ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler put out his best fits for the Top 50 2021 free agents, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are involved in four of them. Let’s dissect them and see if the arrival or departure makes sense for the Steelers.
#7 Bud Dupree – Tennessee Titans
I don’t think anyone in Steeler Nation is expecting Dupree to be back in the black and gold for 2021. They seemed to prepare for this outcome with the drafting of Alex Highsmith in 2020, who showed flashes when he stepped in during Dupree’s season ending injury. The Steelers would love to keep him but Dupree has played too well and deserves a new, lucrative contract in 2021. 19.5 sacks in the past two seasons (only played in 11 games in 2020) makes Dupree the marquee edge rusher of this class. He has the perfect blend of size and athleticism to fit into any 4-3 or 3-4 defense, so he should have no problem drawing interest from multiple suitors. The Titans make perfect sense as they have continuously searched for a pass rusher but haven’t been able to find the perfect fit, most recently with Jadeveon Clowney.
#21 Alejandro Villanueva – Los Angeles Chargers
Villanueva leaving Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to be a done deal but it is hard to imagine he stays. A veteran left tackle who has blocked Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside well for the past 6 seasons is going to draw plenty of interest on the open market. At the age of 32, he should still have a decent amount of tread on the tires to go a couple more seasons at a high level. Unless he wants to stay in Pittsburgh and is willing to take a hefty pay cut, I think they agree on parting ways and he finds a team willing to pay top dollar. Fowler recommended the Chargers because former offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett signed as an assistant there this offseason. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a reliable left tackle for their young star quarterback Justin Herbert.
#25 Juju Smith-Schuster – New York Jets
This one has been teased since early 2020 because of the USC ties between him and Sam Darnold. Depending on what way the Jets go, either trading Darnold and drafting another quarterback or keeping Darnold, Smith-Schuster would fill an immediate need for them. Outside of the aging Jamison Crowder and 2nd year Denzel Mims, the Jets desperately need help in the wide receiver room. As far as his return to Pittsburgh, he stated he would like it to happen but the money just doesn’t add up given the Steelers current cap situation. The Steelers still possess plenty of talent with Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington that can ease the burden of his departure. It would take some creative accounting to free up enough space for Smith-Schuster to stay.
#40 William Jackson III – Pittsburgh Steelers
Yes in 2017 the Steelers were going to select him with the 25th pick, that was until the Cincinnati Bengals did with the 24th pick. It makes sense because of the initial interest but that is about it. The Steelers cornerback room is loaded with talent between Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Free agents Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton both seem to be players the Steelers want to bring back, so it would become a sticking point of fitting in Jackson. He is young and going to command a contract that is likely higher than both Hilton and Sutton, possibly combined. For a defense that had great success, Hilton and Sutton both are better fits with the Steelers defense, where 2021 still seems to be an “all-in” year.
What do you think, #SteelerNation? Comment below!