Steelers 2021 Free Agency Primer: Exclusive Rights Free Agents

The Pittsburgh Steelers offseason is now officially underway as of Sunday night and between now and the start of the 2021 league year in March the team will need to make several decisions regarding the players scheduled to become free agents. In this post, we’ll look at the three Steelers players currently scheduled to become exclusive rights free agents at the start of the new league year.

Exclusive rights free agent (ERFA): Any player with fewer than three accrued seasons and an expired contract. If his original team offers him a one-year contract at the league minimum (based on his credited seasons), the player cannot negotiate with other teams.

ILB Robert Spillane – Spillane made the Steelers roster this year as a backup behind starting inside linebackers Devin Bush and Vince Williams and that meant the plan for him was to mostly contribute on special teams. When Bush was lost for the season in Week 6 to a knee injury, Spillane was jettisoned into the starting lineup and he even was the defensive quarterback for several games until a knee injury of his own in Week 13 forced him to the team’s Reserve/Injured list for the final three regular season games. While Spillane did return for the Steelers Super Wild Card game, he was very ineffective in that contest and played poorly. He ended the regular season with 43 total tackles on defense and two sacks. He was credited with four tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, four passes defensed, a fumble recovery and one interception, which he returned for a touchdown. Spillane also had two total special teams tackles on the season. He played 377 total defensive snaps during the regular season and 153 more on special teams. In the Steelers lone playoff game, Spillane played another 59 defensive snaps and 12 others on special teams. He registered nine total tackles in that contest. With the Steelers inside linebacker depth chart being light entering the offseason, the team is almost guaranteed to give Spillane a one-year, $850,000 exclusive rights tender so that he can compete for a 2021 roster spot. While Spillane is a solid special teams player, the hope is that he won’t be needed to start many more games for the Steelers at inside linebacker moving forward. The Steelers will likely address the inside linebacker position at some point during the 2021 NFL Draft.

ILB Marcus Allen – Allen, who was originally selected by the Steelers in fifth-round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Penn State, made the team’s 53-man roster this season after making the move from safety to inside linebacker. Allen was active for all buy two games during the 2020 season and even started two contests later in the season due to injuries and COVID issues the team had. In total, Allen played 206 defensive snaps for the Steelers in 2020 in addition to 195 more on special teams. He finished the regular season with 24 total tackles on defense. He had two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and another six total tackles on special teams. A lot of Allen’s defensive snaps came with him being part of the Steelers dime package and playing down low in the box. He was targeted 10 times in coverage, according to Pro football Focus, and allowed nine receptions for 64 yards. Allen’s experience on special teams is enough reason to bring him back on a one-year exclusive rights tender at $850,000 with no guarantees he makes the 2021 roster. While he did make the move to inside linebacker in 2020, he’ll never be more than a depth player at that position or at safety. For him to make the 2021 final roster, Allen will need to make himself uncuttable as a special teams player should the Steelers wind up tendering him for the minimum.

C/G J.C. Hassenauer – Hassenauer, a former undrafted free agent out of Alabama, not only made the Steelers roster this year out of training camp, but he also dressed for every game during the 2020 season and even made four starts with three coming at center and one other at left guard. In total, Hassenauer played 304 offensive snaps during the 2020 regular season and 50 more on special teams. He allowed four quarterback hurries and a hit on the season. In all likelihood, the Steelers will tender Hassenauer a one-year contract for the minimum amount of $780,000 and then allow him to compete for a roster spot throughout the summer. At best, Hassenauer is an occasional starter at center or guard and thus a spot on the Steelers 2021 roster would be far from guaranteed if re-signed. With the future of veteran starting center Maurkice Pouncey currently up in the air, it would probably behoove the Steelers to keep Hassenauer around throughout the offseason. It will not be surprising if the Steelers ultimately address the center position at some point during the 2021 NFL Draft.

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