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 by then. 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 2021 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 10 starters or primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed only five of them, those being JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, Zach Banner, Tyson Alualu, and Jordan Berry. They re-signed a number exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly Robert Spillane and J.C. Hassenauer, while signing Ray-Ray McCloud to a non-tender deal.
The deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Derek Watt, and Eric Ebron were restructured, while those of Steven Nelson and Vince Williams were terminated, the latter being re-signed. Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald retired.
Of note, the Steelers have added five players as unrestricted or street agents from outside of the organization, including three offensive linemen in Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward, and former Steeler B.J. Finney. The group also includes linebacker Miles Killebrew and running back Kalen Ballage.
Position: Outside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 5
Offseason Additions: 1
Offseason Deletions: 2
T.J. Watt: For arguably the second year in a row, Watt is coming off a season in which he was robbed of the Defensive Player of the Year award. That’s really all you need to know about where he is in his career.
Alex Highsmith: A third-round pick last year, Highsmith showed flashes as a rookie coming out of a small school during a pandemic without much of an offseason. It’s enough where the team is comfortable with the possibility of his entering the starting lineup this year. Though not without reservations.
Cassius Marsh: Signed late last season, Marsh is a veteran with some pass rush skills. But he may primarily be a special teamer. He profiles best as a number four rather than a three.
Christian Kuntz: Kind of here by technicality, Kuntz is really much more of a long snapper. He spent time on the practice squad last season as an emergency snapper.
Jamir Jones: Signed after working out at Notre Dame’s Pro Day earlier this offseason, Jones is a former college free agent who is so far the only offseason addition on the edge.
Bud Dupree: Dupree’s career really started to take off into new heights in year five and earned one of the biggest contracts of the offseason, positioning the Steelers to get the top overall compensatory pick next year. But now they need to replace him.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi: Originally a restricted free agent, the Steelers opted not to tender him, and he followed Dupree to Tennessee in free agency.
Notes and Draft Outlook:
While not lost, Jayrone Elliott is another player who spent time on the depth chart a year ago that remains unsigned and available. With two losses from the position, it’s obvious that this is a need. Highsmith deserves a chance to start, but a top prospect might be tough to pass up in the first round. At the least, expect them to add depth here, perhaps in the middle rounds.