The Steelers enter the 2020 offseason with very limited cap space and a number of key decisions. Based on the current roster,14 players are set to become free agents. Eight of those players, most notably Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave, will be unrestricted free agents. Additionally, 5 players will be Restricted Free Agents and one (DL Lavon Hooks) is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent. The Steelers currently have 62 players under contract for the 2020 season and can expand their offseason roster up to 90 players, which will likely happen shortly after the Super Bowl. Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the current status of the roster.
Under Contract: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Paxton Lynch, JT Barrett*
All signs currently point to Ben Roethlisberger making a return in 2020. The Steelers brass has made repeated statements this offseason that they are comfortable with Mason Rudolph as the #2 QB. Duck Hodges got a number of starts last year but struggled down the stretch when the pressure was on to make big throws and win games. Paxton Lynch was signed to the practice squad last year and may get to battle Hodges for the #3 QB role in training camp. JT Barrett was signed to play the Lamar Jackson/RGIII role in practice in Week 17 and remains on a futures contract but it is difficult to see him lasting until training camp. Overall, the Steelers have bodies here and if Ben can come back healthy there is no need to address the QB position this offseason.
Under Contract: James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, Kerrith Whyte, Roosevelt Nix, Trey Edmunds, Darrin Hall*, Ralph Webb*
The Steelers lack of depth at the running back position became a focal point of the offense after Ben Roethlisberger’s injury. James Conner, Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels all missed time while Rosie Nix missed nearly the entire season. Kerrith Whyte provided a bit of a spark and looked like the most explosive player in the backfield. Conner is the best all-around back but struggled to stay healthy. Snell emerged as a grinding, ground-and-pound back but doesn’t have the breakaway speed to create big plays. The group as a whole struggled mightily in pass protection. The Steelers need more out of the running back position than they got in 2019. This is one area the Steelers should look to upgrade this offseason, particularly with a player capable of creating big plays any time they touch the ball. This year’s draft class is absolutely loaded at running back.
Under Contract: JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Deon Cain, Ryan Switzer, Johnny Holton, Amara Darboh, Jamal Custis*, Quadree Henderson*, Anthony Johnson*
The quarterback struggles in 2019 had some direct impacts on the production from the receiving corps. Diontae Johnson and Johnny Holton were the only two that appeared in all 16 games this season. James Washington emerged as a solid target and JuJu flashed his big play ability early in the season before injuries derailed his year. Diontae Johnson proved himself worthy of the 3rd round pick and also showed some abilities as an explosive playmaker. Ryan Switzer and Johnny Holton were absolute disappointments after the way they played in the preseason. Deon Cain was signed off the Colts practice squad midway through the season and made a few nice catches that should keep him around through training camp. All told, JuJu, Washington and Johnson can form a solid trio if they are all healthy. Deon Cain should get a long look in training camp and could solidify a roster spot. The fifth receiver spot is wide open and certainly could be won by a player with some abilities on kick and punt returns. The Steelers may need to add depth here with a later-round draft pick.
Under Contract: Vance McDonald, Zach Gentry, Kevin Rader*, Christian Scotland-Williamson*
Unrestricted Free Agents: Nick Vannett
The Steelers traded a 5th round pick for Nick Vannett last year, who is set to become a free agent this offseason. There is a significant need to add tight end depth to this roster. Vance McDonald has struggled with injuries for his entire tenure as a Steeler. While the team could save some salary cap dollars by cutting McDonald, it is unlikely they could find a replacement tight end on the free agent market for a cheaper salary than McDonald (who is the 14th-highest paid TE in the league). Nevertheless, tight end is a position this team absolutely must address in the 2020 offseason.
Under Contract: Alejandro Villanueva (OT), David DeCastro (G), Maurkice Pouncey (C), Ramon Foster (G), Chukwuma Okorafor (OT), JC Hassenauer (C), Derwin Gray* (OT), Christian DiLauro* (OT)
Unrestricted Free Agents: BJ Finney (C/G)
Restricted Free Agents: Matt Feiler (OT), Zach Banner (OT)
The Steelers offensive line may have a different look in 2020. David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey will still anchor the middle, and Alejandro Villanueva will likely return for the final year of his contract. Ramon Foster had some struggles this season and is certainly a candidate to be a cap casualty (a $4 million savings). The team will need to make decisions on backup guard/center BJ Finney, who is set to be a free agent but could be enticed to stay by filling Foster’s starting guard spot on the line. Additionally, Matt Feiler was the starting right tackle last season but also has the ability to play guard if needed, and will likely be tendered as a restricted free agent. Zach Banner became a fan favorite as the extra blocker, and is a restricted free agent. The Steelers will need to see some development from former third round pick Chuks Okorafor who will be entering his third season. There is always need for depth on the line, so don’t be surprised if the Steelers take an offensive lineman on the third day of the draft.
Under Contract: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Isaiah Buggs, Dan McCullers, Henry Mondeaux*
Unrestricted Free Agents: Javon Hargrave, LT Walton
Exclusive Rights Free Agents: Lavon Hooks
For half of 2019, Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt looked like an absolute wrecking crew up front. But Tuitt went down with another season-ending injury, giving Javon Hargrave more snaps. Heyward was once again a Pro Bowl-caliber player, dominating up front. Hargrave emerged this season and had the type of production (4 sacks and 60 tackles) for an interior lineman that will get him paid handily this offseason. Tyson Alualu continues to be a solid rotational lineman and Isaiah Buggs showed some flashes as a rookie. The Steelers can save $1.5 million against the cap by cutting Dan McCullers.
Under Contract: TJ Watt, Anthony Chickillo, Ola Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper
Unrestricted Free Agents: Bud Dupree
The Steelers outside linebacker tandem both reached double-digit sacks this season for the first time since James Harrison and Lamar Woodley in 2010. TJ Watt had a season worthy of Defensive Player of the Year. The biggest question for the Steelers this offseason is what to do with Bud Dupree, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent. With only a limited amount of salary cap space, signing Dupree could be difficult. The team could save $5 million against the salary cap if they cut Anthony Chickillo, but neither Ola Adeniyi or Tuzar Skipper have much playing experience.
Under Contract: Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Mark Barron, Ulysees Gilbert, Robert Spillane, Ryan Shazier
Unrestricted Free Agents: Tyler Matakevich
The Steelers are mostly set at inside linebacker for 2020 with first round pick Devin Bush likely taking on a bigger role in the defense. Vince Williams is a thumper in the middle who solidifies the run defense. Assuming Devin Bush continues to develop, the team could part ways with Mark Barron, a move which would save over $5 million against the salary cap. The Steelers could look to add some depth behind Bush and Williams here if Barron is cut, though Ulysees Gilbert flashed in preseason last year before suffering a season-ending injury. The Steelers will likely try to bring back Tyler Matakevich, an anchor of their special teams unit, on a close-to-minimum contract. There is some need for additional depth here, especially if Barron is cut, but it is not a pressing issue.
Under Contract: Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Cam Sutton, Justin Layne, Alexander Myres*
Unrestricted Free Agents: Artie Burns
Restricted Free Agents: Mike Hilton
The Steelers have made two big signings of free agent cornerbacks that have paid off. Joe Haden has the best player in the secondary not named Minkah Fitzpatrick since his arrival. Steven Nelson paid off in a big way with a stellar first season in Pittsburgh. Haden and Nelson form one of the best CB tandems in the league. That said, they are both carrying cap hits over $10 million, so their production is matching the investment the Steelers made in the position. Behind them, Cam Sutton played well in limited action last year while rookie Justin Layne played mostly special teams after a rough preseason. Former first round pick Artie Burns will be gone in free agency and try to resurrect his career. The biggest question is how the team handles RFA Mike Hilton, who is one of the best slot corners in the league. Signing Hilton would lock down their top 5 corners and leave little more to be addressed, but if Hilton leaves they will need to add depth to the position.
Under Contract: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Marcus Allen, John Battle*, Tray Matthews*
Unrestricted Free Agents: Sean Davis
Restricted Free Agents: Jordan Dangerfield
The Steelers already aced the first round of the 2020 Draft by using their pick to acquire All Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. In just 14 games, Fitzpatrick led the team in interceptions and had a dramatic impact on the back end of the Steelers defense. First round pick Terrell Edmunds did not record an interception last year and is somewhat a liability in coverage from the strong safety position. This is a group without much depth behind the two first rounders. With Kam Kelly being cut midseason and Sean Davis almost assuredly leaving in free agency, the Steelers will need to add a player or two for depth at safety. Jordan Dangerfield has made a career of being one of the last players on the 53-man roster out of camp and has been a solid special teams contributor during his time. With the lack of depth here, it would not be surprising to see Dangerfield on the roster once again in 2020.
Under Contract: Chris Boswell (K), Jordan Berry (P)
Restricted Free Agents: Kameron Canaday (LS)
Last offseason, all the talk was about whether or not Chris Boswell would be able to hold on to the kicking position. Boswell rewarded the Steelers faith in him by having one of the best seasons of his career, hitting 29 of 31 field goals and all 28 extra points. The same can not be said for Jordan Berry. At the midpoint of 2019, Berry was having one of the best statistical seasons ever by a Steelers punter. But his performance fell off a cliff faster than the plot of Heroes, culminating in a disastrous missed audible on a fake punt in Arizona, a shank against Buffalo, and a fumbled snap that led to a touchdown in Baltimore. The Steelers absolutely need to bring in someone to legitimately challenge Berry for the punter’s job this offseason. Long snapper Kameron Canaday is set to be a restricted free agent and for the sake of continuity it is likely the Steelers will find a way to retain his services.