The Steelers are now in their offseason after failing to reach the playoffs in 2022, coming up just a game short of sneaking in as the seventh seed. They needed help in week 18 and only got some of it, so instead they sat home and watched the playoffs with the rest of us.
On tap is figuring out how to be on the field in January and February instead of being a spectator. They started out 2-6, digging a hole that proved too deep to dig out of even if they managed to go 7-2 in the second half of the year.
Starting from the end of the regular season and leading all the way up to the beginning of the 2023 season, there are plenty of questions that need answered, starting with who will be the offensive coordinator. Which free agents will be kept? Who might be let go due to their salary? How might they tackle free agency with this new front office? We’ll try to frame the conversation in relevant ways as long as you stick with us throughout this offseason, as we have for many years.
Question: Will Omar Khan extend second-year guarantees to outside free agent signings?
Given that the Steelers are not in a position to have an overly robust salary cap ledger this offseason, particularly if they have any aspirations of re-signing many of their own free agents, we’re unlikely to get an answer to this question this offseason.
But it’s an important question for the team’s future, because it speaks directly to their ability to target and acquire valuable key outside free agents in the future. In today’s climate, the primary asset in a deal is how much money a player is guaranteed to get at signing.
Often this is misconstrued as surrounding the signing bonus, and there are many teams who so hand out disproportionately large upfront signing bonuses. But for most free agents it’s about as much or more about the total full guarantee rather than the timing. And that means second-year guarantees.
In exceedingly rare instances, perhaps if we’re dealing with a top-flight free agent, maybe even three-year guarantees. Or maybe the evolution of contracts will eventually dictate that that becomes standard and the Steelers will have to follow suit.
We have seen the team break precedent recently by guaranteeing at least second-year salaries for T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick on their extension. But those are in-house deals, with which they’re more likely to be flexible (think about Joe Haden’s last extension and what percentage of that was a signing bonus).
The real test will be how they play it on the open market, and at what level. in terms of payout and per-year salary, James Daniels’ three-year, $26.5 million contract was the largest the team has ever handed out to an outside unrestricted free agent.
But that was a straight-down-the-line even-cash-flow deal, or near enough. He got $10 million in year one and will get $8.25 million in 2023 and 2024. None of the money left on the deal is guaranteed. But how well will they even be able to attract Daniels-type deals among outside free agents without offering second-year guarantees?