At this moment, the only running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers that is currently under contract for the 2018 offseason and is healthy is James Summers, a first-year Reserve/Future signing out of East Carolina. The only other running back on the roster not scheduled to hit free agency is James Conner, who is recovering from a torn MCL.
The three running backs who finished out the season on the 53-man roster (Le’Veon Bell, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Stevan Ridley) all have expiring contracts, with Bell and Ridley set to be unrestricted free agents, while Toussaint will be a restricted free agent.
At the moment, the Steelers are attempting to work out a long-term deal with Bell, and they figure to have Conner back for 2018, but one wonders about the depth behind them. Ridley played well in his short period of time, so why not re-sign him?
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not appear to believe that they would re-sign him, stating when asked in a recent chat when asked if they would bring him back that “they probably won’t because he will count too much with the veteran minimum” to be their third option at running back.
To be clear, this appears only to be speculation on Dulac’s part and in no way informed by inside knowledge. It would be fair to point out that there is some precedence for this with the team’s failure to re-sign running backs in similar situations such as Ben Tate and Jordan Todman, so he is not coming out of left field, and they do have significant cap concerns.
But would a veteran-minimum qualifying contract really be so make-or-break for their third-string running back? Frankly, when Dulac is working off of speculation, I find that he tends frequently to miss the mark, though I generally trust his sourced material. This is not that.
But it is an excuse to talk about Ridley again, which I will take.
The Steelers brought in the veteran running back after Conner was injured, and he provided a bit of a late-season boost, helping to carry an offense filled with backups to a victory in the final game of the regular season. He looked strong, and energized.
I don’t know whether or not the team will actually sign him, but if he can be had for the veteran minimum, they should. Outside of perhaps a small signing bonus, the contract would not be guaranteed if he fails to make the roster, but he showed more than enough to entice for an encore.
Just last season, in fact, they signed a veteran running back in free agency in Knile Davis who did not make the final 53-man roster, even if, granted, they were in a much more cap-friendly position at the time. but after displacement, Ridley’s cap impact on a minimum deal would be…well, minimal. To the tune of a couple hundred thousand dollars at the most. Don’t listen to Gerry, Pittsburgh. Bring Ridley back to camp.