Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason and everything that means. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.
Player: WR Gunner Olszewski
Stock Value: Down
Reasoning: Added in free agency, it didn’t take long for Gunner Olszewski to lose substantial favor. He was signed primarily to be a return man but was benched after multiple fumbles and muffs in the early portion of the season. He is also capable of playing gunner (no surprise), however, and has some potential as an offensive contributor. Lacking depth generally, Olszewski has a chance to stick again this season and perhaps compete to regain his returner job.
Likely one of the reasons that the New England Patriots elected not to re-sign (or even tender, as he was a restricted free agent) Gunner Olszewski a year ago was the simple fact that he was putting too many balls on the ground. He was charged with three fumbles during the 2021 season, yet was an All-Pro returner the year before.
The Steelers needed a veteran option for the return function after losing Ray-Ray McCloud in free agency, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers. They quickly honed in on Olszewski, and he opened the season as their returner.
While he showed the potential for some pop, as we’ve discussed, concerns about ball security quickly surfaced. He did have one fumble on offense, but he fumbled while returning a punt as well, muffed another, and had other close calls.
The primary function of a return man is to secure possession of the football for your team, so it’s no surprise that head coach Mike Tomlin and special teams coordinator Danny Smith quickly made a change.
On the other hand, replacement Steven Sims was not a substantial improvement in terms of ball security, either. I do think it’s reasonable to conjecture the 2023 offseason will see an open competition for the return man job, including 2022 fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III, who didn’t get to play due to injury.
But that doesn’t mean Olszewski will be left without a job. He’ll have to earn his roster spot (he is due $2 million for 2023, which is about double what he would make at his veteran minimum), but it’s a more realistic possibility than many fans might hope. Right now, the room consists of Diontae Johnson and George Pickens with a handful of unproven young players or down-on-their-luck veterans.