The Pittsburgh Steelers, as of today, are slated to have 16 players become unrestricted free agents next month. Those players range from longtime starters to guys who started last season on the practice squad and played only a minor role. But there are a significant number of players who have logged a lot of snaps over the years set to hit the open market in due course.
According to ESPN, two of them are among the top 50 projected unrestricted free agents this offseason, though both rank low on the list in a recent Insider article published yesterday. Sixth-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is listed as the 42nd-best free agent, and fifth-year safety Terrell Edmunds is ranked 50th.
Smith-Schuster was an unrestricted free agent a year ago, but he ultimately decided to return to the Steelers on a one-year, $8 million contract, most of the cap hit of which was deferred to 2022 using four void years tacked onto the end of the deal. He had other offers that were slightly more robust (possibly even one that was a multi-year offer—but he thought staying in Pittsburgh would give him the best chance.
Things didn’t work out, as he suffered a shoulder injury in the first half of the season that kept him out of uniform until the playoffs, though he was able to return for that very brief period. This year, ESPN sees him finding his way to the Philadelphia Eagles, Jeremy Fowler writing:
Smith-Schuster seems destined to leave Pittsburgh. The Chiefs were interested a year ago and could circle back. Smith-Schuster has battled knee and shoulder issues, but when healthy, he can make tough catches over the middle and is a strong blocker — which would help Eagles coach Nick Sirianni’s run-heavy attack.
As for Edmunds, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2018, he did not have his fifth-year option picked up, though the team still figures to have interest in bringing him back. A four-year starter with strong durability and a gradual improvement in play year over year, he could be a slight sleeper in the midrange market. And Fowler has the New York Jets interested in him:
The Jets are poised to re-tool their secondary with several new pieces, and the departure of safety Marcus Maye would leave a void. Edmunds could have a sneaky good market. He has played 64 games — with 60 starts — in four years.
Pittsburgh has some other significant players hitting unrestricted free agency that did not make the cut, such as a trio of cornerbacks in Joe Haden, Ahkello Witherspoon, and slot Arthur Maulet. There is also guard Trai Turner, tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, and defensive tackle Montravius Adams, the latter a late-season addition to the roster.
Pittsburgh could realistically have interesting in retaining each of them, though certainly not all of them. Witherspoon and Haden, for example, is likely an either/or proposition, especially if they attempt to retain either of Smith-Schuster or Edmunds.