While one is far bigger than the other, there are two waves in free agency. The first comes as the new league year opens, and is when the vast majority of the biggest free agents on the market sign their deals. This also includes significant trades being made. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers got in on that last year when they traded Antonio Brown.
The second wave comes after the draft, and in the case of this year and going forward, it’s now almost immediately after the draft—the first business day. Under the new CBA, the compensatory deadline is the Monday after the draft.
At that point, teams know what their rosters look like and they also don’t have to worry about screwing up their compensatory picks by signing unrestricted free agents. The addition of new faces in the draft can make older faces less appealing. A lot of players get released. Others might get traded.
Pro Football Focus recently put up an article looking at some of the most likely trade candidates that team scan try to deal now that the draft has come and gone. While he didn’t get highlighted in the meat of the article, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington’s name was brought up in the ‘other names to watch’ section.
Washington, the 60th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is heading into his third season, and as of yet hasn’t really lived up to his draft status, though a lot of that has to do with the entire offense being stuck in neutral last season without Ben Roethlisberger under center.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster returning healthy and 2019 rookie Diontae Johnson emerging last year, Pittsburgh added Chase Claypool, a big, 6’4”, 4.42-second fast prospect to the wide receiver room via the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Does that make Washington expendable? Never say never—nobody thought Martavis Bryant was going to get traded, either—but I wouldn’t bet on it. For the right price, it’s not inconceivable, but I have a hard time seeing any team giving up what it would take to get him based on his resume.
Through two seasons, Washington has caught 60 passes for 952 yards and four touchdowns. He’s not exactly been setting the world on fire. The 2019 season, however, was a substantial improvement on his rookie year, accounting for 44 of his receptions for a team-leading 735 yards and three touchdowns.
And almost all of that came without Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger, who is now likely in his final couple of seasons, and should be surrounded with as many weapons as possible to maximize the Steelers’ chances of winning a Super Bowl over the course of the next two seasons. While is precisely why, unless there’s some play-for-player trade for a starting nose tackle or something, it’s very hard to imagine the team even entertaining this idea.