The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2022 NFL league year with a good deal of salary cap space, something which hasn’t been the norm in the Kevin Colbert era. The roughly $29 million dollars in cap space was going to be needed to fill out the roster, which was in desperate need of an overhaul at several positions.
Many speculated what these changes might look like, and what positions would be targeted. When you look back at what transpired form the moment the league’s legal tampering period began, it is hard not to see how the plan which was put in place was executed as planned.
It all started with the Steelers agreeing to terms on a two-year contract with Mitch Trubisky. At the league meetings last week, Mike Tomlin spoke about what made Trubisky attractive to the organization as their next quarterback.
“We really were attracted to his upside, he’s young and experienced.” Tomlin said. “He’s won—to be quite honest with you, he’s probably won more than anybody else that was kind of in the field. He didn’t cost us any draft capital. It allowed us to maintain all our picks, and you guys know how we feel about building our team through the draft. And so there were a lot of things about him that was attractive to us.”
One of the more controversial decisions made by the Steelers during free agency was the team’s choice to re-sign tackle Chukwuma Okorafor to a three-year contract. Once the financial terms of the contract were released, fans’ stress eased a bit, but Tomlin spoke about what made Okorafor an priority to the team as a free agent.
“He’s youthful and experienced. And I think, you know, that’s what’s exciting. This is a guy that’s been a multiple year starter for us. Yet still he’s only 24 years old.” Tomlin added. “I think it’s reasonable to expect him to continue to grow and get better. I know he brings that business approach. And those are some of the reasons why we’re excited about continuing to do business with him.”
As some fans love to point out, Okorafor was on the losing end of the right tackle battle vs. Zach Banner prior to the 2020 season. It was only after Banner tore his ACL in the final quarter of the Week 1 game vs. the New York Giants when Okorafor became the entrenched starter. That adversity, according to Tomlin, was a valuable asset to Okorafor.
“I just think adversity is part of our business. I don’t think you’re going to be able to point to a guy that hadn’t faced some adversity over the course of his career, but no question it shapes you, and hopefully it shapes you in a positive way.”
Another outside free agent who was able to be signed by the Steelers was former Buffalo Bills cornerback Levi Wallace. Wallace hasn’t had the easiest course finding his way to the NFL, but this “battle tested” mentality is what the Steelers wanted in the back half of their defense.
“This is a guy that has just been battle tested in every stage of life.” Tomlin said. “You know, he was a walk on at Alabama and earned his way. He was undrafted in Buffalo and earned his way. I’m just really excited about having an opportunity to work with a guy who has overcome adversity and smiled in the face of it in a manner which he has, throughout every level of play.”
Two other players who earned new contracts with the Steelers were two players who found their way onto the 2021 roster after training camp began. That would be none other than Montravius Adams, who was signed off the New Orleans Saints practice squad mid-season, and Ahkello Witherspoon who was a trade acquisition from the Seattle Seahawks. Both of these players showed their worth in their time with the Steelers last season, and Tomlin is excited to see what they can do with a full offseason under their belts.
“It’s an interesting discussion because it’s two guys that got on a moving train a year ago.” Tomlin recalled. “And you know, I’m just really excited about continuing to do work with them, to have them for the totality of the journey. Both guys gave us admirable contributions in the manner in which they came to us and so it’s reasonable to expect those contributions to be more significant and more fluid having an opportunity to be a part of us from day zero.”
These weren’t the only players acquired by the Steelers via free agency, but when you take a step back and review what the team was able to accomplish this offseason to date, it is difficult to imagine they didn’t get many of the players they were targeting before free agency began.
Most would agree it has been a good offseason for the Steelers thus far, and more work is left to be done. More free agents could be acquired, and the 2022 NFL Draft is on the horizon. Have the Steelers done enough to remain competitive, and relevant, in the AFC North and the AFC? That has yet to be determined, but we’ll get those answers soon enough.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft.