The Pittsburgh Steelers historically haven’t been a team to make a significant splash in free agency outside of the organization. Normally, the team lives by the mantra “draft, develop, re-sign” when referencing their own players. However, over the last few seasons, we have seen GM Kevin Colbert buck that trend at times, being willing to dip his toes in the FA market outside of his own players on the roster, recognizing the team is in position to compete for an AFC North title and make a potential playoff run here in the twilight of QB Ben Roethlisberger’s career.
Given the shakeup of the roster over the course of the offseason, Colbert really went against the grain in lead up to 2021, signing the likes of Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, and Arthur Maulet to name a few outside free agents who are all expected to play in some role this season.
Maulet is a classic Colbert signing, being under the age of 30, for the veteran minimum, and brings experience at a position of need. The subsequent losses of Bud Dupree and David DeCastro prompted the Steelers to sign two former Chargers, both of which were recognized as former Pro-Bowl-caliber players during their time in Los Angeles. Colbert isn’t normally the guy to go after high-pedigree FAs on the open market, let along two players coming off of injuries that derailed their 2020 campaigns with Ingram dealing with an ongoing knee injury and Turner suffering ankle and groin injuries along with a concussion during the course of the season.
Also, in the case of Ingram, Colbert specifically went against the grain of signing an outside FA over the age of 30 on the defensive side of the ball by signing the 32-year old Ingram, something Pittsburgh had not done since 2000.
With the recent reports from training camp, it is expected that Turner is slated in to start at RG in place of recently released David DeCastro. Ingram is projected to provide depth at OLB behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, rotating in for 15-25 snaps a game and potentially getting on the field with the other two edge rushers as a situational pass rusher who can line up anywhere along the front seven as a pass rusher. Maulet is competing for the nickel corner role with second-year DB Antione Brooks Jr., having the experience and competitive demeanor to effectively play against the run and cover against the pass.
Seeing as all of these outside free agents inked one-year pacts with the team, I wanted to gauge the likelihood of each one running it back with Pittsburgh once the season concludes. Sure, the team has other names including JuJu Smith-Schuster, Terrell Edmunds, Joe Haden, Eric Ebron, James Washington, Chuks Okorafor, and even Ben Roethlisberger should he decide to continue playing after the season that will need addressing prior to free agency starting in March.
However, I would expect several of these names to not be brought back and allowed to test free agency, and with stellar seasons, the outside guys could play themselves into a second contract with the Steelers, given the need of the position and value matchup with each other.
As I look at it, I personally think Trai Turner is in the best position of the three guys listed above to re-sign with Pittsburgh. He has the pedigree and production at a position that Pittsburgh has overhauled over the past several months, and a rebound season in Pittsburgh would be welcomed by both the Steelers and Turner who will be looking to cash in one more time. Given the lack of an answer outside of Turner should he leave via free agency in 2022, re-signing him for a two or three-year deal at market value would go a long way in stabilizing the offensive line should his play warrant an extension.
The next most likely name to re-sign with Pittsburgh to me would be Maulet. He isn’t a flashy name, but he is capable of playing nearly any position in the secondary as well as being a contributor on special teams. The ability to provide serviceable play as a starter in the nickel or in-case of injury at safety or at boundary corner is invaluable in the NFL, especially when accounting for a 17-game season. Maulet also won’t command top-dollar in free agency as a career journeyman and will give the team some insurance at safety or corner should either Edmunds or Haden walk in free agency in 2022. Factor in he is under the age of 30 and has a couple more productive seasons left in him, I could see him signing a one or two-year pact to stay in Pittsburgh prior to free agency.
The least likely name I expect to re-sign with Pittsburgh next season is Melvin Ingram. Ingram would turn 33 by the start of the 2022 season and is likely looking to cash in one more time in free agency on a hopeful bounce back campaign this season in Pittsburgh. It is almost certain that T.J. Watt will ink a monster extension prior to the start of the season and the team is confident Alex Highsmith can make the jump to a productive full-time starter as a running mate across from Watt for years to come.
Because of this, it would be difficult to see Pittsburgh paying market value for Ingram, as good as he may play this year, for the role he is expected to play at his age if he isn’t projected to start for the team.
Should the team decide to re-sign Ingram, it would likely mean that something has gone horribly wrong in the development in Highsmith or that Ingram is content with a part-time role on the back-half of his career. While both scenarios are possible, it shouldn’t be considered likely, as Ingram will likely try to capitalize on his value next offseason to get the most money possible or continue to ring chase with another title contender which he may see a slim chance of happening in Pittsburgh should Ben decide to walk away after the 2021 season.
It’s not impossible to Ingram see Ingram wearing Black and Gold in 2022, but I wouldn’t put a high percentage chance of it happening as we sit here today in comparison to the other two names above.
What are your thoughts on the free agents the Steelers brought in outside of the organization this offseason? Do you think any of them have a good chance of being with the team past this season and how would you personally rank their likelihood of each? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!