By: Parker Abate
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a number of things to address this offseason. Which free agents do the organization let walk away? Which ones stay? Is Mason Rudolph the successor to Ben Roethlisberger? Does anyone deserve a long-term extension? Who should be relieved of his duties to save cap space? The first big, necessary move of the young offseason was relieving Randy Fichtner of his duties as Offensive Coordinator, but there is much more to be done.
These are plenty of issues the Steelers face, but some are more important than others. Below are the top five priorities for the Steelers this offseason. It does not necessarily mean they will happen in this order, but in terms of importance, this is what I see:
1.) Sign T.J. Watt to a long-term deal
This is no secret to anyone, but T.J. Watt is the most important piece to the Steelers dominant defense. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate was an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses this season. The league leader in sacks (15) and tackles for loss (26) is a pivotal reason why the Steelers defense has been so successful the last few years. The Steelers are tight on cap space, but that is not an excuse to avoid finding a way to pay this man. He embodies what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler on the defensive side of the ball and I think I write for Steelers fans everywhere when I type that he needs to be a Steeler for life. Contract restructures of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and others are vital to work this out with Watt, but it needs to get done.
2.) Bolster the Offensive Line
I expect the Steelers to draft at least two offensive linemen in this year’s NFL Draft. Needs come all over the place. Alejandro Villanueva and Maurkice Pouncey are likely unable to be in the black and gold next season. That essentially leaves David DeCastro and Kevin Dotson as the only projected starters for 2021. Chukwuma Okorafor will still be around, but his role will depend on what happens to the following two free agents: Zach Banner and Matt Feiler. Banner only signed a one-year deal last offseason hoping to perform and get big free agent money this season. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL Week 1 against the New York Giants. I expect Banner to do something similar and sign a one-year, team friendly deal that keeps him around. As long as Banner is healthy and has no mobility issues, he is a better option than Feiler.
3.) Release at least one, maybe both tight ends and then draft one.
I am extremely confident that Vance McDonald will not be in a Steelers uniform next season. He did next to nothing this past year and cutting him will save $5.2 million on the salary cap. His 15 catches for 99 yards does not exactly get me excited to keep him around. Eric Ebron is more likely to stay strictly based on the depth the Steelers would have at the tight end position if they terminated his contract. Releasing him could save the Steelers up to $6 million. Nonetheless, a tight end is a priority in this year’s draft. It is a very deep tight end class and the Steelers haven’t had one to write home about since Heath Miller who retired after the 2015 season.
4.) Re-sign Mike Hilton
Hilton has been a diamond in the rough for the Steelers and it would be a shame if the organization let him get away. He is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL and deserves a nice pay day which puts this in question. The Steelers need money to spend in other places and because of the tight salary cap situation, it is very likely that the Steelers can’t hold on to him. With that said, if this can be worked out, it would be of great benefit to the team and I would put it at the top of my do to list if I were General Manager, Kevin Colbert.
5.) Draft a Quarterback
It is no secret that Joshua Dobbs is not the quarterback of the future. Although he is very intelligent with a high football IQ, he is set to be a free agent and I don’t see why the Steelers would keep him around. That leaves Roethlisberger and Rudolph remaining as the Steelers did not re-sign Devlin “Duck” Hodges to a reserve/future contract. The quarterback class in this draft is very deep, but to draft a possible successor to Roethlisberger, the Steelers most likely would need to utilize a first round pick. It is against the norm for the Steelers to trade up in round 1, but the Steelers may gain multiple compensatory picks in the 2022 NFL Draft if certain free agents leave. This may leave them with the draft capital to possibly make a move up for Mac Jones or Trey Lance. If they stay put at #24, Florida’s Kyle Trask will most likely be available. Don’t count on it, but the Steelers do need to assess the future at the position.
All in all, the Steelers have a lot to address. Steelers fans might raise an eyebrow that re-signing JuJu Smith-Schuster is not on this list, but with the emergence of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool paired with Smith-Schuster’s asking price, it may not be realistic.
It’s going to be a rollercoaster of an offseason, #SteelerNation. Let me know what your top priorities are in the comments below.