Steelers' Top Trade Targets Entering 2021 NFL Offseason

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2021

Steelers' Top Trade Targets Entering 2021 NFL Offseason

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    With Ben Roethlisberger apparently ready to return with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2021 offseason becomes crucial in prepping for one last ride with their franchise quarterback. 

    The 39-year-old told Ed Bouchette of The Athletic, "I'm pretty sure I want to go one more year (because) I think I can do it and give us a real chance at winning."

    After starting the season 11-0, the Steelers showed they have the core to make a run. But a disastrous end to the season including a home loss in the playoffs against the Cleveland Browns makes the Steelers one of the more interesting teams this offseason. 

    On one hand, they are not in a great cap situation. They are around $35 million over the projected $176 million cap, according to Over The Cap. However, there are multiple ways they can work the roster to get under that number. 

    Roethlisberger will need to take a pay cut. Bouchette noted that he has indicated he's willing to do that, although a restructuring of his contract can only do so much. 

    There are tough decisions ahead, but the Steelers could still get involved in the trade market. It isn't likely they swing as big as they did in dealing for Minkah Fitzpatrick in September 2019, but there are still a few players who could be dealt that they should take a look at. 

DL J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The Steelers already have two of the Watt brothers on their roster. Why not go for the trio?

    This would likely be the most difficult move to pull off in terms of cap space, but that's why it is dependent on how much Watt would like to join forces with his brothers in Pittsburgh. 

    As of right now, Watt is scheduled to make $17.5 million on his current contract, but none of that money is guaranteed. So there is a scenario by which Pittsburgh could trade for the star defensive lineman then sign him to an extension that would make his salary more palatable this season. 

    Watt isn't the best defensive player in the league anymore. He isn't even the best Watt brother. But he's still a productive force, putting up five sacks and 29 total pressures on a porous defense in Houston this season.  

    The Steelers are likely to lose Bud Dupree this offseason to free agency. He isn't the best pass-rusher on the team, but that will hurt the overall depth up front. Watt could more than make up for his absence, ensuring the Steelers continue to have a strong front seven. 

    The financial ramifications of this deal make it a long shot. Given Watt's age and declining production, it isn't something that is going to help them in the long term. But if the goal is to maximize one more season with Roethlisberger behind center, this is the kind of move that will help them weather the storm of the loss of talent that's about to take place. 

OT Riley Reiff, Minnesota Vikings

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings are in a similar financial spot as the Steelers with the exception of having some obvious cut candidates and a quarterback willing to restructure his deal. 

    In short, it's going to be more difficult for them to get under the cap limit than it will be in Pittsburgh. Kirk Cousins is scheduled to make $31 million in 2021 before making $45 million in 2022. 

    So it would make a little more sense that the Vikings could be looking to offload salary this offseason, and the Steelers could clear enough space to be a beneficiary. 

    Of all the free agents the Steelers stand to lose this offseason Alejandro Villanueva could be the most difficult to replace. Villanueva has been a solid starter in Pittsburgh for six seasons and "solid" is hard to find when it comes to tackles. 

    Pittsburgh could move Chukwuma Okorafor over to the left side and draft another tackle, or play Zach Banner who missed all but one game last season with an ACL tear, but that's a risky move if you are playing Roethlisberger behind that line. 

    Instead, the Steelers could target Riley Reiff in a trade. Reiff only gave up one sack for the Vikings last season in over 1,000 snaps played, per PFF, and has just one more season left on his contract. That would buy the Steelers another season before having to throw a young tackle into the starting lineup. 

Draft Picks

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    While adding a veteran or two who could plug some holes and gear the Steelers up for a title run in 2021 would be good for the short term, the fact remains that the end of the Ben Roethlisberger era is coming soon, and Pittsburgh must look to the future. 

    That means the team is much more likely to be a seller than a buyer in the trade market this offseason. If the Steelers can find a home for one of their cut candidates such as Joe Haden, that would give them draft picks in return, which is what is best for the team in a post-Roethlisberger world. 

    The Steelers are headed to uncharted territory with Roethlisberger's career winding down. He has been the starting quarterback in Pittsburgh for the better part of two decades. The Steelers are among the most well-run organizations in the league, but this will be a new challenge. 

    That kind of challenge is much easier when building through the draft is a viable option. 

    Short of a proven player they can have on a short-term contract like Reiff or Watt, the goal should be to either take on high-upside cheap options. That's what they did when signing Dwayne Haskins. A former first-round quarterback who has done enough to torpedo his value is a win-win for Pittsburgh at this point. 

    If they are unable to identify more of those players in the trade market, a draft pick is just as good.