Steelers took the wrong approach in 2022 free agency
The Pittsburgh Steelers brought in a handful of mid-level free agents during the 2022 offseason, but here’s what they should have done.
I hate to be too critical of the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason before we even get to see their new additions take the field for training camp. While I really liked some of their signings in 2022, it’s safe to say that I would have taken a very different approach in free agency.
Let’s start with my favorite moves. I was a massive advocate for James Daniels to come to Pittsburgh. The Steelers offensive line was abysmal last year, and while Daniels might not be a superstar, he’s a young, underrated offensive lineman who should really help give this unit a boost.
I also wasn’t opposed to the Mitch Trubiksy signing early in the offseason. After Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, the Steelers needed to cover their bases and make sure they had at least one respectable option at quarterback. Pittsburgh signed Trubisky to a very reasonable deal and they can get out of his contract following the 2022 season and save $10 million in the process.
However, it was the overall philosophy in free agency that I had a beef with. Because the Steelers brought in more free agents than they normally do, they tricked fans into believing that this team took a different approach this offseason. For the most part, however, the quality of free agents remained the same.
The Steelers targeted players who aren’t necessarily coming off very good 2021 seasons and are all considered average to below-average level starters at this point in their careers. The three signings that are a perfect example of this are Myles Jack, Levi Wallace, and Mason Cole.
Collectively, the Steelers spent good money between these three guys, but none of them were very good in 2021. In fact, Wallace graded out as just the 58th-best cornerback in the NFL last year while Jack graded out as one of the worst linebackers in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The tape would prove to tell a similar story.
What Steelers should have done
Some of these signings very much reminded me of what the Steelers have done in recent years. The Jack, Wallace, and Cole signings feel pretty similar to signing has-beens like Eric Ebron and Trai Turner. For Jack in particular — a player who had degenerative knee issues entering the league in 2016 — I think his best days are likely behind him.
Remember that most fans went crazy over the Ebron and Turner signings when they first came to town, but later realized that they were just run-of-the-mill below-average starters.
Instead of piecing their money out for numerous average free agents, I stand by what I said early in the offseason: the Steelers should have spent big on one or two guys and filled the rest of their holes with players on veteran minimum contracts.
While depth is obviously important, I think the Steelers roster also lacks star power outside of their big three defenders in T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Signing another star like former Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson would have been a perfect move.
The Steelers are lacking a true number one cornerback on their roster. Not only would Jackson give them another fantastic player in the secondary, but he would also give them a guy who earned a whopping 17 interceptions over the past two years (25 in his four-year career).
These types of free agents are difference-makers who can elevate the play of the whole team. The gap between a player like Myles Jack and Robert Spillane may not prove to be all that big; whereas the gap between a superstar cornerback like J.C. Jackson and a player like Cameron Sutton is monumental.
Jackson is just one of several examples of players the Steelers could have spent big on in free agency. The Chargers were able to sign him for a reasonable $16.5 million per season with just an $8 million cap charge in 2022 — something Pittsburgh clearly had the ability to get done.
I don’t always agree with their philosophy on some of these free agent moves, but I hope their approach proves to be beneficial in the long run. I just think that spending big on a star player in free agency is a better philosophy than trying to fill holes with guys you hope can be average.