Looking Ahead At Steelers Under Contract 2022 And Beyond

As a follow-up to the article I wrote previously highlighting the list of scheduled free agents for the Pittsburgh Steelers after the conclusion of the 2021 season, I went an took a look at the players scheduled to be under contract with the team heading into 2022. I will list the names below of the contracted players by position, then provide some thoughts on the group as a whole. The names and position designations below were provided by Spotrac.

QB Mason Rudolph
RB Najee Harris
RB Benny Snell Jr.
RB Anthony McFarland
FB Derek Watt
WR Chase Claypool
WR Diontae Johnson
WR Rico Bussey Jr.
WR Isaiah McKoy
TE Pat Freiermuth
TE Zach Gentry
OT Zach Banner
OT Joe Haeg
OT Dan Moore
OG Kevin Dotson
C Kendrick Green
DL Cameron Heyward
DL Stephon Tuitt
DL Tyson Alualu
DL Chris Wormley
DL Isaiah Buggs
DL Isaiahh Loudermilk
DL Carlos Davis
OLB Alex Highsmith
OLB Quincey Roche
OLB Jamar Watson
ILB Devin Bush
ILB Buddy Johnson
ILB Calvin Bundage
ILB Ulysees Gilbert
CB Cameron Sutton
CB Justin Layne
CB James Pierre
CB Tre Norwood
CB Shakur Brown
CB Mark Gilbert
S Minkah Fitzpatrick
S Donovan Stiner
S Lamont Wade
K Chris Boswell
P Pressley Harvin III


Currently the Steelers have only projected 41 players under contract heading into the 2022 season, and if the 2022 salary cap does come in at the best-case scenario ceiling at $208.2 million, the team at the moment is expected to have around $76.85 million in salary cap space. Obviously, there are several transitions that have yet to occur that will affect this initial number, one being the likely offseason restructures of the contracts of Chris Boswell and Stephon Tuitt to free up more usable cap space for the 2021 season as well as the reported contract numbers of recent draftee Kendrick Green which have not yet been reported. This list of players does come off as pretty bare given the amount of player who have their contracts up at the end of the 2021 season, but another offseason move that we can expect to happen is the team resigning T.J. Watt to a lucrative contract extension before training camp gets underway, likely taking a sizable chuck of next year’s cap space and securing the All-Pro talent in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.

Now looking at the list of players above, several things stick out. First obviously is the QB position, which again all hinges on whether Ben does choose to ride off into the sunset at the conclusion of the 2021 season like a majority of Steelers Nation tends to believe at this time. I mentioned in my previous article that it shouldn’t come as a shock for the team the restricted FA tender Dwyane Haskins next offseason, giving them him and Rudolph to figuratively battle it out for the starting role in 2022. However, should Ben retire, the bet would be that the team would look to the draft to find the QB of the future, evaluating next year’s prospect to decide if one is worthy of a top selection in 2022. One scenario I considered was the team taking a gap year, riding with Rudolph and Haskins as their options as well as potentially another FA signing, and look to the 2023 draft class featuring the likes of D.J. Uiagalelei.

The RB position should remain basically untouched with Najee Harris featured as the team’s workhorse and the likes of Bennie Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland under contract as depth pieces that have their particular roles they can play. WR is an interesting position, as Pittsburgh normally isn’t in the business in resigning their FA receivers to lucrative contracts unless they are top-tier options.

Still, with the salary coming up and his connections to the team and fan base, Juju Smith-Schuster seems like a likely candidate to receive some form of an extension depending on the season he has in 2021. This would preclude, however, Pittsburgh from jumping back on the trend of finding great value at the WR position in the draft in the middle rounds, a streak that lasted nearly a decade up until this past draft. The future of TE is hopefully set with the recent selection of Pat Freiermuth in the second round, but the depth behind him is shaky to say the least. It would be wise to expect a mid-round draftee or FA signing to be added in 2022 to backup Freiermuth should Gentry prove he can’t take the step forward or is cut this season.

If everything works out this season in a best-case scenario, Zach Banner, Kevin Dotson, and Kendrick Green become entrenched starter in 2022 and hopefully beyond. I hinted at the possibility of bringing back David DeCastro to solidify the other guard spot and make him a likely lifelong Steeler in my previous article, but the question of the other tackle spot is up in the air.

Obviously, it would be great for Chukwuma Okorafor to play well this season a warrant being extended, but Pittsburgh isn’t known for handing out large contracts to their tackles recently and should Chuks ball out at age 24 at the LT spot, he could command a pretty penny on the open market. Dan Moore Jr. could potentially develop into a key reserve or a startable option, but I have my reserves as to whether he can be a high-level starter at the moment. Likely Pittsburgh looks to the draft or FA to add another player at the tackle position depending on what they decide to do with Okorafor. Dotson and Green appear to have been good value picks based on recent news, but the tackle spot seems more like a question mark heading into 2022.

As far as the defense goes, it is pretty cut-and-dry where the key holes will be. Frankly, the defensive line room is stacked after this upcoming season with nearly everyone coming back, pending the likes of Tyson Alualu honoring his two-year contract. The EDGE position initially looks dicey, but with the almost assured resigning of T.J. Watt, the starters of Watt and the expected leap in Highsmith will man the edges.

Hopefully Roche is able to become that key rotational pass rusher and be able to provide quality snaps in relief of Watt and Highsmith, but another addition at the edge position is needed either in the mid rounds of the depth of in FA to push Roche for that third edge rusher role. One of the ILB spots looks to be solidified with Devin Bush, and the likes of Buddy Johnson and Ulysees Gilbert provide athletic, youthful options that could fill in that role at the second level. Still, Pittsburgh could elect to add a player of a higher pedigree in the draft to pair with Bush to take their ILB group and really turn it into a strength.

It may not be the most pressing need, but we are well aware of Pittsburgh’s affinity for LBs in the draft.

Now on to the secondary. To be honest, this is the area of the defense that will need the most work on the defense after the season. I had presented the possibility of extending CB Joe Haden to a one-or-two-year deal for a modest amount to maintain stability and veteran leadership in the secondary after 2021, but the position could still stand for a facelift. Cam Sutton hopefully is the answer at the opposite boundary CB spot, but after that, the depth chart is littered with unproven players with a seventh-round draft capital in Norwood or no draft capital at all in the likes of Shakur Brown, Mark Gilbert, and James Pierre.

While these players do have promise, banking on these players to be the long-term answer may not be the wisest decision as we sit here today, albeit it is early in the offseason. Justin Layne was a player they have invested draft capital in but has failed to show much of anything in his first two seasons, being more likely to have one foot out the door than in position for taking a starting gig. Investing in the position early in the draft would be a sensible move for the team, but we all know their struggles to hit on the CB position particularly over the years.

Given the cap space they are expected to have next offseason, going the FA route like they did for Haden and Steven Nelson may be the better route, especially considering the likes of Kyle Fuller, Marshon Lattimore, J.C. Jackson, and others scheduled to hit the open market. The safety position will come down to whether the team decides that Terrell Edmunds is worth an extension following the 2021 season. His play has improved since coming to Pittsburgh, but still seems like a let down of what was expected as a former first-round selection.

Should they decide to go a different route, there appears to be a lot of good options that will be draft-eligible in 2022, highlighted currently by Kyle Hamilton of Notre Dame, Bubba Bolden of Miami, Jordan Battle of Alabama, and Isaiah Pola-Mao of USC.

The Steelers will have a bunch of big decisions to make considering their roster at the end of the 2021 season, especially considering it may be the end of an era with Ben Roethlisberger decides to hang them up. Still, the team figures to have the cap flexibility to retain a good portion of their own, like they have historically done in the past, and possibility add a couple of key contributors outside of the organization given the likely transition period and the ability to surround a potential young signal caller with players to help make him successful early on in his NFL career.

What are your thoughts on the players scheduled to be under contract and the potential holes the team will have to address after the season? Do you see them retaining certain players to fill key spots, or rather using free agency or the draft? As always, please comment below your thoughts and thanks again for reading!

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