Which Steelers Pro Bowler is most likely to leave after 2020?

James Conner Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
James Conner Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

The Steelers have several players with expiring contracts. Here is the Pro Bowl player most likely to sign with another team after the 2020 season.

Seemingly every year, the Steelers are forced to deal with expiring contracts, but somehow it always seems to work out. Though Pittsburgh let Javon Hargrave walk this offseason, they typically can keep all of the players they really want to through restructuring contracts and cutting lower-level players.

Next year could be different. With so many former Pro Bowl players in line for new deals, there are going to be players who can’t stay with the team. Because of this, which one of these players is most likely to be gone after the 2020 season?

Let’s start by looking at the players who need new contracts. All-Pro defensive lineman, Cameron Heyward, is on the last year of his deal. Likewise, All-Pro guard David DeCastro is going to need a new extension in 2021. In addition, the entire 2017 draft class has expiring contracts. This includes players like T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner.

Though the Steelers could give Watt the fifth-year option, there is no doubt that they are going to get him locked up to a massive new deal – likely making him the NFL’s highest-paid edge defender.

Heyward is also a player who needs to see a deal come quickly. Though he is now 31 years old, he is coming off three straight Pro Bowl seasons and arguably the best year of his NFL career in 2019. Heyward is still a staple of the offense, and the Steelers will do what they can to retain him.

Though Pittsburgh can wait a year if need be on DeCastro’s extension, this leaves James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster as two players who may be forced to walk after the 2020 season. But which player is most likely to sign with a new team?

JuJu is widely considered a better and more important player than Conner, largely due to the devalued running back position in today’s NFL. At the same time, there is little question that Smith-Schuster’s extension will be much more costly.

Still, I think that James Conner is the Steelers former Pro Bowler who is most likely to find a new team after the 2020 season. Despite his remarkable backstory and lifetime connections to western Pennsylvania, Conner isn’t considered among the best in the league at his position.

What’s more concerning is his inability to stay healthy. Conner has missed time in each of his first three NFL seasons (11 games in his first three years) and has been forced to play banged up in many more. There’s no guarantee that these injuries won’t continue if signed to a second deal.

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The Steelers are masterminds when it comes to figuring out the salary cap, and we can all be thankful that the Rooney’s like to spend up to the cap ceiling on their players. However, the sad reality is that one or two of Pittburgh’s former Pro Bowl players may be forced to hit the road after 2020, and I think James Conner could be the first to go.