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Steelers 2021 Free Agency Primer: Restricted 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 two Steelers players currently scheduled to become restricted free agents at the start of the new league year.

Restricted free agent (RFA): A player with three accrued seasons and an expired contract. RFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any team, but their original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers (“tenders”) that come with the right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation. If the tender is withdrawn by a team, the RFA becomes an unrestricted free agent.

WR/KR/PR Ray-Ray McCloud – After being signed late in training camp, McCloud made the Steelers 2020 roster and went on to dress and play in every game. McCloud served as the Steelers primary punt and kickoff returner in 2020. He returned 29 regular season punts for 298 yards with a long of 57 yards and 28 kickoffs for 646 yards with a long of 49 yards. He did not have any returns for touchdowns, unfortunately. In the Steelers lone playoff game, McCloud returned two punts for 16 yards with a long of 11 yards and six kickoffs for 146 yards with a long of 28 yards. McCloud was also used some on offense throughout the 2020 season and in total he registered 20 receptions for 77 yards with a long of 13 yards. He also ran the football four times for 65 yards with a long of 58 yards. McCloud fumbled twice in 2020 as well. Most of the plays that included McCloud touching the football on offense came behind the line of scrimmage via jet motion plays or wide receiver screens. In fact, 14 of his 20 receptions happened behind the line of scrimmage. He played a total of 165 offensive snaps for the Steelers during the 2020 regular season. Currently, the lowest restricted tender amount for 2021 is projected to be $2.24 million and if that’s the amount, that’s just way too much to give to McCloud. If the Steelers want McCloud back in 2021, they will most likely need to sign him to a two-year deal with minimum salaries and a modest signing bonus so that his cap charge comes it at around $1.1 million. The Steelers could also choose to let McCloud test free agency and then attempt to re-sign him to a one-year contract for the minimum, which in his case would be $920,000, should he fail to find any outside suitors.

OLB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi – Adeniyi, a former undrafted free agent out of Toledo, played a career high 144 defensive snaps in 2020 in the 15 regular season games that he dressed for. He also logged another 283 snaps during the season on special teams. Defensively during the regular season, Adeniyi registered just seven total tackles with one resulting in lost yardage. He had two pass rushing hurries in 2020 with one more coming in the team’s lone playoff game. As a core special teams member throughout the 2020 regular season, Adeniyi was credited with eight total tackles and a forced fumble. He missed one regular season game due to a shoulder injury. Due to the Steelers expected salary cap situation in 2021, it’s hard to fathom Adeniyi receiving a low right-of-first-refusal restricted tender from the Steelers in the amount of $2.24 million, if that’s what the number winds up being. That said, the Steelers depth at the outside linebacker position is nonexistent with Bud Dupree expected to sign elsewhere at some point during the offseason. The Steelers might consider re-signing Adeniyi to a two-year contract before the start of free agency in March with that deal including a very modest signing bonus and minimum salaries so that his 2021 cap charge comes in well under $1.5 million. The Steelers could then still proceed to draft another outside linebacker and see how things play out the rest of the summer with the depth chart at the position with very little guaranteed money invested in Adeniyi.

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