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Kozora: My Steelers’ Free Agency Predictions

Possibly by this time tomorrow, we’ll start to have a real clear idea of what free agents the Pittsburgh Steelers will be retained and which will be moving onto new teams. Monday begins the legal tampering period with Wednesday marking the first official day of free agency.

So with that in mind, I wanted to carry over a conversation Dave Bryan and I had on The Terrible Podcast Friday of my Steelers’ free agency predictions. This isn’t necessarily my wishlist or my what I would do (heads up, my 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers’ mock offseason drops tomorrow) but what I think ultimately happens.

Let’s run through the long list of names.

Bud Dupree – Walks

Some of the big names at the top are unfortunately obvious candidates to sign elsewhere. While the team would love to sign Dupree, this isn’t a perfect world we’re living in. I still expect him to strike rich on the open market, even coming off his December torn ACL. And Pittsburgh at least has a strong starter-in-waiting in Alex Highsmith. Dupree’s chances of staying are remote.

Mike Hilton – Walks

Same story as Dupree. Hilton deserves to gets paid, it’s long overdue, and he’ll likely get that money from another team. He’s been publicly counting down the days on Twitter and there’s almost been no talk about the Steelers’ re-signing him. He’ll simply be too expensive to keep.

Alejandro Villanueva – Walks

Almost forgotten as a free agent, virtually every fan seems to understand Villanueva isn’t being brought back. Part of that is the Steelers’ desire to have a better run blocking offensive line. And part of it is that Villanueva should still get decent money on the market, though I wonder if he’ll receive less than I initially thought. But offensive tackles come at a premium cost and he’s one of the better ones available. He’s not coming back.

JuJu Smith-Schuster – Walks

First debatable name. Gone back and forth on if he’ll stay or go. But I think he leaves. Too much money, too much smoke from local media, national reports, and Smith-Schuster himself that says another team will make an offer he can’t refuse. Especially knowing he’s arguably the top free agent receiver on the market. Or at least #2 behind Kenny Golladay. That’ll drive up his price tag even more.

Cam Sutton – Re-signs

The first name circling back! Sutton is the more economical option compared to Hilton and that makes him the more likely player to re-up his contract. He’ll slide into a full-time slot role in 2020 and potentially kick out to LCB if Joe Haden is gone after this season. Hard to peg his market value but I’ll put it in the $4-5 million range.

Matt Feiler – Re-signs

We forget about Feiler’s name in the slew of free agents. But he’s maybe the one guy whose 50/50 to stay or go. I think he comes back, re-signed not to play guard but shift back out to right tackle. That’s where he was at his best in 2019. It’s really hard to nail down what his worth is but I’ll put him in that similar Sutton range. $4-5 million. That would shift Chukwuma Okorafor to LT, and along with probably re-signing Zach Banner would allow Pittsburgh to put all their energy on center in the draft. And maybe take a tackle on Day Three.

Zach Banner – Re-signs

Pretty clear one here. Major upset if Banner doesn’t return. Expect it to be a one-year deal for at or near the minimum. And he’ll be competing for a starting gig at either tackle spot come summer.

James Conner – Walks

Obvious as it gets. Steelers are turning the page as they are all over the top RBs in this draft class. Question is where Conner signs. If Miami can’t bring in Aaron Jones, it sounds like Conner is their Plan B.

Tyson Alualu – Re-signs

One guy you don’t want to let get away. Dave Bryan laid out quite nicely what Alualu’s contract could and probably would look like. Veteran salary benefit deal that keeps his cap hit down. And he’d come back as the team’s starting nose tackle.

Avery Williamson – Walks

Maybe he circles back if Vince Williams is cut. But he’s always been a starter and if Williams remains, and even if he doesn’t, Williamson probably won’t be next man up. If he comes back, it’ll have to be awfully cheap. There’s enough depth currently on the roster and in the draft to shore up this spot.

Jordan Berry – Re-signs

Like him or not, and you probably don’t, they’re going to need a punter. And Berry had a career year once Pittsburgh brought him back a quarter into last season. Doesn’t mean they won’t add competition, they should, but they need a guy to start the offseason.

Chris Wormley – Re-signs

Underratedly one of the more difficult decisions here. It’d be ideal for the Steelers to keep Wormley around, especially after shipping off a 5th round pick for him just a year ago, but does he want to return? Or does he want to test the market for a better opportunity? We’ll see. But I think the Steelers get him back on a one or two-year deal.

Jordan Dangerfield: Re-signs

Core special teamer, a captain of the unit, who serves as the personal protector on the punt team. Can’t believe he’s already 30. But he should be a minimum-salary guy who wants to stay in Pittsburgh. He has more value here than anyone else.

So those are my predictions. Leaving off some of the lowest-level names on the list. Guys where it doesn’t matter much if they stay or go: S Sean Davis, OLB Cassius Marsh, OG Danny Isidora, OLB Jay Elliott. If any of them return, it’ll be on minimum-level contracts that won’t move the needle at all.

Let me know what you guys agree or disagree with in the comments below.

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