The Optimist’s Take – A Future For The Futures

While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.

No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.

With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.

Question: Do the Steelers have any players signed to future contracts who can compete for a roster spot?

Futures contracts are a crucial part of a team’s early offseason planning. After all, the vast majority of the back end of any team’s offseason roster will consist of players signed to futures contracts. They may not be players who figure to make an NFL team, but they help prepare that team for the rigors of the regular season.

Every once in a while, of course, there is a player who makes it, though that is admittedly a rare phenomenon. It often consists of second-year late-round draft picks who were released during their rookie season and re-signed to the practice squad in order to make room on the roster for another position.

The Steelers do have one of those signed to a futures contract this season in Rob Blanchflower, who I do believe has a fair shot of making the roster this year. That, however, could depend largely on how they navigate the position over the next couple months. With two of their tight ends scheduled to be free agents, while also showing great interest in the position during free agency, it’s unclear just how much of a shot he’ll have.

Given the lack of depth at outside linebacker, the fact that the Steelers have two signed to futures contracts who can at least be considered intriguing is noteworthy. Howard Jones was an undrafted rookie who showed to have a nose for the ball when it’s on the ground last year, but he needs to bulk up and build his game. Shawn Lemon exploded last year in the CFL and now hopes to make an NFL roster.

Safety Jordan Dangerfield was intriguing last year, and, quite frankly, the Steelers had six safeties on the roster.  That has to at least give him an outside shot. C.J. Goodwin should benefit from the release of Lance Moore in the hopes of sticking on the depth chart, but he’ll have to show he can play special teams, for sure.

The Steelers lost out on two defensive ends a year ago and replaced them with Ethan Hemer and Joe Kruger. But they could have serious depth issues at the position, which could give them an outside shot.

There are other names worth mentioning, but they are at positions that the Steelers are likely to address heavily during the offseason, either through free agency and the draft. Considering the overall level of talent on the current roster, however, perhaps these futures players have a better than average shot of making the team.

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