The Pittsburgh Steelers have a full plate on the menu when it comes to free agency this year—and I’m just talking about their leftovers. The team has 16 players who will be unrestricted free agents come March, albeit of varying significance and likelihood that the team would be interested in bringing them back at any price.
Tight end Eric Ebron, for example, isn’t likely to receive even a perfunctory offer to return, while they will likely have some level of interest in seeing where the market is for others like safety Terrell Edmunds and cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Joe Haden.
For Pro Football Focus, however, if there is one free agent the Steelers cannot allow to leave this offseason, it is veteran right guard Trai Turner, who started all 18 games this past year including the postseason (his first complete seasons since 2016).
“Turner was a veteran presence in 2021 and played as if 2020’s down season was just an aberration”, Brad Spielberger wrote in an article this morning, “earning a 72.7 pass-blocking and a 67.6 run-blocking grade, which were his best since 2017. He’s worth keeping around to stabilize the offensive line group as it continues to grow, especially now that there will be a new quarterback under center”.
Turner is a ninth-year veteran, originally a third-round draft choice of the Carolina Panthers. He made the Pro Bowl in five consecutive seasons during his six-year tenure there, before being traded to the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020.
He was let go after one season, however, due to salary cap implications and injuries that affected his performance. He was recovering from injury during free agency when the Steelers sought his services in June after learning that long-time veteran right guard David DeCastro would be unable to play in 2021 due to an ankle injury that would likely require surgery.
Pittsburgh released DeCastro, whom we pretty much haven’t heard anything about since then, signing Turner that same day. While he certainly did not offer the same level of play, Turner did provide a key veteran presence in a very young and very inexperienced group.
He was had on just a one-year, $3 million contract. I would suspect that Turner will be looking for more than that, perhaps much more, during a much more robust and traditional offseason, one for which he is healthy this go-around, which could put a damper on any plans of retaining him.
One way or another, the Steelers must address the offensive line, ideally both in free agency and in the draft. They may have found a left tackle in Dan Moore Jr., and Kevin Dotson could still have a future at left guard, but the rest is even more uncertain, especially with their right tackle, Chukwuma Okorafor, also a free agent.