Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been eliminated from the playoffs it’s time to do a quick overview of the players who are scheduled to be free agents come the start of the 2017 league year in March. As usual, these free agents are broken down by three types; unrestricted, restricted and exclusive rights.
In the coming weeks we will be individually breaking down all of these free agents extensively in separate posts.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Le’Veon Bell – RB – If the Steelers can’t sign Bell to an extension prior to the start of the new league year, you can probably expect him to get the franchise tag that will likely come with a salary in the neighborhood of $12.5 million. Once that happens, the two sides will have the rest of the offseason to work on a new long-term deal.
Lawrence Timmons – ILB – The soon-to-be 31-year-old linebacker wants to return to the Steelers in 2017 and there’s a good chance that happens if he’s willing to take a lot less than the $8.75 million he earned in 2016. While he is a liability in a coverage, Timmons can still play very effectively against the run.
Jarvis Jones – OLB – Jones has likely played his last snap with the Steelers and thus will likely sign with another team at some point after the start of the new league year. The former first round draft pick just can’t rush the quarterback effectively and his play against the run in the loss to Dallas Cowboys resulted in him becoming an occasional player.
DeAngelo Williams – RB – First, we need to find out if Williams still wants to play. If he does, and assuming the Steelers want him back for another season, it will come down to price. Williams is a great depth option and spot starter, but with that said, the Steelers might decide to go younger via the draft.
James Harrison – OLB – Harrison stated Sunday night that he’s not done playing and quite honestly, the Steelers might need one more season from him. The Steelers will likely draft another outside linebacker early and if that’s the case, Harrison can start the 2017 season until that rookie is ready to take over. Will Harrison take less than $3 million to play one more season?
Markus Wheaton – WR – Wheaton never could get past the preseason shoulder injury that he suffered and ultimately landed on the team’s Reserve/Injured list and has since had surgery. While he’s since said that he would like to return in 2017, the former third-round draft pick will likely get a better offer during free agency to play elsewhere. Much like former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, a change of scenery might be the best thing for Wheaton at this point. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be back in Pittsburgh in 2017.
Landry Jones – QB – One must think that Jones might have a team or two interested in him during the free agency signing period and he would be silly not to test the waters. Sure, he’s not starter material long-term, but another team might decide to pay him more money than the Steelers will want to to be their backup. The Steelers added Zach Mettenberger ahead of the start of the 2016 regular season as insurance and he might just be their backup to starter Ben Roethlisberger moving forward. I will be surprised if Jones is back.
Shamarko Thomas – S – Thomas, much like Wheaton, will likely wind up playing elsewhere in 2017. Thomas is still a fine special teams player, but that’s only when he’s healthy. If by some chance he does re-sign with the Steelers, it would only be because he chose to accept a one-year deal for the league minimum for his vested years. The former draft pick never could fill the shoes of former safety Troy Polamalu like the team hoped he could.
Greg Warren – LS – It’s hard to imagine that Warren won’t be back on another one-year deal for the veteran league minimum. Expect him to be re-signed quickly to a minimum benefit salary that comes with a reduced salary cap charge.
David Johnson – TE – Johnson has probably played his last down in Pittsburgh and especially being as he’s no longer a big asset on special teams. He looked a lot leaner during his second stint in Pittsburgh but is still a very fringe roster player. If he is ultimately re-signed, it will be for the league minimum and after the draft takes place. I’ll bet that doesn’t happen, however.
Ricardo Mathews – DE – Mathews, like Johnson, can probably be had for the veteran minimum once again but with that said, the emergence of fellow defensive ends L.T. Walton and Johnny Maxey might allow the Steelers to look elsewhere. Regardless, the Steelers shouldn’t be in a hurry to re-sign Mathews until after the draft takes place.
Cody Wallace – C – Wallace never could recover from his preseason knee injury and wound up on the team’s Reserve/Injured list midway through the year. The Steelers have a decent backup interior swing player in B.J. Finney, so there won’t be a need to re-sign Wallace.
Steven Johnson – ILB – Before going down injured early in the regular season, Johnson led the Steelers in special teams tackles and that’s exactly what he was signed to do. While Johnson can probably be had again for the veteran league minimum on a one year contract, the Steelers won’t be in any hurry to re-sign him until they see what they can get in the draft. Even if he is re-signed, there’s no guarantee he’ll make the final 53-man roster.
Restricted Free Agents
Chris Hubbard – T – After filling in as a starter at right tackle early in the regular season, Hubbard proceeded to see weekly snaps in games as an extra end-of-the-line blocker (tight end). The Steelers will likely issue Hubbard a right of first refusal restricted tender ahead of the start of the new league year and see if any team tries to sign him away.
Ross Cockrell – CB – Cockrell will most definitely be restricted tendered prior to the start of free agency. In order to keep him in Pittsburgh another season, however, the Steelers might have to give him a second-round tender to prevent him from being signed away as a right of first refusal tender might not be enough.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Fitzgerald Toussaint – RB – It’s hard to imagine the Steelers not giving Toussaint a minimum salary tender to compete in training camp. Remember, these minimum salary exclusive rights tenders must be accepted and once that happens the player can’t sign elsewhere.
Roosevelt Nix – FB – I can guarantee you that Nix will get an exclusive rights tender as he’s likely to on the 53-man roster once again in 2017. He’s an excellent blocker and solid special teams player to boot.
Chris Boswell – K – Yes, Boswell will be back in 2017 for the minimum and the year after that as a restricted free agent.
Alejandro Villanueva – T – It’s not hard to figure out what’s going to happen with Villanueva. Like Boswell, the Steelers can have their starting left tackle on the cheap for the next two seasons.
Xavier Grimble – TE – While Grimble failed to live up to his hype this season, the Steelers would be foolish to not tender him a minimum salary and especially being as the future of fellow tight end Ladarius Green is up in the air due to his concussion problems. He should be back competing for a roster spot in training camp.
Anthony Chickillo – OLB – Chickillo will be back in 2017 like the aforementioned exclusive rights free agents.
Cobi Hamilton – WR – Hamilton should be back in training camp competing for a spot on the 53-man roster.
B.J. Finney – C – Finney, like the others above, will also be back on a one-year minimum salary and it’s hard not seeing him making the 53-man roster once again as the interior swing-man. He looked great in the two games that he started at left guard.
Jordan Dangerfield – S – Even though there’s no guarantee he’ll make the final 53-man roster, it will be very surprising if Dangerfield doesn’t receive a minimum salary exclusive rights tender ahead of the start of the new league year.
Cole Manhart – G – Manhart spent some time on the Steelers practice squad before getting injured. He might ultimately be one of the Steelers several exclusive rights free agents to not receive a minimum tender.
Valerian Ume-Ezeoke – C – Ume-Ezeoke was a training camp body before going down injured and there’s a good chance he’s not tendered.
Kevin Anderson – ILB – Anderson, like Ume-Ezeoke, didn’t stay healthy very long after being signed to the 90-man roster and thus it wont be surprising if he’s one of the few exclusive rights free agents that doesn’t receive a minimum tender.