3 pending free agents Steelers must pay attention to in the playoffs

General Manager Kevin Colbert of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
General Manager Kevin Colbert of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering the playoffs as division champions.

The Steelers will have their work cut out for them, navigating a very deep and tough conference in the AFC. This very well could be as strong of a conference the AFC has boasted in the last 20-30 years. When you have a team at 10-6 not able to make the playoffs, even with an additional wild card slot, then you know it is a strong conference.

As fans, we should be proud of how great of a season the Steelers were able to give us this year. I really think that the competition in the postseason is going to ramp up by every team. I know we haven’t quite seen the Steelers’ best efforts yet, but the same can be said for every team.

However, we shouldn’t fail to use the playoffs as a good chance to see potential free-agent candidates the Steelers could target. Looking at playoff teams, a lot of them have players who do the little things right. Ignoring the stars, the teams with players that have been able to deliver on the “little things” are the teams that make it here. It is very much akin to finding role players in basketball.

Even though the Steelers can’t afford a lot in terms of cap space, they can find some quality role players in playoffs. Whether they are rotational pieces, depth, or just starters that won’t hurt you if you can’t afford someone elite, the playoffs are the place we find the best under the radar free agent signings.

The first guy was one of the best role players in the league in 2018.

Trey Burton would be a great signing for the Steelers in free agency. While he has failed to become a dominant receiving threat in the league, he is quite the run-blocker. In just 2018, he would end his season with the Bears as the highest-graded run-blocking tight end in the NFL. The more important factor is that he would be affordable. He just signed a 1 year $910,000 deal with the Colts heading into 2020 but failed to earn the starting role after the emergence of Mo Allie-Cox.

With Vance McDonald’s team-option likely being declined due to cap, the Steelers would be able to upgrade their blocking from the tight-end group tremendously with this signing. Even if they were to sign Burton to a 1.5 million a year or so deal, they would be saving 6.5 million at the position by declining McDonald. They would subsequently upgrade the blocking on the edge, while, adding a more reliable backup. If McDonald didn’t have such an injury history, was able to block much better, and had garnered more experience as a starter in the league then I would not be so quick to release him in favor of Burton.

Yet, all 3 of these things lean in favor of Burton and you can’t ask much more in a signing of a free agent than upgrading a position group in both versatility and depth while lessening the cap hit of that position group. That is especially true when you have your star at the position in Eric Ebron.