If you were to poll the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base, and believe me, we have, asking how they view the team’s 2022 offseason, most would give a positive approval rating. Whether it was the team’s activity in free agency, the 2022 NFL Draft class or even the hiring of Omar Khan to replace now retired Kevin Colbert as the team’s General Manager (GM).
At every turn the Steelers seemed to hit the right notes to, at least, appease their global fan base. But don’t tell that to ESPN. In a recent article ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranked the best and worst offseasons for all 32 NFL teams. He discusses what went right, and what went wrong.
Let’s dive into Barnwell’s decision to rank the Steelers 19th on his rankings:
19. Pittsburgh Steelers
What went right: Frantically searching for a quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, the Steelers pieced together a plan without getting too desperate. First, they ignored the agent-driven hype about Mitchell Trubisky’s market and signed the former Bears starter to a reasonable one-year deal with a base value of $5.3 million. They even got a second year for $8 million, which is about what Trubisky would have expected to see as a high-end backup option in 2023.
Then, facing rumors that as many as five quarterbacks would go in the first round of the draft, the Steelers stayed put and didn’t sacrifice picks to move up and get the player they wanted. In the end, every quarterback was still on the board at No. 20, so coach Mike Tomlin and his team got to take the player they wanted in local prospect Kenny Pickett. You could make a case they should have landed a better option, but if they liked Pickett and Trubisky, they got their 2022 quarterbacks on reasonable terms.
Pittsburgh also rebuilt its offensive line with additions on low-cost contracts. I didn’t love the re-signing of Chuks Okorafor on what amounts to a one-year, $10.5 million deal, but the Steelers imported a pair of new starters on the interior in James Daniels and Mason Cole. Swapping out Joe Schobert for Myles Jack was also an upgrade, although I’d prefer to see the league’s premier linebacker development factory over the past 30 years draft and develop players at the position. Terrell Edmunds hasn’t developed into a top-tier safety, but it was good value to bring back the former first-rounder on a one-year deal for just over $2 million.
Hard not to argue with Barnwell’s summation of what the Steelers did right this offseason, but when you add up all the moves it is difficult to imagine him somehow seeing the team’s offseason being ranked No. 19 in the league.
Let’s take a look at what went wrong...
What went wrong: Given a difficult cap situation, the Steelers probably didn’t need to go after players such as Gunner Olszewski in free agency, even on low-cost deals. Cornerback, once the deepest position on this defense, has been thinned out enough by disappointments and cap-enforced departures that they needed to add Bills corner Levi Wallace on a two-year, $8 million deal.
Okay, so signing Olszewski could be viewed as not a necessary move, but at the same time the Steelers needed to replace Ray-Ray McCloud as their primary return man. As for cornerback, the team is heading into the offseason with a lot of No. 2 cornerbacks, but no standout No. 1.
Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, Cam Sutton, Arthur Maulet, James Pierre and Justin Layne are all vying for playing time in some capacity. Throw in a player like Tre Norwood and you hope the Steelers can find a combination in their secondary to be good enough to win games.
What could have gone differently?
What they could have done differently: Trubisky’s deal starts at one year and $6.3 million and maxes out at two years and $14.3 million before incentives. Marcus Mariota’s deal with the Falcons came in at one year and $6.8 million and maxes out at two years and $18.8 million. Considering their contracts, I would rather have Mariota, whose floor is much higher than Trubisky’s.
This is where I felt Barnwell goes off the rails a bit. Up until this point, I’ve been in complete agreeance with the breakdown of the Steelers’ offseason; however, to suggest Mariota would be a better fit is clearly not what the Steelers saw. With both deals being similar, Trubisky actually being cheaper, either the Steelers didn’t want to pay Mariota his asking price, or they valued Trubisky more.
Nonetheless, at some point you have to trust the Steelers to make the right move. On top of that, drafting Kenny Pickett at No. 20 certainly impacts the quarterback depth chart in a lot of ways.
So, what’s next?
What’s next: With the T.J. Watt deal in the books, it’s time for the Steelers to get busy with extensions for Diontae Johnson and Minkah Fitzpatrick, with Fitzpatrick up first. Entering his fifth-year option campaign, he should be able to top the safety market. That’s currently Jamal Adams’ four-year, $70 million extension with the Seahawks.
Barnwell is spot on here. The next move for the Steelers is to lock up their dynamic safety for a big second contract. Hate the hire of Omar Khan? You won’t when he works his magic with Fitzpatrick’s next contract. Look for more guaranteed money than Adams received from Seattle, but constructed in a way which won’t just give the Steelers’ financial flexibility in 2022, but also in the early portions of his contract.
To be honest, I don’t have an issue with Barnwell’s analysis, but I don’t see how he can view the Steelers having the 19th best offseason of all 32 teams. Not when the team is moving on from the Ben Roethlisberger era, and also have a new GM at the helm. Considering the talent they’ve added at the quarterback position, and hope for a seamless transition with their new GM, I’d say their offseason should be much closer to Top 10 than to No. 20.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp.