Player: Steven Sims
Position: Wide Receiver
Experience: 3 Years
Free Agent Status: Restricted
2022 Salary Cap Hit: $895,000
2022 Season Breakdown:
We have now finished covering all of the players the Steelers have scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. The remaining handful of names will be limited to those who are pending restricted or exclusive rights free agents. The first name up is wide receiver Steven Sims, among four players who fall under the restricted category.
A marginal name in the race for a roster spot initially, Sims ultimately found his way to the 53 but started the year as an inactive. After a few games, new return man Gunner Olszewski was demoted from that role due to ball control issues, opening the door for Sims.
He did finish the season averaging 25.5 yards per kick return, but due in part to some ball control issues of his own, he only averaged 5.5 yards per punt return—quite low. Still, he has flashed in the open field. The only question is if the Steelers are comfortable with his elevated risk of putting the ball on the ground.
As mentioned, Sims also played a larger role on offense in the slot after the Chase Claypool trade
Free Agency Outlook:
As a reminder, only players who have exactly three seasons of credited experience qualify as restricted free agents under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams have the right to offer a restricted free agent tender to the player, which provides a specified salary at three different levels.
Until the player signs the tender, he has the right to seek contract offers elsewhere throughout the league. Should he sign an offer sheet, the original team has the right to match that contract and thus retain the player. If the team opts not to match the contract, the offering team gets the player but also has to return compensation to the original team relative to the type of tender applied.
There is an original-round tender, a second-round tender, and a first-round tender, categories that I imagine are self-explanatory. Each ascending tender requires a higher salary, with the original-round tender this season set at $2,627,000.
In Sims’ case, it’s a foregone conclusion that they would not opt for a first- or second-round tender. They could consider an original-round tender, in which case they would receive no compensation if they don’t match another team’s offer because Sims was originally undrafted. This is more formally called the Right of First Refusal, since they merely have the option of accepting or refusing to match an offer sheet if a player had no draft status.
While Sims ended up becoming the Steelers’ return man last season and began to play a slot role last in the year, I don’t believe they would give him a restricted free agent tender and thus commit to paying him $2,627,000. If I were to guess, they would not apply a tender and hope to re-sign him at or near the veteran minimum instead.