The Pittsburgh Steelers will report to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe for the start of their 2019 training camp in a little less than four weeks from now and at that time is when contract extension talks with several players figure to either start, or intensify. Realistically, there are five Steelers players who could conceivably get contract extension between now and the start of the regular season and they are listed below and in the order I think they should be prioritized by and the likelihood I see them getting accomplished. The odds that all five players listed below will ultimately sign contract extensions later this summer is very low, however.
CB Joe Haden – Will rookie cornerback Justin Layne ultimately become the player the Steelers hope he’ll become? Time will only tell but in the meantime, however, the Steelers need to have some good stability at one of their starting cornerback positions for at least the next two seasons. Haden wants to end his career in Pittsburgh and that desire needs to be accommodated via a contract extension prior to the start of the 2019 regular season if at all possible. Signing Haden to a two-year contract extension with a new money average of around $13 million per might can be done with ease and such a deal can even be structured where, at worst, his current 2019 salary cap charge remains unchanged. Should the Steelers fail to get an extension done with Haden this summer, they would likely need to place the franchise tag on him next offseason to keep him another season and that number is already projected to be close to $16.5 million. In summation, signing Haden to a contract extension at some point before the start of the 2019 regular season should be the Steelers top priority.
DT Javon Hargrave – Hargrave has proven to be a very versatile defensive lineman for the Steelers since being drafted and a productive one at that. Last season he finished third on the team in sacks with 6.5 and did so despite playing just 43.5% of all defensive snaps played by the team. Next February, Hargrave will turn 27 and if not signed to a contract extension later this summer he’s likely to be a very attractive unrestricted free agent to other teams regardless of the type of defensive front that they run. In short, several teams might want to sign him as a full-time defensive tackle and at good money at that. While it isn’t likely to be easy to come to terms with Hargrave on a reasonable new money average this summer, it can be done. A four or five-year extension would keep Hargrave in Pittsburgh through his prime years and it would be a shame if the two sides can’t come to terms on a such a deal later this summer as it would likely result in 2019 being his last season with the Steelers.
C/G B.J. Finney – While Finney hasn’t played all that much since signing on originally as an undrafted free agent in 2015, he has played well when given the opportunity to do so and especially at guard. He’s been the Steelers primary interior swing-man for a few seasons now and the team didn’t want to risk losing him this past offseason as a restricted free agent so they tendered him at a second-round level to ensure he stayed. While the Steelers did re-sign starting left guard Ramon Foster earlier this offseason, there’s a decent chance 2019 winds up being his last season in Pittsburgh should his quality of play or overall health greatly drop off for some reason. Because of Foster’s age, and combined with Finney’s position flexibility and limited starting experience, it would be a shame to not get him locked up past the 2019 season. An extension with a new money average of around $4 million might just get a short extension done with Finney, who is currently set to earn just a little more than $3 million in 2019.
FS Sean Davis – Through no fault of his own, Davis has had to essentially play three different positions in the Steelers defense in his first three seasons in the NFL. While he did play reasonably well last season at free safety, he’s still yet to master the position. He’ll get a chance to progress more at free safety in 2019, however, before the regular season gets underway the Steelers will need to decide if he can be their future center fielder as the former second-round draft pick out of Maryland is now in the final year of his rookie contract. Even if the Steelers do decide they want to sign Davis to a contract extension later this summer, the two sides might not ultimately be close on what his new money average should be. Should Davis and his representation decide top 15 money at the position is reasonable, a new money average of at least $6.5 million will be due. Davis might also ultimately decide to gamble on himself in 2019 in hopes of getting top 10 money as an unrestricted free agent next offseason. This will be an interesting negotiation to watch play out starting in four weeks.
CB Mike Hilton – Hilton sits at the bottom of this priority list due mainly to the fact that he will only be a restricted free agent next offseason should he not sign an extension later this summer. While the former undrafted free agent out of Mississippi has yet to sign the exclusive rights tender he received from the Steelers earlier in the offseason, he still made sure to attend all of the team’s voluntary sessions and did and said all the right things in regard to his contract situation along the way. While the Steelers have signed previous exclusive rights free agents of theirs to extensions over the years, that short list of people included every-down players in running back Willie Parker, outside linebacker James Harrison and tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Hilton, on the other hand, has yet to log 60 percent of all total defensive snaps plated in a single season in his two years on the Steelers 53-man roster as the starting nickel cornerback. The Steelers hold a huge edge in leverage in regard to Hilton as he is still two full seasons away from unrestricted free agency. So, unless Hilton’s willing to sign on the cheap later this summer, it’s hard to imagine him getting a new contract before the start of the 2019 regular season.