Just this morning it was reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero that the Pittsburgh Steelers were bringing back TE Zach Gentry. Contract details regarding length and money were not disclosed, but we should expect at least one more season with Gentry serving as the team’s likely TE2 in Pittsburgh behind Pat Freiermuth.
The Steelers have been busy thus far in free agency, signing several free agents outside of the organization while retaining several of their own. The team re-signed DL Larry Ogunjobi to a three-year deal while coming to terms with S Damontae Kazee on a two-year pact. They also brought back CB James Pierre who was slated to be an RFA, but the team elected not to tender him or the rest of their restricted free agents. The decision not to tender Pierre likely saved Pittsburgh some cash as it would’ve cost $2.627 million to put a tender on him.
Still, the team has said goodbye to CB Cameron Sutton, S Terrell Edmunds, OT Trent Scott, WR Steven Sims, and LBs Devin Bush and Robert Spillane who have left for other teams during the first couple weeks of free agency. Many expected Gentry, who remained on the market for a while, to sign back with the Steelers on a cost-effective deal. Still, this team should expect to bring back a few more of their own before the 2023 NFL Draft or shortly after it concludes.
Steelers unsigned free agents as of now:
FB Derek Watt
DE Chris Wormley
WR Miles Boykin
RB Benny Snell Jr.
DT Tyson Alualu
QB Mason Rudolph
ILB Marcus Allen
S Karl Joseph
G Jesse Davis
C J.C. Hassenauer
RB Jeremy McNichols
Of the names above, who has the best shot of returning to Pittsburgh in 2023? As we sit here today, WR Miles Boykin makes probably the most sense given his role as a stellar special teams contributor as well as providing depth at WR. The Steelers have Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, Gunner Olszewski, Anthony Miller, and Cody White currently on the roster, but given Austin’s status coming back from a foot injury that cost him his entire rookie season and the lack of proven option behind the top two guys, re-signing Boykin would help add more depth to a thin WR room.
FB Derek Watt and RB Benny Snell Jr. also make sense to return despite having guys like Connor Heyward and Jaylen Warren figuratively taking on greater roles at their respective positions. Heyward isn’t as proven as Watt as a blocker and Watt has contributed a fair amount on special teams the last few years, making him a sensible player to bring back if the price is right. The same goes for Snell who played arguably his best ball last season in relief of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren who were injured while providing valuable snaps on special teams.
DL Chris Wormley is also fairly likely to return to Pittsburgh, but his status is murkier given the fact that he tore his ACL near the end of the season and likely won’t be ready till later during the 2023 season. Pittsburgh will probably reevaluate bringing back Wormley later this summer and see where he is at in his rehab before re-signing him to a one-year deal to allow him to show he is healthy as he attempts to recuperate some of his value.
C J.C. Hassenauer also has a good shot of returning to Pittsburgh given their need for a backup center and his history with the team, but seeing that he has started visiting other teams, it may be a sign that he is ready for a change of scenery.
DL Tyson Alualu will likely retire if he doesn’t catch on with a team this offseason as he appeared to be at the end of the line last season. QB Mason Rudolph would have to have no other options besides Pittsburgh to be prompted to return to the Steelers given how his tenure with the team ended. Marcus Allen, Karl Joseph, Jesse Davis, and Jeremy McNichols are all bottom-of-the-roster guys who could get brought back closer to camp, but really don’t move the needle much compared to other options Pittsburgh can bring in with UDFAs or outside free agents. Allen would have the best chance of this group to return, but given his lack of role on defense, perhaps the Steelers are comfortable moving on after his actions in the Carolina game.