As soon as the final whistle blew from Kansas City on Jan. 16, 2022, all eyes turned toward No. 7 in white and gold. Ben Roethlisberger had played his last ever game in the NFL, meaning that the Steelers would have to find their next starting quarterback.
With the ushering in of Pittsburgh’s offseason came immediate fascination as to whom would take snaps under center. Mock drafts linked Mike Tomlin’s squad to gunslingers from the get-go, while free agent options were evaluated to be fits.
As we all know, the Steelers wound up inking Mitch Trubisky to a two-year deal on March 14. Even then, though, it was widely assumed that Pittsburgh would still draft a quarterback — which it did in Kenny Pickett on April 28. Finally, everyone surrounding or the team could exhale: the stable of QBs had been established in Roethlisberger’s stead for the year ahead and beyond.
Somewhat ironically, the fixation for the quest for a quarterback obscured all the negotiating Kevin Colbert had done in his final offseason with the organization. From extending Chuks Okorafor and Terrell Edmunds to adding James Daniels, Mason Cole and Myles Jack and Levi Wallace, Pittsburgh was extremely busy in upgrading its roster in a multitude of areas. In part, such a spending spree was due to extended cap space that was leveraged.
Though the Steelers are actually projected to be under the salary cap at the moment by Spotrac, the same principle applies in Omar Khan’s first spring/summer ride through the forest of transactions. With a slew of needs and decisions to be made, Khan and Pittsburgh’s front office can really approach the offseason from any angle.
Beginning with free agents, the Steelers must weigh the market value of looming free agents in Cam Sutton, Larry Ogunjobi, Edmunds and Devin Bush, among others. Though Bush may be a long shot to return to the Steel City given he played just 31 defensive snaps in the team’s final three contests, it genuinely feels as if all players may be offered extensions and the ability to return. Innately, the decisions made regarding those four will drive positions of need for adding players, largely at cornerback, defensive line and linebacker — not to mention whether extensions are given to 2024 free agents like Alex Highsmith.
In terms of their ability to spend, the Steelers currently project to be rather limited: according to Spotrac, Pittsburgh is currently $302,416 over a salary cap of $225 million (which has yet to be finalized). Fear not, however. Restructuring T.J. Watt’s contract would free $12.6 million, while doing the same with Minkah Fitzpatrick’s would gain just over $10 million. Such a tool will very likely be utilized by Khan given that his predecessor did so so prudently over his tenure.
With less cash in their pockets relative to the 2022 offseason, the Steelers may be more hesitant to dole out dollars this March and April. Nevertheless, expect the team to pursue some external free agents, especially on cheaper deals, with needs to bolster the OL/DL, linebacker room and secondary. Options include (but are far from limited to) defensive linemen Javon Hargrave and Corey Peters; guard Dalton Risner and tackle Yosh Nijman; ‘backers Tremaine Edmunds and Quincy Williams; and corners Sean Murphy-Bunting and Amari Oruwariye.
While inking veterans to deals is one appealing option, what also must be weighed is the draft capital with which Khan has to work. The Steelers are solidified to pick No. 17 in the first round and are currently slated to also possess Picks 32, 49 and 80. Without one need transcending the rest as of this moment, Pittsburgh could plausibly lean OL, CB, DL, LB or even WR with its inaugural selection on April 27 and plug away from there. The ability to trade up or down is also quite possible.
After posting a 9-8 record in a season expected to underwhelm, the Steelers are in a rather ideal position this winter. In his first opportunity to orchestrate a front office, Khan has no shortage of manners in which he can attack the offseason and bolster his roster.
My recommendation from here on out? As news is unveiled, sit back and take it all in. Oh, and keep making utopian mock drafts, too.