Steelers' Top Players to Consider for Franchise Tag in Free Agency
The franchise is in a transitional phase as it looks for a new quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger's retirement and it may look to start fresh at a few positions.
JuJu Smith-Schuster makes the most sense as an offensive candidate for the franchise tag. Smith-Schuster would be a reliable part of the Pittsburgh receiving corps to help ease the transition to the new quarterback.
Joe Haden and Terrell Edmunds appear to be the most likely defensive candidates for the franchise tag. Utilizing the offseason mechanism would allow the Steelers to bring back one veteran defensive back to deal with the rigors of the AFC North.
Pittsburgh needs to consider the cost of the franchise tag before it goes through with a decision. Those three players may earn more with the franchise tag than the Steelers would prefer to pay them.
The Steelers would love to have as many top-tier wide receivers on their roster for the new quarterback to work with.
Pittsburgh could promote Mason Rudolph, trade for some like Jimmy Garoppolo or land one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2021 NFL draft.
JuJu Smith-Schuster would be a nice player to have at wide receiver, but the relationship between the two parties may come to an end this offseason.
The 2022 franchise tag price for a wide receiver is $19.1 million, per Over the Cap, and that could be viewed as too expensive for the Steelers.
Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool are a clear one-two punch at wide receiver and Ray-Ray McCloud came on late in the season as a decent No. 3 target.
Smith-Schuster may be willing to take a one-year deal because he is coming off a season in which he was out for the most part due to an injury.
That may force some franchises to turn away from the wide receiver, but it also may be a reason why the Steelers do not want to pay him close to $20 million for one more year when others at the position are more than capable of doing the job.
Pittsburgh's most logical choice for the franchise tag could be Terrell Edmunds.
The 25-year-old safety was third on the team in tackles behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Schobert.
Using the franchise tag on Edmunds would allow the Steelers to hold off on paying two young safeties in the same offseason.
Pittsburgh's top offseason priority should be to re-sign Fitzpatrick to a large contract, and that would take away money from a long-term Edmunds deal.
The Steelers could use the $13 million franchise tag set for safeties on Edmunds to keep him in the defense for at least one more year.
The problem with doing that is the Steelers likely will not be willing to commit a ton of money to the safety position next offseason when there could be other holes to fix.
Pittsburgh's ideal situation with Edmunds could be to keep him around for one more year to partner Fitzpatrick and then let him go in free agency next offseason.
Using the franchise tag on Joe Haden makes less sense than it does for Edmunds.
Haden made $7 million last season, and if the franchise tag is applied, he would receive a raise around $10 million.
The Steelers can't commit that much money to a 33-year-old cornerback when Fitzpatrick needs to get paid and Edmunds is a candidate to come back on some type of contract.
Haden could be mentioned in the franchise tag conversation just in case the Steelers do not get any deals done in the secondary and because of the most of the other options are not worth considering for the tag.
Pittsburgh would be wise to exhaust all of its options before using the franchise tag on Haden and could be more of a worse-case scenario plan in case nothing goes right on the contract front with the other defensive backs.