Now that we’ve concluded the Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 season all eyes are now on the 2024 NFL draft. But before we discuss potential fits for the Black and Gold, it’s important to understand what positions could use reinforcements. Plenty of this is speculation because we don’t know who will be re-signed and who will be let go. But we can at least make an educated guess.
I’m going to start with a list of unrestricted free agents to provide some context for this piece:
#Steelers upcoming unrestricted free agents:— Steelers Network (@SteelersNetwork) January 16, 2024
DT Montravius Adams
LB Kwon Alexander
WR Miles Boykin
LB Markus Golden
S Miles Killebrew
LB Blake Martinez
CB James Pierre
CB Elijah Riley
QB Mason Rudolph
CB Chandon Sullivan
LB Mykal Walker
CB Levi Wallace
DT Armon Watts
Let’s take a look at the Steelers top five team needs heading into the offseason.
Mason Cole has held down this position for two straight years, but the only Cole in Pittsburgh this year should be in the form of slaw on your Primanti Brother’s sandwich. Cole is a likely cut candidate due to his consistent snap issues and poor pass-blocking. I know Pro Football Focus can be polarizing, but per their metrics, Cole was the worst pass-blocking C this season with a minimum of 1,000 snaps.
General Manager Omar Khan has made retooling the trenches a big priority, drafting Broderick Jones in the first round of the NFL Draft last season, and signing mauling G Isaac Seumalo, who had a terrific season, in free agency.
It’s time to finish the job.
I give Khan an A+ report card for his 2023 draft class, and a big reason why is the selection of Joey Porter Jr. The son of former Steelers’ great Joey Porter was born wearing a black and gold diaper, and this season he soiled the reputations of some top-flight NFL wideouts, as he only allowed one receiving touchdown in coverage.
Much like the offensive line, the job isn’t finished. The other side of the field was a disaster, as CB Levi Wallace regressed, and the senior citizen of the group, Patrick Peterson, ultimately was forced to move to safety, due to various injuries in the defensive backfield.
Wallace, along with cornerbacks Chandon Sullivan, James Pierre, and Elijah Riley are all unrestricted free agents, and while a few may be re-signed, this is a position that still needs an overhaul.
The much-maligned Dan Moore Jr. was the primary starter at left tackle for Pittsburgh this year, and while he did make some minor improvements, his play was ultimately below league average. I could see Moore Jr. likely becoming the swing tackle for the Steelers next season because he is still in the last year of his rookie deal and won’t be a cut candidate.
The reason I wrote “left or right tackle” is because it’s dependent on how they handle Broderick Jones, who performed admirably as the team’s right tackle from Week 9 on. If he is moved to the left side, his natural position, Pittsburgh will be in the market for a right tackle, of course, and if he stays, it’ll be the blindside that is priority A.
Montravius Adams and Armon Watts played musical chairs on early downs as interior defensive tackles for the Steelers, but both are impending unrestricted free agents and don’t necessarily move the needle in an inspiring manner. These types of players aren’t huge priorities necessarily because they only play roughly 20 snaps a game. The elephant in the room is former All-Pro Cameron Heyward.
Never in a million years would I count him out, but Heyward will be 35 years old this May and has to slow down at some point, right? At the very least Pittsburgh needs to have a backup plan at the position, outside of Keeanu Benton, another rookie who looks like he will be a force for many years to come. Heyward isn’t going anywhere — he won’t be cut or traded. But father time eventually catches up to everyone.
Last offseason Khan went out and signed a bundle of inside backers, including Cole Holcomb, Kwon Alexander, and Elandon Roberts. I’m so impressed by what Roberts brought to the table this past season, as he was the steady eddy Pittsburgh had been searching for a long time.
The problem here isn’t the talent; it’s the health. Holcomb was also solid up until he suffered a torn ACL in Week 9 against the Tennessee Titans, and it’s unclear if he’ll be ready by Week 1 of the upcoming season. Alexander was also lost for the season. The position thinned out so much that the Steelers put in a call to Myles Jack, who was literally retired and spending his days playing basketball at local gyms, to come in and start in critical games down the stretch.
To survive these types of blows, Pittsburgh needs to add some youth to the position. It’s not like the aforementioned names are spring chickens, anyway.
Pressley Harvin III can’t punt. Unfortunately for punters, that’s a requirement.
I was a heavy advocate for the Steelers to add a wideout at the trade deadline and was constantly bashed for this. I don’t get it. The Steelers had one of the worst offenses in NFL history. Why wouldn’t adding another weapon be prioritized? That’s like saying that a really bad-tasting sandwich could not use an extra piece of cheese. Ridiculous.
I know we’re all tired of the drama at quarterback, but the future of the Steelers isn’t on the roster — even if Mike Tomlin says he thinks it is.