Steelers' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2021

Steelers' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this offseason at a crossroads.

    The 2020 season featured the thrilling highs of an 11-0 start and the bitter end of a one-and-done exit in the playoffs. With limited financial flexibility in an offseason with a leaguewide depression of the salary cap, hard decisions have had to be made. 

    This all puts general manager Kevin Colbert in a difficult position. Colbert is one of the most underrated general managers in the NFL. The Steelers have experienced just one losing season with him managing the roster since 2000. 

    That job is more tricky than ever. He's had to make decisions on Ben Roethlisberger, a slew of important defensive pieces and attempt to bring back some of their outbound talent with little money to spend. 

    Here's a look at how he's done when it comes to the most impactful decisions the organization has made so far. 

Retaining Ben Roethlisberger on a Restructured Contract

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    When it comes to the Steelers and their star quarterback, the options were kind of limited. 

    They really couldn't stand pat. He was due a $41 million cap hit that would have made it nearly impossible for the Steelers to get under the reduced cap and field a competitive team. They could have traded and/or cut him, but they still would have been left with a sizable dead cap charge. 

    That would have prevented them from utilizing free agency to make a run at a starting-caliber quarterback as well. 

    Instead, the Steelers re-negotiated with Big Ben, and he will now play on a deal that costs them $25.9 million this season. 

    That puts the Steelers all-in on one more season with their 39-year-old quarterback and another year to come up with a succession plan. After all that he's meant for the franchise over his career, this was the best possible solution. 

    Roethlisberger gets one more run with the only team he's ever known, while the Steelers got the cap relief they had to have either way. 

    Grade: B+

Re-Signing JuJu Smith-Schuster

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    This had to be the shocker of the Steelers offseason, in a good way. 

    With a limited budget and needs all over the field, JuJu Smith-Schuster seemed like he would be among the first Steelers to go. After all, there were reports he told teammates he was likely signing elsewhere and he was voting in social media polls about his impending departure

    With Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool on the roster, Smith-Schuster should not have been a priority. Then again, signing a talent like him on a one-year deal that will cost the team $8 million is a no-brainer. 

    Spotrac projected Smith-Schuster's market value to be $16.1 million in annual average value. 

    There are some quibbles you can make when you see some of the outgoing free agents they could have ostensibly brought back with the money they will spend on the receiver. For instance, Bud Dupree's cap hit in Year 1 of his deal with Tennessee is only $5.1 million

    But that's not a fair comparison to make. Smith-Schuster was willing to come back on a one-year deal. There's no indication that was the case for Dupree. This was a tremendous deal for the team, and they can still walk away from it next season with Johnson and Claypool ready to carry the group of receivers.

    Grade: A-

Cutting Steven Nelson

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    The saga between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Steven Nelson came to an end with the organization releasing the cornerback on Tuesday. 

    ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the move happened after the team gave the corner permission to find a trade a week ago. 

    Obviously, there is some dissatisfaction between player-and-club here that could be the driving force behind the move, but the timing is far from ideal. The Steelers are losing a player in Nelson who is going to be difficult to replace. 

    Releasing him clears around $8.3 million in cap space, but they will be losing a player who is tied for the 11th-highest grade from PFF since 2019. 

    Finding a player who can make up for what they are losing in Nelson at this stage of free agency will be difficult. They already watched Mike Hilton leave on a four-year, $24 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals

    The Steelers' hand was obviously forced to some degree in this move, but this seems like a situation that was mishandled. They got nothing in return while losing a talented, important part of the defense while waiting until many free agents who could have helped were already signed to actually cut him. 

    Grade: C