Free-Agent Contracts Steelers Must Pursue After Preseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent ISeptember 5, 2022

Free-Agent Contracts Steelers Must Pursue After Preseason

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    Blake Martinez (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are only days away from beginning their most pivotal campaign in recent memory. They are still expected to contend under head coach Mike Tomlin, but much of the season will be about developing rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.

    The Steelers have yet to announce whether Pickett or veteran Mitch Trubisky will start in Week 1 against the rival Cincinnati Bengals.

    While most fans are focused on the looming quarterback decision and Pittsburgh's season-opener, the Steelers may be looking at adding a few pieces to their roster. They still have $3 million in cap space, and a lot of quality players reentered the free-agent pool during August 30 roster cuts.

    Below, we'll examine three free agents that Pittsburgh must at least consider following the preseason. We'll dive into how each player could help the Steelers in 2022 and what sort of contract offers would make sense.

CB T.J. Carrie

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    Chris Coduto/Getty Images

    It never hurts to have cornerback depth, and the Steelers have little of it behind Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace and Cameron Sutton. Unfortunately, the Steelers' cap situation means that signing a big name or bringing back Joe Haden is unlikely.

    Still, Pittsburgh should be interested in strengthening its secondary ahead of Week 1. Former Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts cornerback T.J. Carrie should be on the Steelers' radar.

    Carrie has never been a high-end starter—and, in fact, has only been a full-time starter in two of his eight campaigns. However, he's been a serviceable rotational piece and could boost Pittsburgh's depth considerably.

    Over the last two seasons with Indianapolis, Carried appeared in 26 combined games and allowed an opposing passer rating below 100 in each campaign. He played in Cleveland for two seasons, most recently in 2019 and has some experience going against AFC North receivers.

    Perhaps most importantly, though, Carrie should fit with Pittsburgh's cap situation. His last contract was a one-year, $2 million deal.

    Contract Offer: One Year, $2 Million

LB Blake Martinez

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    The Steelers could still use linebacker help, even after acquiring Malik Reed in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Pittsburgh also added Myles Jack this offseason, but we're still talking about a defense that ranked dead-last in rushing yards and yards per carry allowed last season.

    Adding a top-tier run-stopper like Blake Martinez (151 tackles in 2020) might not seem possible, given Pittsburgh's cap situation. However, Martinez is coming back from a torn ACL and was a surprise release by the New York Giants.

    New York's decision to release Martinez is why Pittsburgh may have a realistic shot.

    Martinez was released with $7.5 million in dead money remaining on his contract. With New York still paying him, he just might be willing to take a bargain salary for the 2022 season. The injury is a concern, but if Martinez is willing to play on a one-year, "prove-it" deal, it could work out perfectly for Pittsburgh.

    This is a low-risk, high-reward option for the Steelers, who should be on the phone with Martinez's representatives immediately. The poor run defense was one of the biggest reasons why the Steelers were blown out by the rival Bengals in each contest last season—with 294 combined rushing yards surrendered.

    If healthy, Martinez could dramatically improve Pittsburgh's second-level defense.

    Contract Offer: One Year, $3 Million

OL Trey Hopkins

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    Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The biggest concern for Pittsburgh heading into Week 1 is the offensive line. Last year's unit allowed 38 sacks and was a liability in the 29th-ranked run game. This year's unit isn't shaping up to be any better.

    "All I see is penalties, guys getting beat. I don't see depth," NFL Network's Brian Baldinger said on NFL Total Access (h/t Matthew Marczi of Steelers Depot). "I'm worried. I'm worried regardless of who plays quarterback right now."

    The Steelers added James Daniels and Mason Cole this offseason and have staged a competition between Kendrick Green and Kevin Dotson at left guard. However, it's clear that the line could use reinforcements.

    Former Bengals interior lineman Trey Hopkins could be the perfect addition for Pittsburgh. The 30-year-old isn't likely to command an outlandish salary at this point in the year, and he has experience playing both guard and center.

    Hopkins started 15 games for Cincinnati last year and helped the Bengals reach Super Bowl LVI. He has extensive experience playing against AFC North defenders, and he'd be able to start and/or provide depth at multiple positions.

    Contract Offer: One Year, $3 Million

    *Cap and contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.

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