The Steelers will be looking for any possible ways to upgrade the offensive side of the ball this offseason. Here’s why a free agent running back is unlikely to be the answer.
There has been a lot of speculation this offseason about which position the Steelers will look to address in free agency. Pittsburgh is currently 30th in the NFL in cap space, and Mike Tomlin has emphasized that they would like to get a deal done with Bud Dupree.
There are a couple of cuts the Steelers could (and likely will) make this offseason to free up cap space for potential free-agent signings. Gil Brant recently wrote about why Melvin Gordon and the Steelers are a great fit. Don’t get your hopes up.
After examining all of the free-agent running backs who could be hitting the market this year, there are really only two who would be worth bringing in for the Steelers: Melvin Gordon and Derrick Henry. Unfortunately, because of the low supply and high demand at the position, these two guys are set to get paid handsomely.
Henry’s market value is projected at $13.8 million per season while Gordon is estimated to make $11.7 million per year on the open market. The Steelers obviously aren’t going to have the cap room to get into a bidding war, and it’s incredibly unlikely that they could land one of the top two backs in free agency.
But what about the rest of the group?
While there are dozens of running backs out there with a little to a lot of starting experience, I could argue that none would be worth signing. The best of the rest include players like Damien Williams, Frank Gore, and Kenyan Drake. Austin Ekeler, Matt Breida, and Kareem Hunt are all restricted free agents and are almost certain to stay with their current teams.
The Steelers currently have James Conner, Benny Snell, and Jaylen Samuels as their top three backs – each still on their rookie deal. Would it be worth it for them to sign a player like Drake, for example, who is expected to make $5.5 million per year? That’s a lot for an average running back.
If Drake is an upgrade in the Steelers backfield, it’s not worth knocking Samuels off the roster – a player with two years left on his rookie deal who will be making an average of just $770K per season.
The truth is if the Steelers can’t land Gordon or Henry for a reasonable price (and they won’t) than they really shouldn’t even be interested in adding a free agent running back this year.
The draft is loaded with solid day-two options who are younger and significantly cheaper than what they will find in free agency. If they need a running back, that will be the route they will go.