JuJu Smith-Schuster, Joe Haden, Steelers Free Agents' Projected Contracts
The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering perhaps their most pivotal offseason in recent memory.
Not only will Pittsburgh be moving forward without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but it will also be without longtime defensive coordinator Keith Butler and longtime general manager Kevin Colbert, who is stepping down after the draft.
Pittsburgh also needs to reload and revamp a roster that made the playoffs in 2021 but struggled in several key areas. The Steelers ranked just 21st in points scored, 20th in points allowed, 29th in rushing and dead last in rushing yards and yards per carry surrendered.
The good news is that Pittsburgh is projected to have $29.6 million in cap space with which to work. This should give the Steelers the flexibility needed to find upgrades and re-sign key contributors who are headed to market.
Who stays and who goes? That's the question Pittsburgh must answer.
Here we'll examine three of the Steelers' top 2022 free agents and the contracts they are likely to receive on the open market. Factors like past production, health, age, upside and positional value will be considered.
A complete list of Pittsburgh's impending free agents can be found at Spotrac.
There are pros and cons to re-signing receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster this offseason. While he hasn't been especially productive over the past couple of years—and was hampered by a shoulder injury in 2021—he has put elite production on his resume.
Smith-Schuster had 129 receiving yards in five games during the regular season and had 831 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. Back in 2018, however, he racked up 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns.
Pro Football Focus projects a one-year, $8 million deal for Smith-Schuster in free agency, which might be a little low. The wideout said he "most likely" will explore free agency, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, and he should be one of the top slot options available.
If the Steelers can bring back Smith-Schuster at $8 million annually, it would make sense. However, Pittsburgh should be looking at a one-year, prove-it deal with the 25-year-old. Can he be what he was in 2018, and can he thrive without Roethlisberger under center? The Steelers should give themselves a season to find out.
However, cap-rich teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets could get in on the action, driving Smith-Schuster's price point above what's comfortable for Pittsburgh.
Contract projection: One-year, $10 million, $6 million guaranteed
Cornerback Joe Haden may have begun an age-induced decline this past season. The 32-year-old was a Pro Bowler in 2019, a solid starter in 2020 and then an inconsistent one in 2021.
Haden's opposing passer rating jumped from 75.9 in 2020 to 100.1 this past season.
Still, Haden is a starting-caliber cornerback and a veteran leader in the Steelers secondary. Retaining him would be logical if Pittsburgh doesn't have to commit too much financially. Pro Football Focus projects a one-year, $5 million deal that is fully guaranteed.
This feels low in terms of overall money, as Haden's struggles in 2021 may have been the result of an inconsistent overall back seven and the foot sprain that limited him to 12 games. While he may be on the decline, Haden could return to form when healthy.
Haden likely has a couple of solid years left in the proverbial tank, but the Steelers should look to protect themselves with an incentive-laden deal that isn't heavy on guarantees. A two-year deal feels entirely reasonable provided Pittsburgh has an easy out after one more season.
Contract projection: Two years, $13 million, $4 million guaranteed.
Guard Trai Turner is likely to garner a fair bit of market attention because of his experience and his past performance—name recognition, after all, is a factor in free agency. Turner has 106 starts and five Pro Bowl appearances on his resume.
Pro Football Focus projects a three-year, $18.75 million deal for the 28-year-old. This feels a little high, and it should be too rich for the Steelers, even with a solid amount of cap space available.
Turner played through an ankle injury in 2021 and struggled with consistency. He was responsible for seven sacks allowed and six penalties, according to PFF. Injuries are also a bit of a concern, as Turner missed 16 games in the four seasons prior to 2021.
It seems that Turner's best years are behind him. While keeping an experienced starter along the line would make sense for the Steelers, they should only be looking at a short-term deal with Turner. If he returns to Pro Bowl form, great. If he doesn't, Pittsburgh needs to have an out that isn't financially debilitating.
Contract projection: Two years, $12 million, $6 million guaranteed