Steelers' Top Players to Avoid in 2021 NFL Free Agency

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2022

Steelers' Top Players to Avoid in 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger now retired, the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to embark on a bit of a rebuild in 2022. Pittsburgh isn't likely to completely overhaul its roster, but with Roethlisberger and defensive coordinator Keith Butler out—and general manager Kevin Colbert to retire after the draft—the Steelers will be different next season.

    Expect Pittsburgh to be reasonably active in free agency, as it looks to reload for another postseason run. The Steelers are projected to have $32 million in cap space, second-most behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.

    If the Steelers hope to challenge Cincinnati in the division, they'll need to be careful with how they use their free-agent capital. They have enough needs heading into the offseason—they need to settle on a quarterback and upgrade the league's worst run defense. Spending on free agents who don't pan out may only increase the talent gap between Pittsburgh and the Bengals.

    With this in mind, let's examine three impending free agents who should not be on Pittsburgh's radar next month—based on factors like team needs, projected price point, player potential and scheme fit where applicable.

QB Andy Dalton

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    Pittsburgh's first order of business will be finding a new franchise quarterback. Roethlisberger is gone, Mason Rudolph (career passer rating of 80.9) isn't the answer, and Dwayne Haskins is still largely unproven at the pro level.

    Whether the Steelers give Haskins and/or Joshua Dobbs a legitimate audition, look to the draft or look at veterans like Mitchell Trubisky and Jameis Winston in free agency, they have options. One of them, though, shouldn't be journeyman quarterback Andy Dalton.

    Dalton would bring AFC North experience to the proverbial table after spending the first nine seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. However, Dalton is a 34-year-old who reached his ceiling long ago and is now better suited to be a backup. He started six games for the Chicago Bears in 2021 and finished with an underwhelming 76.9 passer rating.

    This past season, Dalton played on a one-year, $10 million deal, and he's likely to command a similar price tag in 2022. The Steelers shouldn't look to spend that on a mere placeholder when they could turn to Rudolph for the job.

    Rudolph is extremely limited as a quarterback, but he's already under contract and has experience with Pittsburgh's schemes and personnel.

WR Will Fuller

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Steelers appear poised to lose wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster this offseason. Smith-Schuster said that he's "most likely" headed to free agency, according to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News.

    While Pittsburgh can and should consider its free-agent options at receiver, Miami Dolphins pass-catcher Will Fuller shouldn't be part of the player pool.

    Fuller can be a tremendous deep threat when he's healthy—and the Steelers don't have a true speedster on their roster—but his health has been an ongoing concern. Fuller appeared in 14 games as a rookie in 2016 but has not appeared in more than 11 games in a season since.

    This past season, Fuller landed on injured reserve with a broken thumb and only appeared in two games for Miami.

    Coming off a one-year, $10.6 million deal, the 27-year-old Fuller is unlikely to take the veteran's minimum. The Steelers simply cannot afford to commit a large chunk of their cap space to a player who may or may not stay on the field this season.

TE Eric Ebron

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    We'll wrap this list with a player who has spent the last two seasons in Pittsburgh but who really has no business in returning.

    Tight end Eric Ebron joined the Steelers in 2020 on a two-year, $12 million deal. While he did have 558 receiving yards and five touchdowns in his first season, he quickly fell out of coordinator Matt Canada's game plan this past season.

    With rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth emerging as a star, Ebron was only used sporadically. He landed on injured reserve with a knee injury and only appeared in eight games. However, he also had 45 percent of the snaps when healthy, according to Pro Football Reference.

    When Ebron was a significant piece of the game plan in 2020, he wasn't always reliable. Ebron was credited with seven drops that season, by Pro Football Reference. He had 14 drops the previous two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

    The Steelers have their tight end in Freiermuth, and bringing back Ebron for purely depth purposes doesn't make much sense. His inconsistency in catching the ball could be an issue for Pittsburgh's next quarterback, and Ebron won't be eager to take a significant pay cut from his $4.6 million 2021 salary.

    The Steelers should look for depth behind Freiermuth in the 2022 draft.


    *Cap and contract information via Spotrac.


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