A little under a week into the free agency cycle, the Pittsburgh Steelers and GM Omar Khan have been rather active, overhauling their inside linebacker room as Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts were brought in, while Myles Jack was cut and Robert Spillane and Devin Bush signed elsewhere.
The Steelers also addressed the defensive line with the re-signing of Larry Ogunjobi and shored up the safety position — for now — with the re-signing of Damontae Kazee. Khan and the Steelers also did well to fill the hole vacated by the loss of Cameron Sutton by signing veteran Patrick Peterson and adding a versatile interior offensive lineman in Nate Herbig to address depth in the trenches.
Despite the number of moves the Steelers have made, there are still some holes to address on the roster. According to Saturday morning’s salary cap outlook from Dave Bryan, the Steelers have a little more than $14 million in cap space, though that factors in the fact that Ogunjobi’s numbers have not been reported just yet.
A restructure of outside linebacker T.J. Watt should still occur, freeing up roughly $12 million in space, though much of that is already accounted for. as Dave laid out in his article.
So, what’s ahead for the Steelers? It’s unlikely that the Steelers make a major move featuring big money, but they will be able to get some small moves completed in the days and week ahead. Below are a handful of names at key areas of need for the black and gold that could make some sense in free agency.
Daley is the name I keep coming back to as that affordable, experienced, versatile piece on the offensive line that could fill the Trent Scott role in 2023. The Steelers reportedly tried to acquire Daley right before the start of the regular season before making a trade with Dolphins to acquire Jesse Davis. Daley was a sixth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and has played 51 career games, with 36 starts. He has logged 28 starts at LT, seven at LG, and one at RG. Daley started 15 games last season for the Tennessee Titans.
Daley spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the Panthers working with Steelers offensive line coach Pat Meyer, so there is some familiarity there.
Another player with connections to Meyer who could interest the Steelers in free agency at a very affordable price. A former first-round pick who will be 31 at the start of the 2021 season, Erving was only used as a tackle-eligible in 2022, replaced by Carolina’s first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu. However, Erving served as the team’s left tackle for a large chunk of 2021 and has played all over the line throughout his career with starts at center and right guard. With nearly 4,000 snaps in his career along the offensive line, Erving would be a sound veteran add to address depth in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers typically keep an eye on players that tend to play well against them, and that’s what Blake Hance did during his time in Cleveland before spending the 2022 season with the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Fransisco 49ers. Hance, if you might recall, ended up starting the Wild Card playoff win for the Browns in 2020 and largely shut down Cameron Heyward. He’s just 27 years old and has experience at both tackle positions and both guard positions. He doesn’t move the needle a ton, but he’s an experienced depth piece overall.
The Steelers really could use an experienced, veteran, and versatile receiver, and that’s where Pascal fits. He’s just 28 years old and has spent five years in the league. Pascal spent the 2022 season with Philadelphia on a cheap one-year deal. Pascal played in the slot (62%), he played outside, he played on special teams (246 snaps, seven tackles) and he blocked in the run game. Run blocking is his biggest strength offensively, not to mention his ability to run after the catch.
Add in the fact he’s killed the Steelers in recent matchups and it’s reasonable to assume the Steelers have kept him on their radar.
A Pittsburgh native and a two-time Super Bowl champion, Justin Watson makes a ton of sense as that burner at the position who can also handle punt return duties and has plenty of extensive experience on special teams in his four-year career with the Buccaneers and Chiefs. He can play in the slot (40.2% of snaps in his career) and put together a solid season in Kansas City in an elevated role last season, playing nearly 50% of the offensive snaps for the Chiefs.
A surprise cut by the Buffalo Bills one year after signing a two-year, $4.4 million deal and putting together a career season (42 receptions, 423 yards, four touchdowns), McKenzie finds himself on the market and could be the ideal weapon in the slot in Matt Canada’s scheme. He’s a dynamic player after the catch and really showed some juice as a runner when called upon by the Bills. More than 80% of his snaps in 2022 came in the slot, too, in Buffalo, so there’s a seamless fit there in Pittsburgh.
A reunion could certainly be in the works with Dupree after the Titans cut him two years into a massive five-year deal. Dupree would be relatively affordable overall, likely less than $3 million a year. Though he’s struggled with injuries the last few years, he knows the Steelers’ system well, is very familiar with the personnel and would ideally be able to rebuild his stock overall on a one- or two-year pact with the Steelers in a reduced role behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
Connecting dots here again as the Steelers brought Banogu in for a pre-draft visit in 2019 and showed a ton of interest in the former TCU standout. Unfortunately for Banogu, he hasn’t done much of anything in the NFL and largely felt like he was misused in the Indianapolis 4-3 scheme. With the interest there in the past, Banogu might be better off making a transition to standup 3-4 OLB. He’s played more than 500 career defensive snaps and held a prominent role on special teams for the Colts, too.
Banogu wouldn’t be the type of move that fixes the depth chart at outside linebacker, but he’s worth the team taking a very cheap flier on overall.
The Steelers sure love their pass rushers from Wisconsin, or so it seems. There’s already interest in Nick Herbig in the upcoming draft, and of course T.J. Watt is already on the team. Biegel has had a rough go of things in recent seasons, tearing his Achilles in 2020 and 2022, missing both seasons. He did have a solid 2019 season in Miami though with four sacks and an interception. This is more of a flier opportunity than anything. Highly productive guy from college, has had success in the NFL. Could be a decent name to add to the depth chart to give a look in training camp and the preseason to see if he can get back to is previous levels.
A former seventh-round pick in 2016 by the Philadelphia Eagles when current Steelers GM Andy Weidl put together the draft boards, Mills could be a sound investment at defensive back. Capable of playing safety and cornerback, Mills is just 28 years old and has played nearly 5,000 career snaps in six seasons with the Eagles and Patriots. Though his play has dropped off some in recent years, he had a strong performance against the Steelers in Week 2 of the 2022 season and could handle a role in a three-safety set.
Another dot worth connecting here with Ronnie Harrison and the Steelers. Pittsburgh reportedly had a pre-draft workout or visit with the Steelers ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft coming out of Alabama, and has played well against Pittsburgh in recent seasons with the Browns. He’s played 818 snaps in the box in his career, another 796 at free safety and 436 in the slot, totaling nearly 2,400 snaps in his career. With Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee on the roster and Terrell Edmunds still a free agent, the Steelers have a need for that physical box safety. That could be a guy like Harrison.