On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers followed the league-mandated schedule and released five players in order to get down to a roster size of 80. In doing so, the Steelers made multiple cuts which many fans did not expect as they believed the players would land on either the 53-man roster or the 16-player practice squad.
The main players many believed would be with the Steelers into September were veteran linebacker Genard Avery and 2022 seventh-round draft pick quarterback Chris Oladokun. Despite being released before the Steelers final preseason game, there are many among Steelers’ Nation who believe one or both of these players will be returning when rosters are finalized on Tuesday, August 30, or when practice squads begin to fill up the following day. While this possibility does exist, mainly because the Steelers are free to make whatever roster moves they choose, the likelihood of these moves is much less than what many realize. After all, if the Steelers valued these players and they were in their long-term plans for 2022, why would they release them at this time?
It should also be noted that neither of these players were released with any sort of injury designation. When the Steelers have released players who were injured in the past and did not land on the Reserve/Injured List (IR), they have returned to the team even if it was in rare circumstances. But for players released in an earlier cut than the final decision to get to 53 players, a reunion is very rarely in the cards.
To base these things more historically, even if it is recent history, the Steelers had to make similar cut downs during the 2021 season. For both of these last two seasons, teams cut down to 85 players following Week 1 of the preseason and to 80 players following Week 2 before ultimately cutting down to 53 players after the final preseason game. In looking at the second round of cut downs to 80 players for 2021, these were the players who the Steelers released:
OL Aviante Collins
WR Tyler Simmons
RB Pete Guerriero
LB Calvin Bundage
S Antoine Brooks Jr. (waived/injured)
In looking at this list, the most recognizable is former sixth-round draft pick Antoine Brooks Jr. But Brooks’ situation is different because he was released due to injury. And as many Steelers’ fans may recall, Brooks landed with the Los Angeles Rams for 2021.
As for the other players, only one, Aviante Collins, landed on a practice squad and that was with the Dallas Cowboys. Linebacker Calvin Bundage landed in the CFL while running back Pete Guerrero struggled to catch on in the USFL and was ultimately released. Wide receiver Tyler Simmons had a receiving touchdown in the USFL this past spring.
When trying to go back and look at other players who were released an earlier round of cuts for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one has to go back more than five years. In 2020, the Steelers had to cut down to 80 players before training camp began and there were no preseason games to evaluate anything before they cut down to 53 players. For the three years prior to that, there was only one cut-down date as teams carried 90 players throughout the entire preseason. To go back farther, teams cut down to 75 players before their fourth preseason game and then down to 53 ahead of the regular season in 2016.
In looking specifically how the Steelers handled things in 2016, they cut 11 players two days prior to the deadline and then the final four on the last day to get down to 75 players. Of the first 11 players cut, two were due to injury with Jerald Hawkins going on IR and quarterback Dustin Vaughn being waived/injured. Other players cut were Jordan Zumwalt, Mike Reilly, Levi Norwood, Michael Cooper, Isaac Blakeney, Khaynin Mosley-Smith, Giorgio Newberry, and Julian Whigham. The other players who survived an additional two days only to be released were safety Jacob Hagan, defensive tackle Devonte Sigler, and cornerback Kevin White. The other player was tight end Ladarius Green going on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
Looking at all of these players from 2016, the only one that I could find any record of coming back to the Steelers the same season was safety Jacob Hagan. Still not initially making the practice squad, Hagan did land on the 10-man squad in the middle of September only to be released four days later and then back the next week. In fact, Hagan was ultimately signed the practice squad three times throughout the season. Another thing to remember about Hagan is that he ultimately made the top 80 players on the roster as he was not one of the initial 11 released. The players the Steelers released this past week were outside of the top 80.
While I could attempt to go back more years, with the practice squad being at 16 players and the cut down rules not being the same, I’m not sure if it is worth it or if I would find any players that were healthy and released early in training camp that were part of the initial signing to the practice squad or landed back on the 53 man roster.
Had Genard Avery been released next Tuesday as part of the cut downs to get to 53, I would have considered him as a candidate similar to Arthur Maulet last year. Maulet did not make the 53-man roster when it was originally announced but was signed back the next day when the Steelers placed three players on injured reserve in Stephon Tuitt, Zach Banner, and Anthony McFarland. Being a vested veteran, Maulet could simply wait until the Steelers made the move and signed him right back. Based on his contract, Gerald Avery would be a prime candidate for that in 2022. But releasing him a week early doesn’t fit that story as being likely.
As for quarterback Chris Oladokun, if the Steelers valued placing him on the practice squad then there is no reason to have him away from the team for eight days with the opportunity to shop his services elsewhere. Had Oladon been released next Tuesday, there would not be time for him to go and meet with other teams ahead of being signed to the roster or practice squad. But by being released now, teams have 27 more roster positions, and 11 positions overall, more than they will have next week in order to add another player. So if protecting him against being signed by another team was the goal, this is not how one would go about doing this.
Additionally, the Pittsburgh Steelers do not typically keep a fourth quarterback on the practice squad other than some short-term signings. The exception to this was in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic when practice squad‘s were first expanded to 16 players and being without a quarterback due to Covid exposure was a genuine concern. Teams did not want to experience what the Denver Broncos did when they had to play a wide receiver at quarterback. In 2021, with practice squads still expanded to 16 players, the Steelers found no need to have a fourth quarterback as one of their 69 players.
Perhaps Genard Avery or Chris Oladokun still end up being a part of the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers. Nothing should be ruled out. But to think this is part of the plan by the Steelers in releasing these players a week before final cut downs, it simply does not make sense. By letting them go when they did, the Steelers seem content if either player is able to provide their services for another franchise.