For the fourth season in a row on Steelers Depot, we’re conducting a mock offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers. If you’ve read the past ones, you’ll recall they’ve had…mixed success. Some became a cross of Seinfield and Groundhog Day; an offseason about nothing that only seems to repeat itself, minus Jerry Seinfield, George Castonza, or Bill Murray. You know, the fun parts.
My goal this year is to change all that. To make it the most successful offseason we’ve ever done. But like the others, I get only one shot at doing it. If I screw up, which feels likely, you’ll all get to see it (and laugh at me). As always, we’re using Fanspeak’s simulators to accomplish this. Manage the cap for the offseason, mock the draft for the draft. I’ll add in links to each at the bottom.
To make this more fun, at least, in my nerdy, Mountain-Dew-On-A-Friday-Night version of “fun,” we’re adding a couple elements to the offseason mock. I’ll create a full 90 man training camp roster and depth charts. We’ll trim it down to a 53 man Week One team, a ten man practice squad, along with depth charts on offense and starting units on special teams.
But first, we begin with free agency…
To kick off the offseason, I have to check out my cap situation. Somehow, it’s even worse than the real thing. Fanspeak has me more than $12 million in the red, unable to do literally anything until I correct it.
The game does allow for restructures with the click of a button, which seems to just halve the current players cap hit. I chose to redo the contracts of David DeCastro and Stephon Tuitt (who were done in real life but not reflected in the sim), and Cam Heyward.
To make a little more room, it’s time to hand out pink slips. The Steelers seem intent on keeping J.J. Wilcox in real life, but you know my thoughts on that. He’s gone. Ditto Eli Rogers, who could come back for cheaper in the offseason, and Coty Sensabaugh, who has no shot of sticking on the 2018 roster. I keep William Gay for his veteran presence though he may not make it to Week One. Depends on how everything else shakes out.
All told and the sim now has me at $13.88 million in cap space. That’s not…very realistic but unless you want to see me try to sign guys you’ve barely heard of to one year, $1.1 million contracts for the next 2000 words, we’re both going to need to accept it.
If you’re curious, here are the other notable restructures and cuts around the league. Couple of ex-Steelers on the board in Markus Wheaton and Lawrence Timmons. Is a Steelers reunion in the cards?
Before we hit the official start of free agency, there’s the chance to re-sign my own. The list is…bleak.
Chris Hubbard is the best player on the list but I won’t even pretend there’s a chance he wants to return to play the backup. In a down year on the market and in the draft, it’s his time to shine. We love him…so we set him free.
Justin Hunter? Pass. Ryan Harris? What is he even still doing here? Daimion Stafford is on a couch somewhere. The only name who blinks on my radar is Arthur Moats, who like Gay, has a veteran element and some depth that has me interested. But it can only be for the right price. My first contract offer of the year goes out to him, a meager $1.2 million for one year with a $120K signing bonus.
Like every girl in high school, I’m immediately rejected. An ominous beginning, I press on, determined to make the rest of the offseason much more of a success than what’s foreshadowed.
Here’s a look at the roster, minus futures contracts, before free agency starts. To frame where team needs are at. For the moment, I’m deciding to move Brian Allen to safety since the depth is thinner there.
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RB: Le’Veon Bell, James Conner
FB: Roosevelt Nix
TE: Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble
WR: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darrius Heyward-Bey
OT: Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert, Jerald Hawkins, Matt Feiler
OG/C: Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, B.J. Finney
DE: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, L.T. Walton
NT: Javon Hargrave
OLB: Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Anthony Chickillo, Keion Adams
ILB: Anthony Hitchens, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich, L.J. Fort
CB: Artie Burns, Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, William Gay
FS: Robert Golden, Brian Allen
SS: Sean Davis
K: Chris Boswell
P: Jordan Berry
LS: Kameron Canaday
21 on offense, 22 on defense. That’s 46 spots taken, seven available.
To free agency we go.
FREE AGENCY – DAY ONE
So it begins. The top needs on this team are obvious: inside linebacker and free safety. Here are the top names at each position.
There’s four players I decide to call up. Remember, in this sim, I can’t deny a contract after it’s signed. So I gotta be careful with my money or poor Omar Khan is going to have to work overtime. Or he’ll quit in a huff, probably the smart thing to do if I’m his boss.
Two are names I’ve talked about before: safety Tre Boston and inside linebacker Anthony Hitchens. Boston is the top safety on the market…and I know he won’t be cheap. Hitchens seems destined for Indianapolis but I tell him if he comes to Pittsburgh, he can play for a Super Bowl, get a breakfast named after him at Pamela’s, and I tell him you just gotta check out the bathrooms at Jerome Bettis’ Grille.
For Boston, I offer: 4 years, $22 million ($5.5 million per year) with $4.4 million guaranteed. Right in line with what the team have to Mike Mitchell and Ladarius Green.
For Hitchens, it comes in a bit lower: 4 years, $17 million ($4.25 million per year) with $4.25 million guaranteed.
Two other hidden names who catch my eye. The Steelers love their height/weight/speed receivers and they don’t look any better than Brice Butler. He’s always underwhelmed but stands in at 6’3, 214 and ran a 4.37 at his Pro Day five years ago. When the ball is in his hands, he makes big plays. Averaged over 21 yards per catch last year on 15 receptions, finding the end zone three times. He’s the insurance – and possible future – for Martavis Bryant, expected to leave after 2018, and could miss another game if he goes on Snapchat to yell at JuJu for why LeBron James will never play in Pittsburgh (and why he’ll never take Bryant’s job).
The offer for Butler? A modest two year contract worth $3 million total with a $300K signing bonus.
One final move of the day. With Daniel McCullers voted off the island, I need another round-mound who can plug the run and be the 6th defensive linemen on the roster. They don’t come much heftier than Pat Sims, who found a good niche in Cincinnati before they phased him out last year. I think I can get him cheap. One year, $1.2 million, 120K guaranteed.
I hit the big ‘ol green button to advance the day and learn my fate. And can only hope that at least someone accepts, a rare occurrence in past seasons. Wish me luck. I need it.
Here’s the results.
We got one! Hitchens is swooned by my pitch and signs on the dotted line. We have our every down inside linebacker for 2018, a big win for this defense. The rest decline but I’ll count Day One as a victory for nerds like me everywhere.
Here’s what happened everywhere else on Day One. Chris Hubbard cashes in with the Carolina Panthers.
FREE AGENCY – DAY TWO
Like Le’Veon Bell at training camp, Day Two is a rerun of Day One. We’re still taking another crack at the trio who declined, though I promise myself not to try for the entirety of the ten day window. Or else you all will kill me. And you’d be right.
Our cap space falls to a still respectable $10.9 million. I revise all three offers.
Tre Boston: 4 years, $23.8 million ($5.95 million per year), $5.8 million guaranteed
Brice Butler: 2 years, $4.2 million, $840K guaranteed
Pat Sims: 1 year, $1.7 million, $340K guaranteed
Small-ish increases across the board. But easier to work your way up than overpay and regret it. That’s a Kevin Colbert bumper sticker if I’ve ever seen one.
I start branching out to other options. Returner is high on my list, whether that’s at running back or wide receiver (Mike Tomlin reminds me it’s his creed not to let it be someone on defense). Should I go after RB Benny Cunningham, this year’s Knile Davis? I signed Cunningham last year, one of few “won” on.
Or…and I’m secretly going against Tomlin here, do I make myself the enemy of Steelers Nation and sign Adam Jones?
*dun dun dun*
Tomlin likes Pacman and hey, he’s been a great returner for a long time.
I consider it but for now, hold back on offers to either player. Let’s see how the rest play out first.
Time to hit that green button and find out.
Nope, nope, and going elsewhere. Sims gets way too much money from the Buffalo Bills, a figure I had no interest in competing with. The others decline with no indication how close I am to nabbing them. Maybe it’s time for a new approach…
FREE AGENCY – DAY THREE
At safety, we’re going with that new approach. I can’t chase Boston forever and if Sims can get $5 million per year, I don’t think I can offer anything reasonable enough for a top safety. We now have a two-prong approach. Two lower tier safeties who can Wonder Twin powers in the form of a competent enough group (Form Of! Turnovers!).
They’re two more names I’ve mentioned before: Keith Tandy, a playmaker in 2016 mysteriously benched by Tampa last year, and Michael Thomas, an ace special teamer who could get involved in sub-packages. Their offers are much more modest.
Tandy: 3 years, $9 million, $2.25 guaranteed
Thomas: 2 years, $3.2 million, $960K guaranteed
If I only get one, I won’t be happy. Goal is to have both on my roster.
I’m taking another crack at Butler. Up the ante to a two year deal worth $5.2 million and nearly two of it guaranteed. But I’m not confident.
Two more names I’m targeting. Cunningham, knowing I need the return man. I decide against Pacman Jones, Steelers’ Nation would riot, figuring I can find a punt returner elsewhere or in the draft. The offer for Cunningham is on the cheap – 2 years worth $2.8 mil with a $700K signing bonus.
One new name enters the arena. I continue to look for a cheap, backup nose tackle. How about Jerel Worthy? A discounted, sparsely used nose tackled who was coached by Karl Dunbar in Buffalo in 2015. My offer reflects that, one year worth 1.2 million.
Let’s find out how we did.
Success! I literally threw my hands in the air as I saw Tandy and Thomas both come to the city (I pulled the classic, ‘don’t tell the other one they’re going to the same place’ trick). Safety isn’t a finished product yet but it’s a start.
Rejections elsewhere but we’ve now signed three people, a borderline miracle in this series.
Take a look at what else is going on around the league. There’s Tre Boston going for $26.4 million to Houston. No way, no how was I going to reach that number. I’m glad I didn’t subject you to the torture of me offering 10% more and getting shot down each time.
FREE AGENCY – DAY FOUR
Cap update. There’s $7.38 million left in the piggy bank. Still plenty to make a big move but the talent is beginning to shrivel up.
One last chance at the two players I’ve circled, Cunningham and Butler. If I can’t sign them now, I’m walking away. And I mean it this time. I think.
Final offers for each. For Butler: 3 years, $8.63 million with $2.59 guaranteed.
And Cunningham: 2 years, $4 million, $1.2 bonus.
I also debate if I should go after Arthur Moats again. I want to bring him back but figure he’s a low-priority free agent and no one is going to sign him so early into the new league year. Hearing back from Butler and Cunningham, seeing where the cap is at is the practical move.
Let’s see if they sign.
Cunnigham caves. Butler doesn’t. If I was a baseball player, I’d be in the Hall of Fame.
Let’s see what else is going on around the league…just in case.
MOATS! NO! That’s what I get for waiting. And I all got out of it was a kick returner.
Also, Jay Cutler is still playing. And heading back to his old stomping grounds with the Chicago Bears for…reasons.
FREE AGENCY – DAY FIVE
I didn’t get a screencap of how much money I had left. But it’s still enough. Here are the list of top free agents. Kirk Cousins is playing hard to get.
I re-up my offer to Worthy. Only by a little but I’m banking on it being enough. We go up to $1.45 for one season.
Two new ones come in. I’ve always liked cornerback Shareece Wright watching him in Baltimore. Not a top athlete but solid against the run, someone I think who can help on special teams. He gets an offer of $1.4 mil for one season. Can cut ties with no issue if it doesn’t work out.
Finally, I got my kick returner. Now I’m looking for someone who can man punts. Michael Camparno, who has been really successful there and can play in the slot (also replacing Rogers there) while doing some gadget stuff on offense. A two year, $2.3 million offer comes his way. A good chunk guaranteed, $1.15, to entice him to sign.
Let’s advance a day.
Triple sevens! They’ve all signed. That might be a first. I’m the happiest GM in the world.
Cousins, if you’re wondering, finally signs with the New York Jets. Two years at $58.4 million. Wow.
FREE AGENCY – DAY SIX
Now our cap space has mostly been depleted. We’re just over a million left and there aren’t many moves left to make. But we’ve done well. Seven players in total signed with one big name coming to town, Hitchens, on a four year deal. Tandy is someone I believe can start, short-term at least, at free safety. The rest are niche but that’s what this roster needs. Other needs can be addressed in the draft and I finish things up feeling as confident as ever.
Here are the six players I signed and their contracts.
ILB Anthony Hitchens: 4 years, $17 million $4.25 million guaranteed
FS Keith Tandy: 3 years, $9 million, $2.25 million guaranteed
WR Michael Campanaro: 2 years, $4.6 million, $1.15 million guaranteed
RB Benny Cunningham: 2 years, $4 million, $1.2 million guaranteed
SS Michael Thomas: 2 years, $3.2 million, $960K guaranteed
NT Jerel Worthy: 1 year, $1.45 million $290K guaranteed
CB Shareece Wright: 1 year, $1.4 million, $280K guaranteed
Here’s a look at all the free agency moves I made.
Go ahead and grade them, Steelers’ Nation. Did I do well? Where should I have improved? But we aren’t done yet. The draft is right around the corner.
If you’re wondering, or want to replicate things for yourself, I used the unpaid version of Fanspeak’s On The Clock. I used Bleacher Report Matt Miller’s draft board, it was recent and had an extensive list of players, on “difficult,” though I don’t get what is the difference between that and classic. Here’s the top five.
Other notable players off the board: Harold Landry at #10, Sam Hubbard at #14, and Justin Reid at #17.
And then there’s me at 28. It came down to three names: FS Jessie Bates, TE Mike Gesicki, and OLB Josh Sweat. Gesicki feels like a luxury but there’s a way he can make a Day One impact. Bates is a bigger need but is he first round talent? Sweat didn’t have great production but tested unbelievably well and this team needs pass rush help immediately.
In the end, I went with Sweat. Too much upside. In this defense, outside linebacker is simply more important than safety and I hope to get Bates in round two. Here’s how the rest of the draft turned out.
Round 2 – (60th Overall): Mike Gesicki/TE Penn State
Bates went off the board five picks before I could snag him. But Gesicki surprisingly fell and the value was too strong to pass him up a second time. Art Rooney II wants to fix the red zone offense, a unit that has underachieved for years now, and Gesicki is going to help fix that. Steelers need to do to defenses the way Rob Gronkowski made them look silly last year.
Round 3 – (92nd Overall): DeShon Elliott/FS Texas
Get a safety later than what I want but I like Elliott. Young, raw player who can hit, run, and is opportunistic, even if he doesn’t have incredible ball skills. He may not start Year One but I like his chances beyond that.
Round 5 – (148th Overall): Shaq Griffin/ILB UCF
Not only one of the best stories in this years draft but a fantastic athlete who can become a great special teams player and potential dime linebacker, a position the Steelers haven’t found a good answer for. Jerry Olsavsky will be a good coach for him and I think he’s someone Mike Tomlin will love. The fact only one team interviewed him at the Combine makes me wonder if the media is higher on his draft stock than NFL teams but I still think he’s a day three selection.
Round 5 – (165th Overall): Poona Ford/NT Texas
Added competition at the backup nose tackle spot with Worley a low-level flier. Ford isn’t a top level athlete but surprise Combine snub with great hand use who can make some splash plays. 20.5 career TFL is nothing to sneeze at versus great competition.
Round 7 – (220th Overall): Marquez Valdes-Scantling/WR USF
Wide receiver taken lower than what’s ideal, I nearly took Allen Lazard in the mid-rounds but missed out, but Scantling blazed a 4.37 at the Combine. Averaged nearly 19 yards per catch as a junior, 16.6 as a senior. Had a 75 yard TD touchdown in 2017 along with 64 and 95 yard TD receptions.
Round 7 – (246th Overall): David Bright/OT Stanford
Offensive linemen to round things out. Bright has a Stanford pedigree and versatility to replace Chris Hubbard. Bright played everything but center in college. The more hats you can wear, the more value you offer.
To recap, here’s every draft pick.
Not my favorite draft ever. Safety isn’t ideal, RB wasn’t addressed (partly because I didn’t know how they would fit on the 53 man roster), and WR was taken later than what I wanted. But Gesicki is like receiver.
I sign 16 undrafted free agents. Accounting for 14 future deals, and three players who ended last year on IR (ILB Ryan Shazier, C/G Mike Matthews, and CB Greg Ducre), I am at a 90 man training camp roster. I released the following three players to keep me at 90: OLB Darnell Leslie, WR Justin Thomas, CB Antonio Crawford. Here are the 16 FAs. I included a pair of rookie tryout players, too.
Andrew Elffers/QB Azusa Pacific – 6’2 220
Jordan Chunn/RB Troy – 6’1 235
Larry Rose/RB New Mexico State – 5’11 195
Brandon Lingen/TE Minnesota – 6’4 254
David Steinmetz/OT Purdue – 6’8 310
Dennis Finley/OT Michigan State – 6’7 307
Justin Falcinelli/C Clemson – 6’4 305
J.C. Hassenauer /C Alabama – 6’2 295
Kyle Bosch/OG West Virginia – 6’4 306
Christian LaCouture/DE LSU – 6’4 290
Devante Downs/ILB California – 6’3 235
Nathan Stone/LB Duquesne – 6’1 255 (tryout)
Eric Cotton/OLB Stanford – 6’6 262
Danny Johnson/CB Southern – 5’9 181
Jordan Brown/FS James Madison – 6’2 190
Ryan Winslow/P Pittsburgh – 6’6 225
Tyler Davis/K Penn State – 5’11 180 (tryout)
Matt Bayliss/LS UTSA – 6’6 235
Here’s a look at my camp 90 man depth chart. Only listing one player per position since the roster is so big. Because of all the competition at ILB, I moved Matt Galambos to fullback. Nix can teach him about the transition and Galambos played running back (and tight end) in high school. There’s some background there in order to make things smother. With all the adds at safety, Brian Allen returns to corner. I probably didn’t handle that ideally.
That’s 42 on offense, 42 on defense, six special teamers. Shazier counts defensively but is on PUP.
After cutdowns, here is how it looks. My final 53 man roster.
24 offense, 26 defense, three special teamers. Defense needs the help anyway.
The notable cuts:
TE Xavier Grimble – No room for him with Gesicki and James is more reliable, a better blocker.
CB William Gay – Time runs out for Gay. Again, no room on the roster and releasing him saves a chunk of change.
OT David Bright – Seventh round pick who doesn’t make it. He’ll go through the practice squad.
NT Jerel Worthy – Ford has the better camp. Worthy was the placeholder in case the draft didn’t bear any fruit.
Here’s my ten man practice squad.
RB: Jordan Chunn
WR: Marcus Tucker, Tevin Jones
TE: Jake McGee
OG: Kyle Bosch
OT: David Bright
DL: Christian LaCouture
OLB: Keion Adams
CB: Danny Johnson
S: Malik Golden
Chunn is kept because the Steelers like their backs big. Tucker has his third trip around the practice squad. McGee is an excellent blocker. Bright is versatile and makes it. Adams gets beat out again in a competitive group. Draft picks win over him. And I think Golden will perform well.
Here’s my seven inactives for Week One to get down to the 46 man roster for gameday.
QB Josh Dobbs
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
OT: Matt Feiler
NT: Poona Ford
ILB: Shaq Griffin
CB: Shareece Wright
FS: DeShon Elliott
Finally, because you can’t forget about the importance of special teams, here are the depth charts for the four core units: kick coverage/return, punt coverage/return.
Punt coverage unit.
Punt return unit.
So there you have it. Hopefully you enjoyed reading it as much as I did creating it. Always things that I could have done better, kinda kicking myself for not drafting a safety higher, but no offseason is perfect. Let me know where you would’ve improved things in the comments below.
Kevin Colbert, I’m gunning for your job.
If you’d like to do your own offseason simulation, click here.
Fanspeak Manage The Cap (free agency simulator): https://fanspeak.com/mtc/
Fanspeak On The Clock (draft simulator): https://fanspeak.com/ontheclock/