The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers are at risk of losing Zach Banner.
Explanation: Even with a series of significant roster cuts, the Steelers will have a very hard time fitting a Bud Dupree franchise tag, new deals or restricted free agent tenders for both Matt Feiler and Mike Hilton, and for giving Banner, a restricted free agent, a tender, too. This is setting aside B.J. Finney, who is an unrestricted free agent.
Whether or not there is a new CBA is going to affect this discussion a lot, because the team would be able to clear more cap space under a new deal than they would be with the 30 percent rule in place. As it currently stands, it’s hard to see the team being able to afford a $2 million-plus restricted free agent tender given how far down he is on the priority list.
Dupree will have to be tagged, even if they manage to work out a deal later in the offseason. Feiler is a starting lineman who very obviously takes precedence over Banner, while Hilton as the starting nickel with no definite replacement is also a much bigger concern.
There is a very realistic scenario in which the Steelers decide that it doesn’t make business sense to place a restricted free agent tender on Banner, which would result in him becoming an unrestricted free agent. That means anyone could sign him, and he did raise his profile in 2019. Somebody will be willing to offer him a job, maybe even to compete if they’re weak at right tackle.
Again, a new CBA makes this a lot easier, and they’re already voting. There are too many players who benefit from the enhancements to the bottom of the roster to allow the naysaying from the multi-millionaire players to shift their vote to no. So there will be no 30 percent rule limitations.
It’s also possible that they do get a deal done with Dupree, which would allow them to lower his cap hit. Cameron Heyward is a team guy and like Maurkice Pouncey last year could get a deal done in time for the start of the new league year to help them lower their cap hit as well.
The Steelers always find a way with these things. They won’t lose more players than they have to. They’re already slated to lose enough, there’s no way they’ll allow themselves to lose three of their top seven or eight linemen at the same time. Plus there’s the fact that Banner loves playing in Pittsburgh. He wants to stay.