The Pittsburgh Steelers still have a shot or two at making the playoffs during the final week of the 2019 NFL regular season. Those shots, however, are dependent on what happens in at least one other stadium than the one that they’ll play in on Sunday. Should the Steelers fail to make the playoffs on Sunday, their road game against the Baltimore Ravens could be the final one in black and gold for several players currently set to become unrestricted free agents in 2020.
Below is a quick rundown of the notable Steelers players currently set to become unrestricted free agents in March of 2020 that could be playing their last game for Pittsburgh on Sunday in Baltimore.
OLB Bud Dupree – Dupree’s future past the conclusion of the 2019 season will be discussed quite frequently between now and the start of the 2020 NFL league year in March. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent in March after earning $9.232 million this season as part of his fifth-year option being exercised. The process of retaining Dupree for at least the 2020 season will likely include the Steelers first placing the franchise tag on the former first-round draft pick, who enters the final week of the 2019 regular season with 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. To accommodate an initial Dupree cap charge that would come with a franchise tag, the Steelers would likely need to cut a few players currently under contract for 2020 prior to the start of the new league year and go from there. Should Dupree ultimately be franchise tagged, the Steelers could then attempt to sign him to long-term extension as the offseason progresses. It could go either way with Dupree between now and March. In the end, however, the Steelers will decide if he stays or goes as they do have the franchise tag at their disposal if needed.
DT Javon Hargrave – Hargrave certainly has played well for the Steelers the last several seasons and that’s going to result in him cashing in big-time by the end of March 2020. While the Steelers would probably like to retain Hargrave past the 2019 season, it just doesn’t seem feasible from a salary cap standpoint and especially if the team has plans to retain the first player on this list, Dupree. Should Hargrave ultimately be allowed to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the former third-round draft pick out of South Carolina State figures to be in high demand as he should be able to be an every-down player in any defensive scheme as a defensive tackle. Hargrave could quite possibly become one of the NFL’s top five paid defensive tackles in the NFL by the end of March 2020. Should Hargrave ultimately leave via free agency, at least his offseason loss should result in the Steelers receiving a third-round compensatory draft pick value. You hate to see him go, but it seems destined that he won’t be back in 2020 at this point.
C/G B.J. Finney – With starting center Maurkice Pouncey set to miss the Steelers 2019 regular season finale with a knee injury, Finney will get at least one last game to show teams that he can be a reliable starter at that position. Finney played well in his two previous starts at center this season while Pouncey served his suspension and the former undrafted free agent out of Kansas State has also shown throughout his time in Pittsburgh that he can play both guard positions as well. What kind of interest would Finney have in him in March should he be allowed to test free agency? I’m willing to bet several teams would court him with the Denver Broncos possibly being one of them due to Mike Munchak being their offensive line coach. The only way Finney doesn’t test free agency is if the Steelers get him re-signed by the start of the new league year. Such a re-signing, however, would likely be accompanied by veteran guard Ramon Foster being cut. It’s hard to imagine Finney re-signing with the Steelers knowing he’d continue to be a backup. Finney earned $3.095 million this season and odds are good he’ll earn more than that in 2020 from a team other than the Steelers.
ILB Tyler Matakevich – While Matakevich hasn’t played much at all on defense since being drafted by the Steelers in 2016, he’s been a premier core special teams player for them. Matakevich has led the Steelers in special teams tackles every season since he was drafted. While Matakevich won’t command big money as an unrestricted free agent, he might find a team willing to pay him a lot more than the minimum for his accrued years to be their ace special teamer. Because of that, and combined with the fact that the Steelers have a few younger inside linebackers under contract who they hope can become special team aces, Matakevich’s final game in the black and gold could be Sunday against the Ravens.
S Sean Davis – Davis had his 2019 season cut very short by a shoulder injury and thus his last snap with the Steelers probably took place back in Week 2. The Steelers traded for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick a few days after Davis went down injured and he’s been one of the team’s top defensive players since arriving in Pittsburgh. Even though Davis isn’t likely to be in high demand as an unrestricted free agent in 2020, odds are still good he’ll find a team willing to pay him more than the minimum for his accrued years. Overall, Davis’s career in Pittsburgh to date has been nondescript and it included him being asked to play multiple positions.
CB Artie Burns – Much like the aforementioned Hargrave, Matakevich and Davis, Burns is likely to be yet another member from the Steelers 2016 draft class unlikely to be back in 2020. Burns, the Steelers first-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, has been a huge disappointment for the Steelers during his time in Pittsburgh. Things have gotten so bad for Burns this season that he’s been a healthy scratch for Steelers on gamedays for the last several weeks. Burns obviously won’t be in high demand as an unrestricted free agent and he might even wind up needing to sign for the minimum elsewhere for a chance to compete for a roster spot. Regardless of where Burns lands during the offseason, it’s clear the Steelers have washed their hands of him. His final game as a member of the Steelers will likely include him being one of the team’s seven inactive players on Sunday against the Ravens.
TE Nick Vannett – The Steelers traded for Vannett back in late September as he’s a player they had a lot of interest in prior to the 2016 NFL Draft. Since Vannett’s arrival via trade, however, he hasn’t been overly impressive in his play and especially as a blocker. Should Vannett ultimately be re-signed by the Steelers during the offseason, it shouldn’t be for much more than the minimum.