Buy Or Sell: It’s Time To Overhaul The Special Teamers On Roster

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: It’s time to overhaul the special teamers on the roster.

Explanation: With a number of core contributors to the special-teams units in recent years not under contract, we could be seeing one of the larger shifts for Danny Smith in recent years. Some may view that as a good thing. Four of the seven players who played at least 200 special teams snaps last season—Derek Watt, Benny Snell Jr., Marcus Allen, and Miles Boykin—are not under contract.


Core special-teams players have value, but there’s always a point of diminishing returns. How much did Derek Watt, for example, bring to the table relative to the value of his roster spot? I’m not even talking about his contract.

Was Marcus Allen so valuable on special teams that it made sense to carry him over a player with more offensive or defensive upside? We can only hope that the Steelers have a tough decision to make in that vein later this year.

The coverage units, and especially the return units, were not so fine last year, or even in recent years, that they demanded strict retention. Boykin would make the most sense to re-sign of those listed above, but the others can be done without.


Each candidate should be examined of his own merit, rather than against some broader backdrop, of which he controls little. There is no glaring need to overhaul the Steelers’ special-teams units; largely, they’ve neither been a strong net positive nor certainly a net negative.

But there is some value in having core members of the group who have years worth of experience in understanding what Danny Smith wants to do. Sometimes he likes to get creative, and sometimes that creativity does give Pittsburgh edges it wouldn’t otherwise have. And I will tell you that it’s very rarely rookies or the otherwise untested players who deliver such plays.

Watt is not coming off of his best season on special teams, but he was very good in 2021, and the fullback could play a more meaningful offensive role in 2023. Snell is a creditable number three back. It’s harder to make the case for Allen as a defender, but he is one of the more entrenched special teamers. Not all of them have to be re-signed, but there shouldn’t be any imperative to clean house.

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