It’s that time of year again. Free agency starts Wednesday, so before we get there, we’ll go over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
The Steelers have several key players due to become free agents, and a number of large contracts could be salary cap casualties, so a lot will be changing in the near future. But this is where things stand, at each position, as of this writing.
Total Positional Figure: 8
Levi Wallace: Signed seemingly as reinforcement, Wallace ended up a full-time starter by season’s end due to a combination of his own success and the failure of others. He did have a career year with four interceptions after coming over from Buffalo.
Ahkello Witherspoon: Witherspoon could find himself a cap casualty with a $4 million base salary owed to him in 2023, the back half of a two-year, $8 million deal signed last year. He hardly played due to injury, and when he did play, he played like he was hurt—even though he wasn’t. A very disappointing season and a major step back.
Arthur Maulet: The Steelers like to use Maulet due to the diversity of his skill set, but coverage remains arguably the weakest area of his game. If opponents get the Steelers into obvious passing situations with Maulet on the field, he can be taken advantage of.
Duke Dawson: A 5’10” journeyman as a former second-round pick whose career got off to the wrong start with an injury, Dawson hasn’t played a snap of meaningful football since 2020. He was signed to the Steelers’ practice squad in mid-October and was retained at year’s end.
Madre Harper: The Southern Illinois product doesn’t have pedigree, but he has some size at 6’1”. He did not see regular-season work in 2022. He spent the year on the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad and the Steelers signed him to a Reserve/Future contract at the end of the season.
Chris Wilcox: Wilcox is a first-year BYU product, standing at 6’2” and 195 pounds and has yet to make his NFL debut. Like Harper, he signed a Reserve/Future deal with the Steelers at year’s end. Interestingly, he is whom the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted with the seventh-round pick the Steelers sent with Jerald Hawkins in 2019 in exchange for a sixth-round pick.
Pending Free Agents:
Cameron Sutton: Well, here’s the meat and potatoes, I guess. Sutton is by far the biggest name on this list, and he’s due to hit the open market. The Steelers will likely have to pay him $10 million per season or more to keep him around, if the speculation is to be believed. He is coming off a career year with three interceptions and 15 passes defensed.
James Pierre: A restricted free agent, Pierre managed to log 260 defensive snaps last season, including a couple of starts due to injury. That’s after he saw zero defensive snaps in the first month of the season.
William Jackson III: The one that got away in 2016 was just released after playing zero snaps. But he was due over $12 million, so it’s not like nobody saw it coming. There may be the slimmest of chances that the Steelers try to bring him back at a far lower price. He’s unlikely to see anything like the market he had the first time he hit free agency given how things have gone since.
Carlins Platel: A 2022 undrafted rookie who won a spot on the 90-man roster through a rookie minicamp tryout, Platel made it through the offseason only to suffer a season-ending injury in the final preseason game. He wasn’t going to make the 53-man roster and instead he spent the year on the Reserve/Injured List.
Priority number one is figuring out whether or not the Steelers can afford to retain Sutton and at what cost to their available cap space They figure to be very much in his market, but it can’t be guaranteed that the Steelers will retain him.
The decision for Pierre should be relatively easy. Offer him a restricted tender, which costs a little over $2.6 million. He’s unlikely to receive an offer sheet, and he could be worth that much. Beyond that, they may strongly consider dumping Witherspoon next.
If the Steelers don’t re-sign Sutton, they likely have to add a veteran cornerback in free agency. Regardless of what they do, it shouldn’t greatly affect their view of the top of this draft class. If one of the top few cornerbacks are available at 17, they will have to strongly consider pulling the trigger. A truly great cornerback is something they haven’t had for a while.