NFL.com Senior Researcher Anthony Holzman-Escareno recently published an exercise where he tasked himself with forming the best possible roster that would fit under the 2022 NFL salary cap. The rules Holzman-Escareno placed on himself in the exercise included the use of only 24 players on rookie contracts, with no more than four players drafted from each of Rounds 1-3 and 12 total from Rounds 4-7, the use of one franchise tag, and the ability to sign one free agent to a minimum salary contract using the veteran salary benefit.
Oddly enough, Holzman-Escareno opted to only add one Pittsburgh Steeler to his 53-man roster. Rather than picking the household names like T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, or Cam Heyward, he opted to choose another starting defender for the Pittsburgh Steelers on a rookie contract: EDGE Alex Highsmith with a cap number of $1,169,073.
“Alex Highsmith turned in six sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and 15 QB hits in his first season as a starter, making him one of nine players with at least five sacks and 15 TFL in 2021.”
While not the most obvious choice, Highsmith as a backup EDGE was a shrewd one by Holzman-Escareno. The Steelers put a lot of faith in Highsmith to deliver in his second season, allowing Bud Dupree to test the open market and eventually sign a big contract with the Tennessee Titans. The move paid off as Highsmith made a notable leap in his first season as a full-time starter, showing improvement in his run defense as well as displaying a variety of ways to win as a pass rusher.
Highsmith is widely expected by many to take yet another leap forward heading into year three, as he personally looks to crack the double-digit sack barrier and become a capable running mate opposite T.J. Watt. Should Highsmith make that leap, Pittsburgh would find itself in a promising situation in 2023 in terms of whether it should re-sign Highsmith long-term to secure the tandem of he and Watt together for the foreseeable future. Luckily for the purposes of this exercise and for Pittsburgh in 2022, Highsmith’s cap hit is extremely affordable for a player potentially on the verge of breaking out.
WR Diontae Johnson, EDGE T.J. Watt, and S Minkah Fitzpatrick all were listed in the “Others Considered” category, as Johnson should be considered a bargain on his rookie contract while Watt and Fitzpatrick are considered the best at their respective positions in the league and are rightfully paid as such. Thus, it can be difficult to build a roster under the parameters Anthony Holzman-Escareno set for himself in this exercise with Watt and Fitzpatrick on it instead of taking another player with a lesser cap hit but similar talent level to shore up other positions on the team.
What are your thoughts on Alex Highsmith’s inclusion on this list? Do you think that he is deserving of being included based on his accomplishments thus far and his outlook for 2022? Do you think that Johnson, Watt, or Fitzpatrick should have made the list as well? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!