hurst, Isaiahh Loudermilk
Outside Linebackers (5)- T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Derrek Tuszka, Taco Charlton, Jesse Luketa
Inside Linebackers (4)- Devin Bush, Jarrad Davis, Darrian Beavers, Buddy Johnson
Cornerbacks (6)- Stephon Gilmore, Sidney Jones, Tavon Young, James Pierre, Mac McCain III, Jack Jones
Safeties (4)- Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood
Special Teams (3)- Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin III, Christian Kuntz
The practice squad player limit has not yet been announced for 2022, but according to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the expected size is a 14-man squad. This is the size we will go with, and we will keep the six-veteran maximum that was used in 2021.
Practice Squad: QB Joshua Dobbs, WR Cody White, WR Daylen Baldwin, TE Kevin Rader, TE Jace Sternberger, OT Chaz Green, G Malcolm Pridgeon, G Tyrese Robinson, DL Henry Mondeaux, DL Khalil Davis, DE John Simon, CB Isaiah Johnson, S Isaiah Pola-Mao, S Quentin Lake
As much as I would like to think we will be talking about a Terron Armstead, Stephon Gilmore, and Mitch Trubisky all signing with the Steelers, I cannot see the Steelers doing exactly that. We will probably all be sitting here three days from now discussing the unfortunate re-signings of Arthur Maulet and Chuckwuma Okorafor and the signings of Jacoby Brissett, Carlton Davis, Mark Glowinski and Reggie Ragland as I pull my hair out and shout at the top of my lungs in the comment section of every breaking news article on BTSC throughout the week. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed my offseason simulation, and I hope this gets you excited for what is to come in the next six weeks.
Before we put a bow on free agency projections and jump to actual free agency news, what did you think of my simulated offseason? Which signings were your favorite? What would you change? Do you see any of this actually happening? What was the most realistic move? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section below, and stay tuned to BTSC for all the news and rumors surrounding a busy week of free agency.