With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Ahkello Witherspoon will not be on the roster by the start of OTAs.
Explanation: Having fallen down the depth chart, and with the Steelers expected to address the cornerback position early, Ahkello Witherspoon’s $4 million base salary to many is looking a bit hefty. Soon after the draft is often a time that veterans, frequently those with higher salaries, get cut after being replaced with incoming rookies.
Given that the odds are very good the Steelers will draft a cornerback within the first three rounds, it is in turn true that the odds are very good Ahkello Witherspoon’s time with Pittsburgh will not be long for afterward.
Re-signed in 2022 after a strong second half of the previous season, Witherspoon struggled from the outset after taking on a full-time starting role a year ago. It is very likely he would have been benched due to performance had he not gotten injured first.
Indeed, he did return from injury just before the bye and performed so badly that he did, in fact, get benched. And then he got hurt again and did not play again. With Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, and James Pierre already on the roster, any reasonably high draft pick would make Witherspoon entirely expendable given his inability to play inside and his unremarkable assets as a special teamer.
Have you ever heard people say that injuries are a part of football? Well, that’s because it’s true. The Steelers carrying Witherspoon and his $4 million base salary don’t hurt them until at least the final cutdowns when the Rule of 51 no longer applies.
They need to get through the offseason healthy first. If Peterson or Wallace or Pierre were to get injured—or the rookie for that matter, whoever it ends up being, assuming there is one—then suddenly Witherspoon looks a lot more valuable.
There’s no reason not to bring him to training camp to allow him to compete to retain his job. So he had a rough year in a brief playing window. We saw him play a lot better than that in a Steelers uniform. Who knows, maybe he ends up winning back his starting job. We don’t always have to judge by the rule of what have you done for me lately. What’s more relevant is what can you do for me now.