The Pittsburgh Steelers have not even started to dip their toes into the free-agent market, but could their fate already be sealed? For fans who blame Le’Veon Bell for Pittsburgh not being active in free agency, or for the rising cost of gas, I am not referring to the $14.5 million franchise tag. I am referring to GM Kevin Colbert and his right-hand man, Omar Khan, and their structuring of contracts. Steeler Nation is used to not making big splashes in free agency, but what if this is because none of the top free agents want to do business with Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh is the only team in the NFL that does not give out contracts that have guaranteed money outside of the first year (Not including QBs). Dozens of free agents switched teams during the NFL’s legal tampering period, and the narrative was the gargantuan amount of guaranteed money in those contracts. NFL fans saw Kirk Cousins sign with the Minnesota Vikings for $86 million, fully guaranteed. Former Steelers OT Chris Hubbard didn’t take home anything near what Cousins did, but he will not be waiting in a bread line anytime soon. A five-year, $37.5 million deal is pretty huge for someone who has only started 14 games over a four-year career. But what is truly eye-popping is $18 million of his $37.5 million is guaranteed money. And the Jacksonville Jaguars re-upped wide receiver Marqise Lee; he and his 171 career catches snared a four-year deal with a maximum value of $38 million. A stunning $18 million of the total is guaranteed. The latter two get guaranteed money for this year and guaranteed money in case of injury in future years.
These types of contracts are not the way the Steelers do business. Pittsburgh will guarantee the first year of a deal, and not a dollar more.
Last year was a prime example of Pittsburgh losing out, once again, on highly sought after players who signed with other teams. Here are a pair of players the black-and-gold brought in last year for visits in hopes of signing:
Signed by the Tennessee Titans to a three-year deal worth $30 million, garnering $12 million of that fully guaranteed. He received all of 2017 and $2 million of his 2018 contract guaranteed.
Some think he visited Pittsburgh in hopes of creating leverage with the New England Patriots. That’s hard to believe based on the contract he received from New England was one the Steelers never would have offered: Four years at $33.5 million, which included 2017 and 2018’s money fully guaranteed. Where does the leverage come into play as Bill Belichick knows exactly how the Steelers’ contracts work?
Could the Steelers have even been on the short list for some of the players many fans were clamoring for here at BTSC? Let’s take a peek at some of the deals other teams made with players fans salivated over.
Many BTSC faithful were licking their chops over him as a potential replacement for the injured Ryan Shazier. Instead of even making a cursory visit to Pittsburgh, he signed a lucrative deal with the New York Jets. Full terms are not available yet, but Ian Rapoport reported he signed for three years and $22.5 million, $16 million of which is guaranteed. Without actually seeing the breakdown, one can guess it’s likely that the deal’s first two years are guaranteed at least for injury, if not fully guaranteed.
Williamson gets 3-years, $22.5M with $16M guaranteed. https://t.co/0W49CKjoYU— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 14, 2018
Another ILB whose name was bandied about the boards. He went to the Chiefs for five years that will net him $45 million. The meat of the contract is that 2018 and 2019 are fully guaranteed for a total of $21.29 million. OTC also shows him receiving another $3.8 million guaranteed for injury. While OTC does not spell this detail out clearly, it can be assumed it is for 2020.
Anthony Hitchens' five-year, $45M deal with the Chiefs includes a $14M signing bonus and fully guaranteed salaries of $790,000 in 2018 and $6.5 million in 2019.— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) March 14, 2018
Again, the full details of the former Jet’s contract are not out yet, but it is being reported that Davis signed a three-year deal with the Saints worth $24 million, including $16 million guaranteed. It would be logical to assume that 2018 and 2019 would be guaranteed.
Former Jets linebacker Demario Davis expected to sign with the New Orleans Saints per source. Deal is 3 years, $24 million, $18 million in guaranteed— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) March 14, 2018
To emphasize my point about the Steelers’ archaic way of doing business, one only needs to look at the 2017 contract Antonio Brown signed and compare the guaranteed money he received to what former Seahawk WR Paul Richardson was given by the Washington Redskins. Richardson, and his 95 career receptions, received the same amount of guaranteed money Brown received, $20 million. If Brown had sustained a career-ending injury at any time during the 2017 season, the Steelers would have parted ways with him after 2017 and not have been obligated to pay him another dime. If a similar fate had befallen Richardson, his compact would have paid him the same amount. It would have just come in the form of $12 million in 2018 and another $8 million in future years.
Steelers fans see the holes that need to be filled. Free agents know that every team except Pittsburgh gives out multi-year contracts with some form of guaranteed money in it. Fans might not want to admit it, but the NFL is a business. And right now there is a big flashing neon sign stating “The Steelers are open for business, but only for business done the old-fashioned way.”
Until Pittsburgh bandwagons with the other 31 teams and starts offering big guaranteed money, Steelers fans will have to temper their expectations regarding players who will join the fold via free agency. Just maybe, BTSC fans will start pointing their fingers away from No. 26.