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 answering, 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: Which restricted free agents should the Steelers tender?
Restricted free agency became less common when the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement ended three-year contracts for draftees. Everybody who is drafted is signed to at least a four-year contract, so only college free agents and those who have been released have the potential to become a restricted free agent—that is, somebody with specifically three years of credited experience.
So let’s start by establishing which of the Steelers’ free agents are restricted. There are four of them: wide receiver Steven Sims, cornerback James Pierre, offensive lineman J.C. Hassenauer, and running back Jeremy McNichols, who was on the roster for less than a week opening training camp before getting injured and spending the year on the reserve list.
The second step is establishing what a restricted tender is worth and what it does. The lowest is the original round or right of first refusal tender and is worth $2,627,000 in 2023. The second-round tender is worth $4,304,000. The first-round tender is worth $6,005,000.
I think we can safely rule out the Steelers giving any of these players first- or second-round tenders, but it’s worth noting that of the four players, only McNichols, a fifth-round pick, was drafted before. That means if they were to lose Sims, Hassenauer, or Pierre, they would get no compensation.
Restricted free agents, until they opt to sign their tender, are free to negotiate with other teams to reach terms on a deal. The Steelers would then have the opportunity to choose to match that contract (which they did with Emmanuel Sanders in 2013) or take whatever compensation would be applicable.
In my opinion, Pierre and Hassenauer are no-brainer candidates for a restricted free agent tender. McNichols is a no-brainer to let go free, possibly re-signing if he doesn’t land anywhere else. Sims is somebody they would like to bring back, but only under more favorable terms. The odds of anybody signing him for $2.5 million or more are low, considering nobody has been interested in him except the Steelers for the past year and a half.