We’re at the halfway point of the 2022 NFL season, but many Steelers fans already have their eyes set toward 2023.
Given how this team opened the 2022 campaign, it’s not hard to imagine why. The Steelers currently sit at 2-6 on the bye week and are slotted to own a top five pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The offense is currently the worst in football, averaging only 15.0 PPG while the defense has been gashed ever since they lost T.J. Watt to a pec injury in Week 1, giving up chuck plays through the air while struggling to win at the LOS against the run and generate pressure on the QB.
The Steelers just shipped off WR Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for their 2023 second-round pick, adding a valuable piece to help this roster bring in more talent this upcoming offseason. While Pittsburgh will have the opportunity to hit on plenty of positional needs via the draft, they also will have the option of hitting the free agent market by retaining some of their own free agents whilst pursuing others outside the organization.
However, we know that Pittsburgh treasures familiarity when it comes to their personnel. They often choose to retain their own rather than going outside the organization for a player at the same position. The same goes for free agents that they got to know well during the pre-draft process, bringing in guys that they had in for pre-draft visits or Pro Day dinners with.
What about former players who signed somewhere else as free agents, but returned to the team? Well, that has happened on several occasions as well, including the likes of OLB James Harrison, WR Antwaan Randel El, and others.
Given the plethora of needs on this roster, Pittsburgh could opt to bring back former Steelers at key positions of need prior to the 2023 season. Many have linked DL Javon Hargrave as a potential candidate who Pittsburgh may have their eyes on given that DL Larry Ogunjobi, Chris Wormley, and Tyson Alualu are scheduled to become free agents. Pittsburgh couldn’t afford to retain Hargrave as they chose to franchise tag OLB Bud Dupree that offseason, leaving Hargrave to opt to sign a three-year deal worth $39 million with the Eagles. Hargrave has been productive with Philadelphia, posting 7.5 sacks last season and just had two sacks against Pittsburgh last week. Given the need to strengthen the defensive front, Hargrave would be welcomed back with open arms.
Given how Pittsburgh just lost Chase Claypool via a trade with Chicago, Pittsburgh could use a true big slot receiver that can do the dirty work over the middle of the defense and make key possession catches to move the chains. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster left town to sign a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, looking to rebuild his value one an incentive-heavy contract structure. To this point, JuJu has had some success in Kansas City after three down years in Pittsburgh compared to the start of his career, posting 34 receptions for 464 yards and two TDs in seven games with the Chiefs.
Still, while JuJu has mentioned that the offensive system in KC has been a breath of fresh air in recent weeks as a subtle jab at Pittsburgh after relegating him to a short area target his last two seasons, he has shown all love to Steelers Nation throughout the process, expressing his gratitude to play for the organization and what the city means to him. He took a one-year deal the offseason prior to stay in Pittsburgh and play with Ben Roethlisberger one final season.
Should Pittsburgh move on from OC Matt Canada and KC not offer JuJu the contract extension he is looking for while having MVS, Skyy Moore, and Kadarius Toney all under contract past 2022, Pittsburgh could try and reunite with the city’s beloved son who became a legend for knocking out LB Vontaze Burfict his rookie season and a fan favorite for his personality and passion for the game. He would provide QB Kenny Pickett with a reliable safety blanket, and with the right offensive system, could return to a player that can work all quadrants of the field like he did his first two seasons in the league.
What are your thoughts on the Steelers possibly reuniting with either Javon Hargrave or JuJu Smith-Schuster this offseason? Do you see either as a legit possibility? Are there any other former Steelers that Pittsburgh should consider bringing back should they hit free agency? Please leave your thoughts below and thanks again for reading!