Steelers' Last-Minute Guide to 2022 NFL Free Agency

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2022

Steelers' Last-Minute Guide to 2022 NFL Free Agency

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers will embark on a new era of football starting with 2022 NFL free agency.

    Ben Roethlisberger has retired. Longtime general manager Kevin Colbert is stepping down, and the search to find his replacement is ongoing. He will be involved with the team in free agency, but this is still the dawn of a new era.

    The new-look Steelers are going to be an interesting team to track in free agency. They haven't been known as huge spenders in the past. They prefer to use more money to keep talent in house rather than gambling on players from around the league.

    However, this could be the year when they buck that trend some. After the depressed cap in 2021 forced the Steelers to do some penny-pinching, they will have enough resources to make bigger moves this season.

    With the legal tampering period kicking off free agency Monday, here's a last-minute guide to the Steelers' situation, pending free agents, biggest needs and targets.

Cap Situation

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    Cap Space: $27.1 million, per Spotrac.

    The Steelers find themselves in a much better financial situation heading into 2022 free agency when compared to the 2021 period. That's true of many teams because of the salary cap's return to a normal level.

    There are still obvious ways for the Steelers to create more room as they begin working to sign free agents. Joe Schobert, for example, is slated to make $9.7 million next season, but only $1.8 million of it is guaranteed, so they can clear quite a bit of space through a trade, release or restructure.

    Zach Banner is another candidate to be a cap casualty. There's a near-$5 million disparity between his cap hit and guaranteed money.

    Many of the Steelers' biggest cap hits are justified. T.J. Watt ($31.1 million), Cameron Heyward ($17.4 million), Stephon Tuitt ($14 million) and Minkah Fitzpatrick ($10.6 million) are all key contributors on a defense that carries this roster.

Notable Free Agents

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    Justin Berl/Associated Press
    • CB Joe Haden
    • WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
    • TE Eric Ebron
    • RG Trai Turner
    • S Terrell Edmunds
    • OT Chukwuma Okorafor
    • WR James Washington

    The Steelers have several impending free agents who played significant roles last season. Yet it's easy to envision them moving on from several of them.

    Joe Haden only played 54.7 percent of the snaps this season and allowed a 100.1 passer rating when targeted this season. He's going to be 33 this coming season, so he isn't likely to be high on the priority list.

    Eric Ebron was supplanted by rookie Pat Freiermuth as the team's top tight end. He becomes a low-priority player as TE2 on the roster.

    Terrell Edmunds and Chukwuma Okorafor are examples of young players who probably haven't played at a high enough level to be considered players who are vital to bring back.

    JuJu Smith-Schuster will be an interesting case. He's only 25 played in just five games this season. With Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson on the roster, he could be looking to go elsewhere after signing a one-year contract to play with Roethlisberger one last time.

Biggest Needs and Top Targets

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Offensive Line

    Ben Roethlisberger was one of the easiest quarterbacks in the league to protect. In his final season, he wasn't looking to leave the pocket and had the quickest time to pass in the league, per Next Gen Stats. in spite of that, the offensive line still finished 17th in pass-block grade and 26th in PFF's final offensive line rankings.

    The line was fairly young. Dan Moore Jr., Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green were all in their first two years. The unit could still use some veterans who could bring the unit closer to league average.

    Top Targets: Morgan Moses, Eric Fisher, Andrew Norwell



    Haden's potential departure is exacerbated by Ahkello Witherspoon and Arthur Maulet potentially walking away as well. In short, the depth at corner could be decimated pretty quickly. Cameron Sutton is a decent starter, but the Steelers would do well to find at least one starter on the outside and another who could play in the slot.

    The Steelers might not have the capital to go after the biggest names in the class. J.C. Jackson figures to be way too expensive given how much the Steelers already have invested in the defense. They should be taking a long look at the middle tier of the class, though.

    Top Targets: Robert Alford, Patrick Peterson, K'Waun Williams



    For better or worse, this offseason is going be defined by what Pittsburgh does at quarterback. With Roethlisberger calling it a career, the Steelers have a few options. They can stand pat with Mason Rudolph, utilize the draft, pull off a major trade or seek out options in free agency.

    There are no sure things in this class of free agents, but there is a mixture of veterans with starting experience. At the very least, the Steelers could consider bringing in at least one of them to compete with Rudolph.

    Top Targets: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Mitchell Trubisky