AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Preview

Omar Khan will be making the moves this Steelers offseason
Maya Giron/Post-Gazette

It’s time for a Pittsburgh Steelers offseason preview. With the Steelers watching the playoffs at home there are a lot of questions to be answered before next season. Luckily for Pittsburgh, “who will play quarterback” is not one of those questions. Still, there are likely a handful of changes coming down the pike for Pittsburgh this offseason.

In this post we’ll take a look at Pittsburgh cap and draft outlooks, as well as positions of need and upcoming free agents.

With that let’s get into the Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Preview

Team Needs

There are very few positions the Steelers don’t need to address in one way or another this offseason. Whether it be they need a starter, quality depth or perhaps an upgrade. Let’s quickly go position by position to assess their needs.

Quarterback

The Steelers have their starting quarterback in Kenny Pickett. However they will likely be in need of a veteran backup. As we’ll discuss later the team could be moving on from both Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph and we’ll need a dependable number two going into next year.

Running Back/Full Back

Pittsburgh should be set here. Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren and now Anthony McFarland are all under contract for next season. Benny Snell is a free agent and could be a cheap re-signing if they want to bring him back for his special teams value. This could also be the case for Derek Watt if they so choose, or they could try a year of Connor Heyward is a full back/h back role.

Wide Receiver

Pittsburgh will need to find a number three somehow this season – and preferably someone in the slot. They have Diontae Johnson and George Pickens on the outside. Calvin Austin III, Gunner Olszewski and now Anthony Miller all have contract for next season, and Steven Sims is a restricted free agent. With Calvin Austin missing his entire rookie season no one screams “SAFE” to be Pittsburgh’s starting slot receiver next year. The team could also re-sign Miles Boykin who was very good on special teams.

Tight End

The team has Pat Freiermuth who has turned into one of the most reliable TEs in the league. Heyward also carved out a nice role as the number three. If the team chooses to re-sign Zach Gentry as the number two/blocking tight end they’ll be all set. If they don’t, I’d expect a veteran signing for cheap to fill the Gentry role.

Offensive Line

The offensive line got better every week this season and outperformed expectations. They were also the only line in the league to have the same five guys start all 17 regular season games. That is unlikely to happen again. With the overall talent on this line and lack of depth, I expect an investment to be made here. While free agent offensive linemen are hard to come by this year, the draft could provide a lot of options to choose from. All five starters from 2022 are under contract in 2023.

Defensive Line

Here is where we could see the most turnover. Tyson Alualu likely played his last NFL season this year. Chris Wormley is a free agent and tore his ACL late in the regular season. Larry Ogunjobi is an unrestricted free agent looking for a pay day. DeMarvin Leal experimented as an outside linebacker during the season. While Cam Heyward is till playing like an All-Pro, he needs more help around him. This group should be a big priority for the Steelers this offseason.

Off-ball Linebacker

There’s also probably going to be turnover here. Myles Jack and Mark Robinson are both under contract – although some fans are clamoring for Jack to be cut. More on that later in the offseason. Devin Bush, Robert Spillane and Marcus Allen are all free agents. Bush is gone and Allen is a special teamer who you can take or leave. Spillane will be interesting. He ended up playing 100% of the snaps over the last four weeks of the season. I’d expect him to be back, but this team still needs more.

The off-ball linebacker might be the deepest position in free agency. If there was one position I’d like to see targeted by the Steelers this offseason on the open market, it’s here.

Edge Rusher

Pittsburgh still needs a reliable number three edge rusher behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Leal might end up being that player, but he’s unproven to this point. I’d still like to see a Day 2 draft investment made in a cheap, talented edge player.

Cornerback

The number one priority of the offseason for Pittsburgh has to be to re-sign Cameron Sutton. Sutton plays inside and out, defends the run, and became a playmaker this year with three interceptions and 15 passes defended. While not a number one lockdown corner, a high-end number two with an All-Pro safety behind him is almost as good as it gets.

Beyond Sutton this team has Ahkello Witherspoon, Arthur Maulet and Levi Wallace under contract. William Jackson III, who Pittsburgh traded for at the deadline, is under contract for a cap hit of over $12 million next season. He will not be back at that number. He’ll either be cut and re-signed for close to or at the minimum, or just cut outright. James Pierre is a restricted free agent who should be back.

Safety

Terrell Edmunds is once again a free agent. Pittsburgh should re-sign him. I made the case last year here and it’s the same. He’d be next to All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick with Tre Norwood as a backup behind them. Damontae Kazee is a free agent and there’s a case for bringing him back. Miles Killebrew is under contract but his value is on special teams.

Specialists

Chris Boswell and Pressley Harvin III are both under contract for next season. Boswell struggled this season after his injury kept him out five games, but should be better if he’s healthy next season. Harvin had a much better year two but still needs improvement. Bringing in a veteran to compete with him will be important this offseason.

Free Agency

Cap Space

So with all that said – there’s a lot this team needs. Backup quarterback, some infusion of offensive line talent, defensive line starters, starting linebacker, edge depth. Plus re-sign starters like Sutton and Edmunds plus a few depth pieces. And by the way if you can find an athletic, shutdown cornerback one that’d be the cherry on top.

Wow.

Well what can the Steelers do this offseason? A good amount.

Dave Bryan of Steelers Depot has put together some excellent posts on the Steelers cap situation. You can find one about clearing cap here. The gist is this: Pittsburgh can create about $45 million in cap space this offseason by cutting Trubisky, Witherspoon and Jackson and also doing full restructures on T.J. Watt and Fitzpatrick.

Sign me up.

Trusbiky has all but said he regrets coming to Pittsburgh, and I don’t blame him. It was not a year to remember. And neither he nor the Steelers want him around for his current salary to be the backup. Witherspoon is an up and down player who was having a down season in 2022 before suffering essentially a season-ending injury. Those five moves can easily help Pittsburgh retain who they need, have the money they need for things like the draft class, practice squad, buffer cap space for the season etc, and potentially make one or two free agency moves.

Free Agent Options

Looking through everyone that is set to be free agents this offseason, the deepest position groups are linebacker and defensive line. Wide receiver and cornerback aren’t very strong. And edge rusher is mostly older players who will want more money or a bigger role than what Pittsburgh will offer.

My top two realistic targets in free agency are LB Tremaine Edmunds (who I think all of Steeler Nation is clamoring for) and DL Greg Gaines. While there are more talented linemen than Gaines in free agency, I think he is the guy Pittsburgh will be able to afford who can still be impactful after spending money on a linebacker. Edmunds is a great fit for his athleticism, run stopping and improved pass coverage. He and Jack would be a great pairing with Spillane and Robinson behind them.

Gaines could fit in a nose tackle in base and a defensive tackle in sub packages.

Other options at both positions are below

Linebacker:

Defensive Line:

While Payne is likely out of Pittsburgh’s price range, any combination of the above players would be a success in my book for the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason.

The Steelers should also look at signing a veteran backup QB in free agency. My number one target would be former Steeler Joshua Dobbs, who had two good showings for the Tennessee Titans to end the season. However, there are a number of options in free agency.

The Draft

Next is the draft, where the Steelers have six picks including three in the top 50. If Pittsburgh can fill out the key areas on defense by re-signing Sutton and Edmunds and signing a linebacker and defensive lineman during free agency, they have more flexibility in the draft.

Five of Pittsburgh’s first six picks are in the top four rounds. That gives them a really good chance to come up with quality players. This is where I’d like to see offensive and defensive line, edge rusher and wide receiver addressed. It can be any order, as long as they are getting the best player available.

Pittsburgh hasn’t taken a first round offensive lineman since David DeCastro in 2012. While the group was solid this year it could use a high-level talent infusion to compete. At the very least by Day 2 a tackle or guard should be taken especially with Kevin Dotson still at left guard. Dotson is extremely talented, and I personally am a fan. But he is inconsistent and was “competing” with Kendrick Green for the job all through camp. And it’s the last year of his rookie contract.

Even if this team signs a defensive lineman or re-signs Ogunjobi, defensive line should still be a top priority. Pittsburgh still needs a true replacement for Stephon Tuitt on the line, and an eventually successor for Heyward.

Edge rusher and wide receiver also need to be addressed for number three options. While these shouldn’t be the top priorities they can still be on the board even in the first round. You can never have too many options at either position.

In Conclusion

While it isn’t the most cap or most draft picks to work with, it’s enough. And Pittsburgh doesn’t have the most questions going into the offseason in the NFL either which helps. This team ended on a high note and has a ton of blue chippers/good young players. With some smart moves Pittsburgh can find themselves competing for the North once again in 2023.

There will be time to dive deeper into draft picks and potential free agents, but for now here is your Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Preview. Comment below or on Facebook/Twitter with some of your biggest needs and wants for the Steelers this offseason!

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