Steelers' Top Trade Candidates Ahead of 2022 Training Camp
The Pittsburgh Steelers enter 2022 with a fair bit of uncertainty. Traditionally, Pittsburgh has been a yearly playoff contender—the team has never had a losing season in 15 years under head coach Mike Tomlin—but it experienced a lot of change this offseason.
Ben Roethlisberger retired, longtime general manager Kevin Colbert stepped down, and Teryl Austin replaced Keith Butler as defensive coordinator.
In short, a Steelers franchise that typically reloads may finally be rebuilding in 2022. Adding new players before the start of the regular season, and perhaps trading a few of their own, may be part of that rebuilding process.
The salary cap isn't a major issue, as Pittsburgh has $21 million in space remaining, fifth-most in the NFL. The Steelers, though, could look to add younger players at key positions and/or future draft capital.
Who might the Steelers consider trading? Below, we'll examine the three most logical trade candidates based on factors like past production, player health, contract status and roster depth.
LB Devin Bush
A lot will hinge on whether the Steelers believe they can be contenders in 2022. Pittsburgh usually is, but with an uncertain quarterback competition between Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph and rookie Kenny Pickett looming, it may be looking to the future instead.
If this is the case, trading 2019 first-round pick Devin Bush would make plenty of sense. Bush has been a serviceable starter but not a star. The Steelers declined his fifth-year option too, which means he's likely headed to free agency in 2023.
"This is likely Bush's last year with the Steelers," Mark Kaboly of The Athletic wrote last week.
Bush was largely ineffective last season while returning from a torn ACL suffered in 2020. However, the No. 10 overall pick out of Michigan showed promise as a rookie, logging 109 tackles, a sack and two interceptions. Bush could have a fair bit of trade value to a linebacker-needy team looking for a reclamation project.
Pittsburgh would likely be looking at a middle-round pick here. That's not a lot, but it's at least something for a player who may already have one foot out the door.
S Terrell Edmunds
Like Bush, 2018 first-round pick Terrell Edmunds had his fifth-year option declined by Pittsburgh. Instead, the Steelers brought him back on a one-year, $2.5 million deal. This does not suggest that the front office has a ton of faith in the Virginia Tech product.
It's worth noting that Edmunds was credited with 10 missed tackles in 2021.
Pittsburgh also added fellow strong safety Karl Joseph this offseason.
Giving Edmunds another shot under Austin would be logical. However, Pittsburgh could leverage the 25-year-old to a safety-needy playoff team for future draft capital.
While Edmunds doesn't appear to be part of Pittsburgh's long-term plan, he has racked up plenty of starting experience in his four years with the Steelers. He has appeared in 64 games with 60 starts, missing only a single contest.
Last season, Edmunds played 98 percent of the defensive snaps.
If a contender is desperate enough to bolster its secondary, Edmunds could potentially bring a third- or fourth-round pick in return. That would be a return the Steelers would have to consider.
WR Diontae Johnson
If the Steelers are truly looking ahead, wide receiver Diontae Johnson is the team's most logical trade chip.
Johnson was fantastic in 2021, finishing with 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. In a vacuum, he should be a Steelers centerpiece and not a trade candidate. However, football doesn't exist in a vacuum, and Johnson's contract status plays a role.
The 2019 third-rounder out of Toledo is set to be a free agent in 2023 and has been eyeing a contract extension. With Washington Commanders wideout Terry McLaurin recently getting a three-year, $70 million deal, that becomes the baseline for Johnson.
Is Johnson worth that to a rebuilding Steelers franchise—one that just added wideouts George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the draft? Perhaps not. And the reality is that a receiver-needy contender could be inclined to cough up a high draft pick—possibly even a first—to land the Pro Bowler.
Given the quick success we've recently seen from rookie receivers and Pittsburgh's proven ability to develop them, flipping Johnson for draft capital and diving into the 2023 receiver pool is something Pittsburgh would have to consider if it's looking at next season and beyond.