Steelers 2022 Free Agency Primer: Unrestricted Free Agents – Defense

The Pittsburgh Steelers offseason is now officially underway as of this past Sunday night and between now and the start of the 2022 league year in March the team will need to make several decisions regarding the players scheduled to become free agents. In this post, we’ll look at the seven Steelers defensive players currently scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year.

Unrestricted free agent (UFA): Any player with four or more accrued seasons and an expired contract; free to negotiate and sign with any team.

S Terrell Edmunds – The Steelers chose not to pick up the fifth-year option on Edmunds last offseason so now he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. In 2021, the Steelers former first round draft pick logged a team-high 1,145 defensive snaps on his way to registering 89 total tackles, two interceptions, six passes defensed, one quarterback hit and one sack. Pro Football Focus has Edmunds down as allowing 34 receptions for 277 yards and three touchdowns. They also charted the safety as having nine misses tackles on the season. While not flashy and certainly not close to being the NFL’s top strong safety, Edmunds has slowly improved every year he’s been in the league.

Even though the Steelers decided to not pick up his fifth-year option, there’s still probably a chance they’ll try hard to re-sign their former first round selection out of Virginia Tech. Edmunds might decide to hit free agency to see what his market value is just the same. Honestly, it could go either way with Edmunds this offseason, so don’t be surprised if the Steelers get him re-signed to a one or two-year deal. Doing so would eliminate the team needing to address the position early in the draft and potentially not even at all. He shouldn’t be overly expensive from a new money average perspective.

CB Joe Haden – The Steelers longtime veteran cornerback didn’t have a great 2021 season overall. For starters, Haden missed five games due to a foot injury. On top of that, PFF charted Haden as allowing 32 receptions on 49 total targets for 358 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season in addition to missing eight tackles. Haden logged a total of 631 defensive snaps in 2021 on his way to registering 37 total tackles, six defensed passes, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Haden did, however, have a game-winning tackle on fourth down in the team’s home game against the Tennessee Titans.

Haden obviously would like to return to Pittsburgh in 2022 to finish his career but there’s a good chance he won’t be re-signed. Haden will be 33 years of age in April and that will lessen his market value even more. Haden is a wonderful team leader and a very smart player, but those two traits might not be enough to warrant the Steelers re-signing him. They could, it’s just probably more unlikely than likely that they will. Haden made $7 million in 2021 and you can bet his market value is a lot less than that entering the offseason.

DT Montravius Adams – The Steelers signed Adams off the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad in late November, and he ended up being a nice addition for the team. While Adams did miss one game due to him being on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, he still wound up playing 171 defensive snaps in five games. He recorded eight total tackles, three quarterback hits and one defensed pass in his limited regular season playing time with the Steelers. He also added a sack, a quarterback hit and two total tackles in the team’s playoff loss.

For a small sample size, Adams represented himself well after arriving in Pittsburgh. It’s easy to imagine the Steelers wanting to re-sign Adams prior to March and maybe even to a two-year deal for a little more than the minimum. Adams might be able to provide the Steelers some experienced depth behind nose tackle Tyson Alualu in 2022 and especially if the price to re-sign him is right.

CB Ahkello Witherspoon – The Steelers acquired Witherspoon via a trade with the Seattle Seahawks just prior to the start of the 2021 regular season. He really didn’t start seeing the field until the second half of the schedule, however. In fact, Witherspoon was inactive for eight of the team’s first nine games.

A foot injury suffered by Haden forced Witherspoon into action and he went on to play in the final eight regular season games and the lone playoff game. In total, Witherspoon played 368 defensive snaps in the regular season and 20 more on special teams. He ended the regular season with 15 total tackles, nine passes defensed and a team-high three interceptions. He allowed 17 receptions for 266 yards and a touchdown on 35 total regular season targets, according to PFF. He also missed 10 tackles, according to their stats.

Witherspoon’s tackling and run defense certainly needs improvement and that was already known upon him arriving via trade. Even so, the Steelers will likely try to re-sign Witherspoon before the start of free agency and possibly to a two or three-year deal and for a little more than the $4 million that he made in 2021

OLB Taco Charlton – After not being with the Steelers at the start of the 2021 regular season, Charlton was signed to the team’s practice squad in the latter part of September. He was then added to the 53-man roster after the team traded away outside linebacker Melvin Ingram in early November. The former first round draft pick out of Michigan went on to play a total of 216 regular season snaps on defense on his way to registering 18 total tackles, half a sack, two quarterback hits and one pass defensed. He missed just one tackle on the season and was targeted four times in coverage and allowed two receptions for 22 yards.

The Steelers already have two starting outside linebackers in T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. They could, however, use some depth and thus might try to re-sign Charlton to a very cheap deal and possibly even a veteran salary benefit contract. If that happens, Charlton would then compete for a roster spot throughout the remainder of the offseason.

He’s unlikely to have a huge market for his services so Pittsburgh might be his best option early in the offseason.

CB Arthur Maulet – The Steelers used Maulet quite a bit in 2021 and mostly in the slot in nickel and dime sub packages. In total, Maulet logged 380 defensive snaps during the 2021 regular season on his way to registering 46 total tackles, one pass defensed, two quarterback hits and one forced fumble. He also had one tackle on special teams in the 162 snaps he played. Coverage-wise, Maulet was targeted 25 times and allowed 18 receptions for 261 yards and a touchdown, according to PFF data. He also is down as missing three tackles on the season.

The Steelers very well might want to re-sign Maulet during the offseason and prior to the 2022 NFL Draft getting underway. If they do, it’s hard to imagine them signing him for much more than the minimum. Like Charlton, Maulet might wind up signing a one-year veteran salary benefit contract during the offseason that will allow him to compete for a roster spot throughout the offseason.

S Miles Killebrew – The Steelers signed Killebrew last offseason to mainly be a special teams ace, and he was indeed that for them in 2021. During the regular season, Killebrew registered two blocked punts to go along with seven total special teams tackles in 334 logged snaps on those units as a core player. He also logged 45 total defensive snaps during the regular season on his way to registering another six total tackles. He is down for three missed tackles in that limited playing time, however.

The Steelers will likely want to re-sign Killebrew during the offseason to once again serve as a special teams ace and backup safety. It might cost them a little more than the minimum to do so, however. They obviously won’t break the bank for Killebrew but should be aware that his special teams services could be in a demand if he were to hit unrestricted free agency in March. I would look for him to return on a one or two-year deal.

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