If you turned off your TV and found your nearest rock to hide under the past two months, you wouldn’t have missed much in Steelers’ land. They hired a new WRs coach, met with some prospects at the Combine, and that’s pretty much it.
That’s about to change.
The new league year is slated to begin eight days from now. And Pittsburgh has plenty to do to get their house in order.
It all revolves around Bud Dupree. Will they place the franchise tag on him? All indications say yes though in doing so, they’re playing financial dominoes. They can’t place the tag on Dupree and walk away. It’s going to take steps to get there. On the chopping block? Ramon Foster, Anthony Chickillo, and Mark Barron. Chickillo is all but guaranteed to get the pink slip, Foster seems likely, and while Barron is still up in the air, it would be financially prudent to cut ties. Devin Bush’s role is expanding, Ulysees Gilbert III is entering his sophomore year, and there’s actually a solid crop of talent at ILB in this year’s draft class – a stark contrast from 2019 – if they want to return to replenish things in late April.
Then there’s Vance McDonald. His option is due on the 18th. The organization seems intent on picking it up, and there’s a case to be made for that, but it’s difficult to fit him under the cap while still tagging Dupree, even if you release Chick, Foster, and Barron.
So what if that happens? Dupree is tagged, the other three cut, McDonald remains. Omar Khan is much smarter than me, figuring this out is literally his job, but without a radical move, I don’t understand how they stay in the black.
Unless they do something crazy. And it’s been teased one – or multiple – of their RFAs won’t be tendered. Bob Labriola floated the idea on Mike Hilton. Here’s what he wrote in his overview of the CB position.
“Offering Hilton one of the higher tenders would eliminate interest from other teams, but the Steelers might not have the room under the salary cap for that.”
And Zach Banner, another RFA, offered a National Treasure cryptic tweet about his future.
Every ounce of my soul wants to play in the Black and Gold this season, & every season after that, but I trust my agent @JoePanos1 & have my entire career. So hopefully we can get something done before free agency
Regardless, I’m grinding. & I want to be 1/64 tackles. Period.
— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) March 9, 2020
Not retaining one or both of those guys would be surprising and controversial. Hilton is one of football’s top nickel corners against the run and is coming off a bounce-back 2019 after slogging through an elbow injury the year before. Banner has carved out a niche role as a 6th offensive linemen and for a team about to lose Foster and BJ Finney, adding Banner to that list would gut them all the more. Letting either go is a controversial, wrong move, one I hope the franchise doesn’t make.
On top of all that, and I suspect this is one reason why the team has been church mouse quiet so far, is the looming CBA. The vote has been pushed back another two days, past the franchise tag deadline, complicating the process all the more. A team like Pittsburgh would be desperately helped by the CBA passing, giving them critical financial flexibility, but it’s impossible to bank on it getting passed. And even if it does, there’s only literally days for Pittsburgh to get their house in order with restructures, extensions, etc.
The Steelers have been in a holding pattern for the last two months. The dam’s about to break and this roster, one way or another, is going to go through a radical change one week from now. This March won’t be as crazy as last, nothing can compete with What Will Antonio Brown Do Next, a TV show thankfully cancelled in Pittsburgh, but this year will be important. It’s going to shape their draft plans, the remainder of their offseason, and their 2020 outlook.