The Pittsburgh Steelers now have their initial 53-man roster set for the 2018 season so now is as good as time as any to look at the players currently included in that group who are set to become free agents in 2019 in addition to the two players currently on their PUP list.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
RB Le’Veon Bell – The Steelers have failed to sign Bell to a long-term contract two offseasons in a row after initially placing the franchise tag on him. Assuming Bell doesn’t sit out the entire 2018 season and have his tender toll, he’ll cost the Steelers the quarterback tag amount in 2019 should they want to franchise him a third consecutive year. That’s just not likely to happen so 2018 is likely to be it for Bell in Pittsburgh. It’s now just a matter of how many games he’ll play in this final season as a member of the Steelers.
TE Jesse James – James, originally drafted by the Steelers in the fifth-round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Penn State, is now in the final year of his rookie contract. While other Steelers tight ends have missed practice and games due to injuries, James enters the 2018 regular season as a player the team can consistently count on dressing on game days. The Steelers might attempt to sign James to a new contract right before the start of the 2019 free agency period. If unable to, however, he might be in a different uniform next season.
G Ramon Foster – Is 2018 the final season for Foster with the Steelers? It very well could be as the former undrafted free agent out of Tennessee is 32 and will be 33 by the time his contract is officially up in March. How Foster plays in 2018 and how many games he misses again due to injury is something to monitor. Should the Steelers ultimately decide to re-sign next offseason, it’s hard to imagine it being a deal spanning multiple years and much more than the league minimum for his vested years.
DE Tyson Alualu – Alualu is now in the final year of the two-year contract he signed in March of 2017 as a free agent. He’s currently 31 years of age and how he plays in 2018, which hopefully won’t be much, will likely decide whether the Steelers want to re-sign him during the offseason. Perhaps he’ll be worth another two-year contract like the one that’s now about to terminate.
DE L.T. Walton – Walton, the Steelers former sixth-round draft pick out of Central Michigan, like Alualu, hopefully won’t have to play too terribly much during the 2018 season. Should the Steelers ultimately decide to re-sign Walton after the 2018 season is over, he shouldn’t cost them a lot to do so. Walton, however, might try to test free agency first.
P Jordan Berry – Berry seemingly barely kept his job this offseason as it probably wouldn’t have surprised many fans had the team decided to keep fellow punter Matt Wile instead. Whether or not Berry is re-signed during the offseason will depend how he punts in 2018.
OLB Anthony Chickillo – Chickillo, who like Walton is also a former sixth-round draft pick of the Steelers, enters the final year of his rookie contract a much better special teams player than he is an outside linebacker. Even so, Chickillo enters the 2018 season as the primary outside linebacker backup on both sides. He’s unlikely to be anything more than a minimum salary re-sign target for the Steelers next offseason at this point. However, an increase in production in 2018 thanks to an increase in snaps due to injuries at the outside linebacker position could quickly change that thought process.
CB Coty Sensabaugh – Sensabaugh managed to stick on the 53-man roster this year. He’s in the final year of the two-year contract he signed in 2017 and one must think this season will be his last in Pittsburgh. He will turn 30 years of age in November as well.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey – Heyward-Bey’s asset to the Steelers at this point in his career is as a core special teams player and a solid mentor in the locker room. However, one must think that 2018 will be it for Heyward-Bey in the NFL.
DT Daniel McCullers – Age is still on the side of McCullers, yet another former sixth-round draft pick of the Steelers. Like most of his career so far in Pittsburgh, McCullers is likely to spend most of the 2018 regular season on the Steelers inactive list. It was a surprise that he made the 53-man roster this and it will be double surprising if he’s still around this same time next year.
WR Justin Hunter – Hunter made the Steelers initial 53-man roster this year, but will he stay on it all season? If he does, he’ll be unrestricted after the season is over and if the team decides to re-sign to compete again in training camp, you can bet it will be a one-year, minimum salary benefit contract.
RB Stevan Ridley – Ridley made the Steelers initial 53-man roster this year, but will he stay on it all season? If he does, he’ll be unrestricted after the season is over and if the team decides to re-sign to compete again in training camp, you can bet it will be a one-year, minimum salary benefit contract.
S Nat Berhe – Berhe- a special teams ace and backup safety, might be attractive to the Steelers on another one-year deal after the 2018 season is over.
ILB L.J. Fort – Fort made the Steelers 53-man roster again this year and now it will be interesting to see if he can remain on it all season. If he is re-signed after the 2018 season ends, it will only be a one-year deal and a minimum salary benefit contract that will allow him to compete for a job during training camp again.
WR Eli Rogers – Rogers will be returned to the Steelers Reserve/PUP list after serving his Week 1 suspension. From there, it will be interesting to see if he’s activated to the Steelers 53-man roster at any point after sitting out the first six weeks. If Rogers stays on the PUP list all season, his contract will toll during the offseason. If he is returned to the 53-man roster this season and is still on it after it’s over, he will be an unrestricted free agent. I doubt we’ll see him back in 2019 unless he agrees to another one-year deal for the minimum.
ILB Ryan Shazier – Shazier is in a unique situation because of the spinal injury he’s attempting to recover from. He’s currently on the Steelers Reserve/PUP list and will remain there all season. Because of that, Shazier’s contract should toll next offseason and then the Steelers can decide if he’s healthy enough to continue to his NFL career. Hopefully he will be.
Restricted Free Agents:
TE Xavier Grimble – How Grimble plays in 2018 will go a long way in determining how the Steelers treat him as a restricted free agent next offseason. If he sticks on the 53-man roster all season and has a career-year in both the receiving and blocking departments, the Steelers are likely to issue him a low right of first refusal restricted tender. If he doesn’t have a career-year, however, he might not be tendered a contract at all.
G/C B.J. Finney – Barring something totally unforeseen at this point, the Steelers will likely restricted tender Finney next offseason. That could even wind up being at a second-round level if he must play extensively during the 2018 season.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
LS Kameron Canaday – Canaday’s the Steelers current long snapper and can easily be retained with a one-year exclusive rights tender for the minimum. It’s hard to see that not happening.
G/T/C Matt Feiler – What a find Feiler has been. Assuming he last on the 53 all season it would be shocking to see Feiler not receiver a tender for the minimum.
CB Mike Hilton – Ditto for Hilton the team’s starting nickel cornerback entering 2018. He might even get an extension next offseason with more solid play in 2018. At worst, he should receive another minimum exclusive rights tender after the 2018 season is over.
S Jordan Dangerfield – Will Dangerfield last all season on the 53-man roster? I’d bet against that happening but if he does, the Steelers have nothing really to lose by giving him a minimum exclusive right tender after the 2018 season is over.
T Zach Banner – Hopefully, Banner sticks on the 53 all season and never has to play a down. If that happens, he should get a minimum exclusive rights tender from the Steelers prior to March.