There’s no way of getting around the fact that NFL rosters are cyclical in nature. Every year at a minimum hundreds upon hundreds of new players under the labor market for just 32 NFL teams, each of whom field 63 players per season, plus those on injured reserve.
With hundreds of players drafted every year and just as many if not more coming in as undrafted free agents, it’s inevitable that some of the 2000-plus players with NFL contracts from the season before are going to lose their spots. Some teams see far more turnover than others on a regular basis.
As we get close to the draft, I want to do some risk assessment for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster based on their current needs and how they have handled them in free agency, compared to how they typically go about handling their business in the draft.
Asset: S J.J. Wilcox
Roster Vulnerability: Medium-High
Role Vulnerability: High
As we currently stand, safety J.J. Wilcox has to represent one of the worst, if not the worst, ratios between compensation and expected contributions as we head into the 2018 season for the Steelers. Scheduled to earn a base salary north of $3 million, the sixth-year veteran will not be a starter, and may even end up being a healthy scratch at times as he was at the end of last season.
With that in mind, I think it is quite possible that Wilcox could not only lose his role, but his job, based on what the Steelers do and are likely to do in a couple of weeks in the 2018 NFL Draft. It is very realistic that Pittsburgh could take a safety in the first round, and it would be very surprising if they do not take one by the end of day two.
The Steelers have already added two safeties in Morgan Burnett and Nat Berhe. Burnett is a long-time veteran starter, while Berhe is primarily a special teams contributor but could also function as a third safety, both in terms of playing in a dime package and as a spot starter. He did both while with the New York Giants.
A safety group of Sean Davis, Burnett, Berhe, and a rookie (possible even two rookies) would very much make Wilcox expendable. I know I’m chumming the waters here because a number of people would like to see the Steelers get rid of his salary, of course.
It is fair to point out that Wilcox has already saved one round of deletions with Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden both being excised from the defensive back room at safety. But General Manager Kevin Colbert has alluded to the possibility of further cap-based roster terminations based on what happens in the draft.
I can’t possibly think of any other player on the roster who would better fit the description of a post-draft cap-based roster termination (that sure is a mouthful) than Wilcox.