With the 2021 NFL season now officially in the books, everyone turns their attention to what comes next. While the 2022 season will not officially start for another month or so, there will be quite a lot of activity between now and then in preparation for the new league year.
Of course, that starts with taking an assessment of your roster relative to the salary cap, particularly those players who are set to become free agents, and whether or not deals can be done with them before they actually hit the open market. On the opposite side of the coin, you may look at high-cap players who are not holding their weight.
Known as salary cap casualties, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a few notable candidates this offseason, one way or another. The biggest name on that list for Pro Football Focus—in fact, the only name that they list in an offseason preview article, even though they name multiple for other teams—is inside linebacker Joe Schobert.
Acquired in August and plugged into the starting lineup right away, Schobert is a veteran linebacker who was viewed as an upgrade at the time over the alternative, Robert Spillane. Arguably he was, but not to the tune of the difference in their compensation.
A former Pro Bowler, Schobert is due $7.8 million in 2022, and it’s hard to imagine them being comfortable paying that amount after watching him play during the 2021 season. While they don’t enter this offseason in the red in terms of the salary cap, they do have several free agents they may want to sign.
That decision starts off with trying to bring back at least one of two outside cornerbacks in Joe Haden and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also have to decided at what price they are comfortable bringing back Terrell Edmunds at strong safety, a position at which they have no desirable alternatives on the roster.
Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor is also a free agent. In-house options for that position are Zach Banner and Joe Haeg. Banner is due to make $5 million in 2022, so he is just as liable to be a cap casualty, money they could use instead to keep Okorafor.
Other potentially realistic re-signing targets include right guard Trai Turner, and perhaps to a lesser extent, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Given his injury last year, it’s hard to imagine his stock value has risen since he signed a one-year, $8 million deal last year.
Then there’s the whole needing a quarterback thing that has to be considered, which, unless they add that player through the draft or simply don’t add one at all, is probably going to come at some cost. When considering all factors, it’s quite reasonable to predict that there will be at least one ‘salary cap casualty’ this offseason, and Schobert’s name is at the top of the list for good reason.