We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had eight primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed only one of them, that being Bud Dupree on the franchise tag. Unrestricted free agents who signed elsewhere were Javon Hargrave, B.J. Finney, Sean Davis, Tyler Matakevich, Nick Vannett, and Artie Burns. They re-signed a number exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly Matt Feiler and Mike Hilton, as well as Zach Banner, Kameron Canaday, and Jordan Dangerfield on non-tender one-year deals. The deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Maurkice Pouncey, Chris Boswell, and Vance McDonald were all restructured.
Also of note were the releases of Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, Johnny Holton, and Roosevelt Nix, and the retirement of Ramon Foster, as well as three significant signings in free agency, adding a new fullback in Roosevelt Nix, a potential starting lineman in Stefen Wisniewski, and a new tight end in Eric Ebron.
Total Positional Figure: 8
Offseason Additions: 2
Offseason Deletions: 1
Joe Haden: Coming off his next season as a Steelers, Haden intercepted five passes in 2019, and ended up in the Pro Bowl as an alternate at age 30. He signed a two-year extension before the start of last season.
Steven Nelson: Entering the second year of a three-year free agent contract he signed in 2019, Nelson has a strong first season with the team to give the Steelers their strongest starting cornerback duo in about a decade.
Mike Hilton: Hilton had a very solid third season last year, performing in all three defensive phases, arguably his biggest improvement from the previous season being his coverage work. He was given a second-round restricted free agent tender.
Cameron Sutton: Sutton had a strong offseason last year, but because of the depth in front of him, had limited playing opportunities, and even the one time a chance to start opened up, for some reason Artie Burns got that role. He’s in the final year of his rookie contract now.
Justin Layne: A second-year former third-round pick, Layne was a defensive redshirt but gained a special teams role in the second half of the season. Coming in as a true junior and still new to the cornerback position, he’s still about upside, and one has to wonder how a truncated offseason will affect his chances of contributing.
Alexander Myres: A former undrafted free agent who got injured in the offseason and waived, the Steelers later brought him back to the practice squad mid-season once he was healthy, and was re-signed to a futures deal.
Arrion Springs: An undrafted free agent out of Oregon in 2018, Springs has yet to advance beyond a practice squad spot, having done so with a few different teams. He played in the XFL this winter, intercepting one pass, before signing with the Steelers this past week.
Breon Borders: A former Duke cornerback, undrafted in 2017, Borders has bounced around on practice squads for three seasons. He was signed just days ago.
Artie Burns: A 2016 first-round pick, Burns solidified himself as a bust over the past two years after losing his starting job and failing to regain it. He wasn’t even guaranteed a roster spot in 2019, and had to earn it. He has since signed with the Bears on a one-year deal for the minimum salary, meaning he won’t help the Steelers in the compensatory formula.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
Even though the Steelers only have five cornerbacks likely to make the roster, they shouldn’t need more than that. This is the strongest and deepest five they have had a cornerback in a long time, truth be told, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the position is bypassed entirely in the draft, though if the value fits, they certainly shouldn’t overlook it with Hilton and Sutton both unrestricted free agents in 2021, and Haden getting up there in age.