The Steelers are under a new regime in 2023, and this simple change to the draft strategy could yield a lot of results for the team.
The Steelers are under new management this offseason as Omar Khan is set to have his first season as the general manager. While we have already seen some minor changes to how this team works, from one-year deals to earlier extensions, this offseason will be telling of some of the bigger changes this team will make with Khan at the helm.
While changes to the free agency process are important, I have my eyes set on some draft procedures as potential early changes. While more trades and a change in approach to scouting can, and arguably should, be coming, there is a simple fix to how they react after the draft that could yield results.
The Steelers need to update their undrafted free-agent strategy
This is something I wrote about a bit ago, but the Steelers way of signing undrafted free agents is antiquated and not yielding many results. For a team that prides itself on the accomplishments of its undrafted rookies, from the legendary Donnie Shell and James Harrison to great complimentary players in Willie Parker and Ramon Foster, this team has found talent in the undrafted pools.
Recently, the strategy to bring in undrafted players has changed. The NFL allows teams to use a set amount of signing bonus money for these players, usually somewhere around $170,000. The Steelers rarely use that amount. That isn’t completely uncommon, but teams that don’t get aggressive with their signing bonuses are providing guarantees to some of these contracts.
This has become a common practice, with teams taking a set amount of money from that first-year contract and guaranteeing it to the rookie. Sometimes these are small amounts, but often we can see over $100,000 get locked up by an undrafted rookie. For most of these guys, knowing that they are long shots already, getting the money upfront is a big bargaining chip.
Now, throwing around guaranteed money doesn’t mean you will instantly have a great crop of undrafted free agents. That said, you will become a more attractive place for these rookies. This can give you a leg up on the competition and allow you to bring in better undrafted rookies every year.
The Steelers past undrafted classes have been abysmal
While the Steelers have found some contributors in James Pierre and Jaylen Warren in recent drafts, they haven’t found multiple contributors in what feels like years. Most of these guys fail to latch on after training camp and aren’t heard from again.
Again, applying some guaranteed money doesn’t fix this entirely, but you should be getting a better crop of undrafted players to come to camp. Sure, handing out guaranteed money can be a risky game, but the Steelers are cap secure. It isn’t like these are giant chunks of money either.
Two of the better-undrafted rookies last year, Jack Sanborn and Kurt Hinish, both received part of their first-year salary guaranteed. Hinish locked in $60,000 and was a regular on the Texans defensive line. Sanborn only got $10,000 but was a tackling machine and started after Roquan Smith was traded.
While no one knows for sure what discussions were had behind the scenes, but the odds are good that the guaranteed money was a selling point for them. The Steelers don’t do this, and it leaves them at a disadvantage. This team doesn’t have to be throwing out big money here but modernizing their approach would go a long way.
Is this ultimately the biggest thing I hope this team changes in the offseason? Obviously not, but it is an easy one that could yield some quick results. They don’t need to go crazy but offering some more money to their undrafted free agent pool is an easy change for Khan and company.