Pat Freiermuth Is Steelers’ Most Likely Candidate For Contract Extension Next Summer

If things go like I think they will later this summer, the Pittsburgh Steelers will sign outside linebacker Alex Highsmith to a contract extension, and I’ve even gone as far as to attempt to predict what that deal might look like. Beyond Highsmith’s contract situation this offseason, who is most likely to be the player currently under contract that we’ll be discussing a year from now when it comes to a possible summer extension? Quite honestly, I think that player will be tight end Pat Freiermuth.

Freiermuth, the Steelers’ second-round pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, is now entering his third NFL season. He has 123 regular season receptions for 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns in 32 games played. Since Freiermuth was drafted, only six other NFL tight ends have registered more receptions than he has and only seven have more receiving yards than he does. Not bad for the Penn State product, and there’s no reason to think that his best NFL season to date won’t happen in 2023 and especially if he plays in all 17 games, something he’s yet to do in Pittsburgh.

While Freiermuth’s blocking to date hasn’t been a part of his game that he can hang his proverbial hat on, there is room for improvement in that phase this coming season. He’ll likely never be the blocker that former Steelers tight end Heath Miller was for most of his career, but that’s a high-water mark. Just the same we need to see him be a better blocker than he’s been, even if it’s just by a little bit.

Assuming Freiermuth can hit his two-year average in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2023, it should fortify the notion that he will be in line for a lucrative contract extension a year from now, at the very young age of 25. But how lucrative of an extension might we be talking about? Personally, I can see him being in line for an extension that would rank him no worse than the 10th overall highest-paid tight end in the NFL.

While the earnings rankings for tight ends are sure to look a little different a year from now, currently the 10th highest-paid at that position is Zach Ertz of the Arizona Cardinals at $10.55 million, according to Over the Cap. Right above Ertz sits Evan Engram of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who is presently wearing a $11.345 million franchise tag. Hunter Henry of the New England Patriots currently sits ahead of Engram at $12.5 million per year.

To get into the current top five highest-paid list for tight ends, Freiermuth would need to sign a deal with a new money average of more than $14 million, which is what Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens now has. However, earning a possible contract extension that rich would require Freiermuth to have a monster 2023 season. In short, it feels like the high ceiling for Freiermuth a year from now will be $14 million, at least ahead of his third NFL season.

So, where does all of this leave us when it comes to a fair market value for Freiermuth a year from now? Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $11 million to $13.75 million, quite honestly, and that’s if he hits or exceeds his two-year average in 2023. Please remember that a lot can change in these next 12 months and that’s just a way-too-early prediction.

It’s worth noting again that the top 10 highest-paid tight ends list will change prior to this time next year. In fact, both T.J. Hockenson of the Minnesota Vikings and Cole Kmet of the Chicago Bears are just two young players who could sign lucrative extensions with their respective teams prior to Week 1 of this season. A new deal for Hockenson should result in him being on the top 10 list, and it’s possible that Kmet gets a new deal with a new money average of $10.55 million or greater as well. Pay close attention to those two players as the offseason moves forward as they both comp best to Freiermuth right now.

In closing, it’s way too early to throw out what a contract extension for Freiermuth might look like next summer. Such a prediction will rely heavily on what he does in 2023. Even so, and assuming Freiermuth stays healthy in 2023, at this same time next year we should have a very good idea of what kind of contract extension that Freiermuth will possibly be signing prior to Week 1 of the 2024 regular season.

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