The 2022 NFL year begins Wednesday, March 16th with the legal tampering period opening up Monday the 14th. And for once, the Pittsburgh Steelers have some money to spend. Don’t expect them to toss around massive, $80 million contracts but they should be more aggressive than in season’s past. It makes this year’s free agency wishlist a little more interesting than past offseasons, especially with the uncertainty at quarterback.
Below is my list of best fits, talent, and the guys who just make the most amount of sense to come to Pittsburgh on the offensive side of the ball. There’s a variety on this list, bigger names and more economical options for you guys to digest.
As I know you will, let me know your thoughts and other players you’d suggest in the comments below. Friday, I’ll release my defensive wishlist with my 2022 Steelers’ mock offseason taking place Monday.
Teddy Bridgewater/Denver Broncos
My top free agent quarterback to target. No, Bridgewater isn’t leading the Steelers to a Super Bowl. No free agent quarterback will. But Bridgewater is the best option of what the team needs. As they revert back to a run and defense-first philosophy, their quarterback needs to manage the game. His goal is to avoid losing it, not necessarily winning it. That’s Bridgewater.
He’s efficient, smart, and largely takes care of the football. Over the past three years, he’s completed 68% of his passes, sixth best of the 43 quarterbacks with 400+ attempts over that span. His 1.8% INT rate is tied for tenth lowest too. Bridgewater lacks a big arm and isn’t going to air it out downfield but his YPA is better than you think. In 2021, it sat at 7.2, dead middle in the league, a full yard higher than Ben Roethlisberger, and in the same range as Tom Brady (7.4) and Patrick Mahomes (7.3).
Pittsburgh needs leadership, someone a young offense can look towards, and Bridgewater can check that box too. He’s older, experienced, and been through a lot in his career, recovering from a potentially career-ending knee injury years ago. Before playing the Broncos in Week 5 in 2021, Tomlin praised Bridgewater’s game.
“Teddy Bridgewater has really given them a shot in the arm at the quarterback position. You just read and listen to what his teammates and members of that organization say about him and you know he has that intangible quality that you look for at that position. He’s a natural leader. But beyond that, he has some really tangible things that are going very well for him. He’s working very efficiently. He’s completing the ball at a high rate. He’s getting chunk plays. He’s delivering the ball downfield to guys that are capable of making one-on-one plays against defenders…Bridgewater is also doing a great job of taking care of the football.”
In my tape study of his 2021 season, I see an accurate, rhythm and timing passer that fits well in Matt Canada’s offense. He stands tall in the face of pressure and though his mobility has largely been sapped, he’s functional on boots and rollouts.
Before getting hurt last year, Bridgewater had the Broncos in the playoff race with a 7-6 record heading into the game he was injured. Once Drew Lock replaced him, the team fell apart lost their next four games, averaging under 17 points over their final three.
Bridgewater is – pun intended – the perfect bridge quarterback to sign on a two-year deal that’ll probably cost around that $10-12 million per year mark.
Bridgewater Accuracy/Touch Clips:
Jacoby Brissett/Miami Dolphins
Brissett is a name I’ve mentioned for awhile now. It’s not because I love his game and going back through his tape, it was a rougher than I thought. This is my wishlist but I can do some dot-connecting here too. Pittsburgh has basically transported the entire NC State coaching staff Brissett had to Pittsburgh – OC Matt Canada, WRs Coach Frisman Jackson, and RBs Coach Eddie Faulkner were all there when Brissett was, who helped turn around that Wolfpack team. Even new OL Coach Pat Meyer is a NC State alum, though he was long gone by the time Brissett got to school. This group knows Brissett well as any potential free agent suitor.
Similar to Ben, Brissett is a big-body that’s hard to bring down while offering more mobility than what Roethlisberger brought his final two seasons. Brissett isn’t fleet of foot but can buy time and has been effective on QB sneaks. He has a good arm and is able to push the ball downfield.
The biggest reason to sign him, frankly, is his lower cost (signed for $5 million in 2021, probably signs for about that in 2022, perhaps a little more) and familiarity with Canada and this offense. That’ll give him a good start on competing with Mason Rudolph this summer as opposed to having to start from square one in learning the playbook and what Canada is looking for.
Marcus Mariota/Las Vegas Raiders
A name Dave and I have discussed throughout the offseason and really, during the regular season given all of Tomlin’s references to QB mobility. Mariota still has that and was used in short-yardage/goal line packages behind Derek Carr the past two years, though his 2020 season was cut short after just one game.
Mariota is going to be a relatively cheap option who will sign in that $3-5 million range to truly have an open competition with Mason Rudolph. He’s a pedigree guy, a former 2nd overall pick, while still having some youth (only 28 years old) and experience (61 career starts).
Mariota has barely thrown the ball over the past two years and struggled in his last half-season under center in 2019 with the Titans. There is an injury risk with him too. The odds of him starting all 17 games are low. But Rudolph would be a serviceable spot starter behind him so the risk there is mitigated. Mariota won’t make Steelers’ fans that excited and nor should he. But if Pittsburgh wants a cheaper option, he’s a logical choice.
Honorable Mention: Tyrod Taylor/Texans – Taylor fits as a good leader with mobility. Plus, he’s a 757 guy from Tomlin’s stomping grounds. But he’ll run himself into too many sacks in Pittsburgh behind a still-rebuilding offensive line.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling/Green Bay Packers
MVS would be the biggest swing at receiver on this short list. But if you want a classic height/weight/speed guy, he’s a good one. Few receivers have been as big-play as he was in four years with the Packers, averaging 17.5 yards per catch since 2018. That’s easily the best mark in the league over that span of receivers with 100+ grabs, a full yard higher than second place Mike Williams. In 2020, Valdes-Scantling led the league at over 20 yards per catch.
He’s played inside and out and though he’s best as a Z, he can move around the formation with plenty time as #2/#3 in the slot. He’s big, a long-strider, with speed and high-points the ball in the air. The concern here is his price tag, he won’t be cheap, and the Steelers’ hope Chase Claypool can still be the team’s outside, Z receiver. But I like MVS’ game and if you want big plays infused into this offense, he’ll provide them. He and Claypool could mix and match in the slot as two big-framed guys to force defenses to cover.
Byron Pringle/Kansas City Chiefs
My favorite name here. If the Steelers lose WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pringle can replace him in the slot. He’s a different body type and style but he’s not a small dude, weighing in at 6’1, 203 pounds at his 2018 Pro Day. Pringle is quick-twitch with good speed (4.46 40 coming out) who creates a ton of space at the top of his route. He’s got a high-IQ and understands leverage and finding the soft spot in zone. He’s not someone who stacks vertically against man coverage often but is great versus zone, which the Chiefs saw a ton of, and he’s coming off his best season, catching 42 passes and five touchdowns for KC.
Still, his overall numbers are relatively light, just 67 career grabs, and that should keep his price tag down. Still only 28, the best reason to sign Pringle might be so you don’t have to play against him anymore. In two games against the Steelers in 2021, Week 16 and the Wild Card Game, Pringle lit Pittsburgh up for 11 catches for 112 yards and four touchdowns. Much of that had to do with the Steelers trying to take away Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill but still, Pringle dominated.
If the Steelers don’t pay him, Pringle will earn a healthy contract because of what he did against them.
Pringle’s Four Touchdowns Against Steelers
Marquise Goodwin/Chicago Bears
You want cheap speed? Here’s cheap speed. No one fits that bill better than Goodwin, a literal Olympic track guy (at least attempted to qualify for them) married to a Junior Olympic champion, Goodwin has done nothing but win vertically over his career.
Put it this way. Since 2016, Goodwin has 140 receptions. Nine of them have gone for 50+ yards, over 6% of his total. His nine catches of 50+ yards are tied with: Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, and Julio Jones, and are tied for the 11th most in the league. And (!!) Goodwin opted out of the 2020 season altogether. Those other names are catching hundreds of passes just to match what Goodwin has done in 140.
Since 2016, his TDs have gone for: 84, 83, 67, 67, 55, 49, 38, 30, 11, 8, and 6 yards. That’s an average of 45.3 yards per touchdown. And since 2016, he’s averaged at least 14.9 YPC every single season.
You get the point. Goodwin is fast and he’s not going to cost much, allowing him to basically play James Washington-type snaps (400-500 in 2022) and being a true, top-off-the-defense threat. Goodwin is 31 but he’s still plenty fast and again, opted out of 2020. So his legs are still fresh. He signed for just over $1 million in 2021 and should be had for about that, maybe a little more, in 2022. More than affordable for the Steelers.
Honorable Mentions: Zay Jones/Raiders, Cedrick Wilson Jr./Cowboys, Rashard Higgins/Browns. Jones has some bigger-play ability, Wilson has the family connections of his dad, and Higgins never got his fair shake in Cleveland. None of those three will break the bank.
Andrew Wylie/Kansas City Chiefs
I’ll be honest and say upfront, I’d probably go after a tackle in the draft. The free agency pool isn’t very attractive and the draft has good depth. Top names like Trent Brown have durability concerns for the money he’ll command and there just aren’t many good tackles on the market. Wylie stepped in and stepped up last year, a physical run-blocker who runs his feet on contact.
He held up ok-enough against TJ Watt this year, fighting hard to seal the edge and seal Watt upfield. Watt won several times, that’s just going to happen, and Wylie needs to do a better job of not exposing his chest on his punch and getting bull-rushed into the pocket. But he’s 27 with guard and tackle experience so you could play him at eight spot on the right side, though the tape I watched came with him at RT. His 42 career starts gives him plenty of experience and he won’t cost like a top-tier tackle, though linemen are often more expensive than you think.
Julie’n Davenport/Indianapolis Colts
The names get thin already. Davenport would be a flier and not a slam-dunk option at tackle. But he’s big, long, with 32 career starts. He’s bounced around with three teams already and got benched four games into 2021. This is less of a “wishlist guy” and more of “here’s another name” and I suppose it’s worth at least noting Brian Flores’ Dolphins signed him in 2019. So the Steelers can have some intel and insight there. But that is a flimsy reason to add him and I’d only bring in Davenport if Chukwuma Okorafor hit free agency and Zach Banner was cut just to give the team another veteran option heading into the draft.
Honorable Mentions: Sam Tevi/Colts, Michael Schofield/Chargers: Simple dot-connecting here. Both guys coached by new Steelers’ o-line coach Pat Meyer. Tevi will be cheap coming off a torn ACL while Schofield followed Meyer to Carolina before returning to the Chargers in 2021, starting 12 games. He’s got guard/tackle versatility.
Interior Offensive Line
James Daniels/Chicago Bears
This is the guy. The #1 free agent I’d go after. And for as much as I can be a Debbie Downer for not going after high-priced guys, the Steelers need to open up their checkbook for Daniels. He’s everything the team wants. He’s experienced with pedigree (48 career starts, former 2nd round pick) with a lot of youth (isn’t 25 until September) and an extremely talented guard/center playing the best ball of his career.
I watched him at RG this year and he has a blend of burst out of his stance to reach and cutoff the backside, work to the second level, with heavy hands and the ability to re-punch and gain control. He uses some of the same techniques that Pat Meyer already teaches with aggressive sets and hop steps to stall out bull rushes. He’s quick laterally and can mirror in pass protection while being a balanced, controlled blocker with torque to create movement in the run game. He’s long with size (6’3 3/8, 306 pounds with nearly 34 inch arms) and his 7.29 three-cone time back in 2018 was one of the best ever by an offensive lineman. Meyer is going to like his length, aggression, and tape. Daniels also had a good showing against Pittsburgh in 2021, which certainly doesn’t hurt.
Daniels can and has played center or guard but I’d make him the Steelers’ starting RG, keeping Kevin Dotson at LG and Kendrick Green at C. Giving Green a healthy Dotson and Daniels at RG will help protect Green and I think center is still his best chance for NFL success, even if he’s a “natural” guard from his time at Illinois.
If the Steelers want to make a big move to upgrade their line, it’s signing Daniels. What will he cost? A lot. Somewhere in the double-digits, sitting in that $10-12 million range. He’s worth it.
Daniels Highlights Clips (RG, #68):
Laken Tomlinson/San Francisco 49ers
Pittsburgh likes their guards to be big and powerful and Tomlin hits both of those boxes. He’s a little over 6’3, somewhere in the 320-330 range with nearly 34 inch arms. Thickly built with tree trunks for legs, he has a wide, strong base that Meyer likes with a solid anchor in pass protection to stop bull rushes. He’s a hand fighter with nasty in his game. While he isn’t an elite athlete, he has quickness out of his stance to reach block and cutoff on the backside. He fits well in a man-heavier scheme like the Steelers are expected to run.
He’s also very durable, playing every single snap in 2021 and missing just one game in his entire career. After battling so many o-line injuries over the last two years, Tomlinson is a dependable, available player and there’s plenty of value in that.
Alex Cappa/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I thought I would like Cappa a little bit more than I would watching his tape. But he’s still a solid guard prospect on that Bucs’ line, even if teammate Ryan Jensen grabs most of the attention. Cappa is only 27 years old and a plus athlete, a strong puller and functionals well out in space. He’s got a good football IQ and stunt recognition. His pass pro needs some work against speed and power rushes and his base narrows a bit in the run game. Cappa has 46 starts and has started every game the last two years. His price tag could sit similar to Daniels and I would prefer Daniels over Cappa.
Mark Glowinski/Indianapolis Colts
Glowiniski is a strong, tough guard who has roots in PA, though he comes from the eastern part of the state. He works best as a drive/base blocker in the run game while also creating movement on his down blocks. He’s a hand-fighter and technician able to defeat long-arms. He’s not a tremendous athlete though and gets by on his good size (over 6’4, 310-ish pounds with 33 inch arms) and toughness. He’ll turn 30 in May but that’s not too old for an offensive lineman and the Steelers have signed guys around that age, or older, before on the offensive side of the ball.
Honorable Mentions: Nick Martin/Raiders, Ben Jones/Titans, John Miller/Panthers, Matt Paradis/Panthers, Scott Quessenberry/Chargers. Martin is a pedigree guy and should be cheap after barely playing in 2021. Jones is an older veteran with lots of experience.
The rest are again dot-connecting with Meyer. Miller, Paradis, and Quessenberry all played for him and could be relatively cheap backup options