The Pittsburgh Steelers enter this new league year poised to be in the best shape that they have been in with regards to salary cap health that they have been in for some time. But they are also a team with many needs of varying importance, depending on how they handle their own free agents over the course of the next week.
In that regard, the area of gravest concern is the secondary, particularly at cornerback, where they have three of their top four players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. That list is led by long-time veteran Joe Haden and the more recent Ahkello Witherspoon, but the presence of Arthur Maulet on that list is not to be glossed over, either.
It’s one of the reasons that Bill Barnwell sees the Steelers as one of the teams this offseason that most need to act in the cornerback market, writing as much for an Insider article for ESPN. He also lists offensive tackle and, of course, quarterbacks as areas in which they have a disproportionate need relative to the rest of the league.
“With Haden a free agent and their first-round pick likely ticketed toward an offensive lineman or quarterback, the Steelers might look toward a veteran addition at cornerback, although they might wait until after June 1”, he wrote on the boundary cornerback position, where they currently have Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, and Justin Layne.
Haden has been a starter on the outside for the past five seasons, but is comfortably on the wrong side of 30. Witherspoon, acquired shortly before the regular season began via trade, did not get an opportunity to play until the second half of the year, but came on strong.
“If they don’t use their first-round pick on a quarterback, they’ll probably address tackle”, he added when discussing the Steelers’ bookmark offensive line needs, noting right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor’s free agent status. “The decisions Pittsburgh makes during free agency will probably hint at its plans with the No. 20 overall pick”.
With regards to tackle, another player to be considered is Zach Banner, who was the intended starter at right tackle for the past two years, but who has hardly played. He is on the books for $5 million in base salary in 2022. It’s hard to imagine him being held on that salary without viewing him as a starter—which could go either way.
The team’s needs at quarterback and the analysis of that need is so trite and obvious that it really doesn’t need to be broken down, but Barnwell emphasizes the draft as their potential avenue for addressing the need here, rather than free agency.
One area that may quickly become a glaring need is inside linebacker if they release Joe Schobert. Even if they don’t, the play from this position last season was arguably the worst of any position group on the roster, so there is significant room for improvement.