The Pittsburgh Steelers really only have one significant extension candidate in 2023, and that is fourth-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. That won’t be business for the near term, of course. There is much to take care of before then, including the draft. Extensions are generally done in the build-up to training camp and then for as long as it takes, unless the regular season intervenes.
But the question with Highsmith is a simple one—what’s the number? He had a breakout season a year ago, racking up 14.5 sacks and being named a Pro Bowl alternate. But the numbers have to work, and not just because they’re paying T.J. Watt
“Highsmith is their top priority to extend but I don’t believe he is going to break the bank”, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette told a fan yesterday in response to a chat question about whether or not an extension should be taken as a given.
“I don’t believe he will be offered the type of money the Steelers were willing to commit to Bud Dupree back when”, he went on, then addressing the potential of adding in the draft. “I would never rule out an edge guy because the Steelers view the position as the most valuable on their defense”.
While numbers never surfaced regarding what a contract extension for Dupree might have looked like, most notably in 2020 as he was coming off his best season, Dave Bryan speculated that it would likely have been in the range of $17 million per season. Dupree ended up playing out the year on a one-year, $15.828 million franchise tag.
The following offseason, he signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Tennessee Titans, averaging $16.5 million per season. That was while he was still rehabbing from a torn ACL, and in an offseason when the salary cap actually dropped because of lost in-stadium revenue tied to the lack of fans during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of course, he only saw the first two years of that deal before he was released. The Steelers looked to bring him back, but he ended up signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons. But that’s old news. What is the news on Highsmith?
According to Over the Cap, the 2024 franchise tag for linebackers is projected to be $20,062,000, which is actually a bit lower than it was this year at nearly $21 million. Of course the tag stupidly groups off-ball and edge linebackers together. But what does the edge rusher market actually look like?
If the Steelers are not willing to commit to Highsmith the sort of money they were potentially willing to give Dupree, as Dulac suggests, which should be in the $16-17 million range, then what are we looking at? Let’s look at some current contracts.
Right now, the class of edge rushers making between $15-18 million consists of Trey Hendrickson, Haason Reddick, Carl Lawson, Emmanuel Ogbah, Chandler Jones, Shaquil Barrett, Harold Landry, and Cameron Jordan, based on Over the Cap’s positional ranking.
Below that, in the tier starting at $10 million per season and leading up, you have Sam Hubbard, Preston Smith, Josh Sweat, DeMarcus Lawrence, Matt Judon, John Franklin-Myers, Randy Gregory, Za’Darius Smith, and Danielle Hunter.
So which group is Highsmith in? Which group does he think he’s in? Which group do the Steelers thing he’s in? I guess we’ll find out later this year.