With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: The Steelers will still re-sign one of Ahkello Witherspoon or Joe Haden at cornerback after signing Levi Wallace to a two-year, $8 million contract.
Explanation: With two potential starting outside cornerbacks hitting free agency at the same time, the Steelers had a decision to make. There have been some reports that the Steelers offered Witherspoon a contract, but he was mulling it over. Since then, they signed Wallace, so it’s not known if that offer, if it was ever extended, still stands. It’s also not clear what Haden’s market will be, but he’s likely in a position where he would choose to wait things out and find his best possible opportunity—which could still be Pittsburgh.
The fact that Cameron Sutton has such extensive versatility in the secondary means that bringing back one of their other free agent cornerbacks remains a very strong possibility. Even with Levi Wallace coming in and starting on the outside, if either Witherspoon or Haden were to be brought back, Sutton would play in the slot. He could even play outside in base as a full-time starter with one of the others coming onto the field for nickel, moving him into the slot.
I think what we’ve seen at this point, aside from the fact that Pittsburgh is very much willing to deal (and they still have enough cap space to throw some money around, with further tools to create cap space), is that the mid- to low-level secondary market is not robust.
If they could end up bringing back one of Witherspoon or Haden at a value of $4-5 million per season, I think that’s going to happen. Neither, I suspect, is a player other teams will be jumping on to plug into their starting lineup. Witherspoon wasn’t even a starter last year, and Haden is near the end of his rope.
If the reports are to be believed, then Witherspoon had his chance to re-sign with the Steelers, and he passed it over by taking too long. He gave them enough time to talk to Wallace and reach a deal. At this point, they are as likely or more to instead pursue a slot defender, somebody like Tavon Young, who could be had at a good value because of his injury history.
I think it’s been clear for a while now that the Steelers were going to be moving on from Haden, who may still believe that his market value is above where it likely is at this point in his career. His best chance of returning to Pittsburgh is probably if he is sitting out there for a while and chooses to re-sign after the draft, even near or into training camp.