Steelers' Team Needs to Fill in 2022 NFL Free Agency
The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering a new era in 2022, one that won't feature Ben Roethlisberger as the face of the franchise.
Replacing Roethlisberger at quarterback will be a task for the offseason, but it's one best suited for the draft. Prospects like Liberty's Malik Willis and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder have the potential to be long-term quarterback options. Free agents like Mitchell Trubisky and Tyrod Taylor are far less enticing.
Jameis Winston is a more proven option, but he's coming off a torn ACL and is projected to earn up to $12 million on a one-year "prove-it" deal by Pro Football Focus. The Steelers, meanwhile, have multiple other needs and $29.6 million in projected cap space.
While Mason Rudolph isn't the future in Pittsburgh, he can serve as a bridge to a rookie quarterback.
So if the Steelers don't look for their future starting quarterback in free agency, what positions must they address on the open market? You'll find a look at exactly that here.
There's no guarantee that the Steelers draft a quarterback early, but they are at least pondering the move. And Willis appears to be Pittsburgh's preferred target.
"An NFL source told me yesterday that the Steelers clearly prefer Liberty QB Malik Willis to Pitt QB Kenny Pickett," Thor Nystrom of NBC Sports Edge tweeted.
If the Steelers are planning to take a quarterback in Round 1, they are not going to land a receiver there. With JuJu Smith-Schuster headed to free agency, the Steelers would be wise to consider wideout options when free agency begins March 16.
Re-signing Smith-Schuster could be an option, but other relatively affordable players will also be available. Dallas Cowboys slot receiver Cedrick Wilson, for example, is coming off a 602-yard, six-touchdown campaign.
Wilson has a projected market value of $6.4 million annually, per Spotrac.
Other second-tier receivers like Will Fuller and Marquez Valdes-Scantling should also be available. Pittsburgh can help reload its receiving corps without chasing big names like Davante Adams and Chris Godwin this spring.
No team was worse against the run than Pittsburgh in 2021. The Steelers ranked dead last in both rushing yards allowed and yards per attempt surrendered. Therefore, it would be smart to take a long look at run-stopping linebackers in free agency.
Fortunately, the Steelers shouldn't have to chew up all of their available cap space to improve their second-level defense.
Green Bay Packers linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, for example, is projected to earn $9 million annually by Pro Football Focus. That's a good chunk of money but not excessive for a legitimate playmaker coming off of a Pro Bowl campaign.
Campbell finished the 2021 season with 146 tackles, 102 solo stops and two interceptions.
If the Steelers want more of a budget option, they could look within the AFC North at Cleveland Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. He finished this past season with 113 total tackles, 69 solo stops and two passes defended.
Pro Football Focus projects Walker to earn just $4 million annually.
Pittsburgh should explore multiple avenues when it comes to fixing their run defense because it was a massive liability in 2021.
The Steelers were much better against the pass in 2021, ranking ninth in both yards allowed and yards per attempt surrendered—though they ranked a more modest 15th in interceptions (13). However, Pittsburgh also has cornerbacks Joe Haden, Ahkello Witherspoon and Arthur Maulet headed to the open market.
Reloading at cornerback would make a ton of sense in free agency.
If the Steelers want to spend big on a single position, cornerback is the one to target. Several high-end corners—including J.C. Jackson, Carlton Davis and Stephon Gilmore—are expected to be available. Eight of Pro Football Focus' top 50 free agents are cornerbacks.
Budget options will be available too. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Sidney Jones IV, for example, is projected to earn a one-year, $4.25 million deal in free agency by PFF. That's pennies for a player who allowed an opposing passer rating of just 84.3 in coverage.
The Steelers could also consider re-signing Haden, though he seemed to be on the decline in 2021. He allowed an opposing passer rating above 100.0 for the first time in four years.
Bringing back Haden for one more run would make sense, but the Steelers should look to get younger on the back end as well.