The simple reason the Steelers should cut Okorafor in 2023
The Steelers have a big decision coming up, and here is why the team needs to part ways with Chukwuma Okorafor.
The Steelers offensive line has been a work in progress for the past few seasons, and ideally, the team is going to heavily invest in the unit this offseason. That said, they are set to carry all five of their starters from last season into this year. None of the top five are scheduled free agents, meaning this team won’t be forced to find any new starters.
Now, this doesn’t mean that all five starters should be back though, as this unit needs to be invested in and improved upon. While everyone is focused on replacing players on rookie deals, a name that seems to get overlooked is Chukwuma Okorafor. Frankly, I think he should be cut and replaced before anyone else this season.
Is Okorafor worth his price for the Steelers?
Let’s start off with a very basic question here: is Okorafor worth his current price tag? As of now, he is on a contract that pays him, on average, 9.75 million dollars a season with a current cap charge of just over 13 million dollars in 2023. In terms of tackle contracts, it is very middle of the road.
Okorafor has been a very average player to this point, and given his age, he has likely peaked in terms of the quality of player that he will be. Is it horrible to have a player like Okorafor on your line? No, but for a team that wants to make improvements overall to this line, Okorafor is a pricy right tackle that doesn’t offer much for this team.
I’ve seen some people say that you should just carry Okorafor in case you can’t find any better tackles. On the surface, that makes sense, but when you dig into his contract, it isn’t a viable solution.
Okorafor has a roster bonus due once the new year begins which becomes guaranteed. That means, if the Steelers want to keep him past the start of the league year, they will essentially lose out on four million dollars. If he isn’t cut, he will not logically be able to be cut due to the increase in guaranteed money.
I’ve heard other people say to just let him compete for a spot and if he wins, great, if he doesn’t, use him as a backup. Again, if the Steelers are paying Okorafor that much money, he will be starting. There isn’t a world where a player with a 13-million-dollar cap hit isn’t starting on this team.
The Steelers could use his money better
If the Steelers cut Okorafor before his roster bonus kicks in, the team will save just over six million dollars. I’ve heard the argument that you wouldn’t be able to bring in a player better than Okorafor at that level of cap savings. While a better tackle will almost certainly cost more on average, the Steelers notably structure contracts with low first-year cap hits.
Take James Daniels for example. The Steelers signed him to a deal that averages just over 8.8 million dollars a season. Daniels’s first-year cap hit? Just a touch over 4 million. Finding a replacement for Okorafor wouldn’t mean that they would necessarily have a huge cap hit on their hands.
Even being generous, let’s say a Steelers addition will have a first-year cap hit half of what his average deal is. That means the team could turn Okorafor’s nine million in savings into a 12-million-dollar contract. That should be more than enough to net them one of the top tackles on the market.
That assumes that they spend that much, which isn’t all that likely. My point is, the Steelers will almost certainly be saving cap space in year one with a new offensive tackle. They get an improvement there, save some space, and have some flexibility with the rest of their line.
Landing an upgrade at right tackle means the team can either target a left tackle or guard in the draft. If they find both, even better. That said, keeping Okorafor around for another season locks him into a starting role. That leaves right tackle in a similarly average spot in 2023.
If it were up to me, cutting Okorafor is a step in the right direction for bettering this offensive line. They can use the cap savings to sign a better tackle and still add to the offensive line via the draft. Just know, if you are in favor of keeping him “just in case”, he will be locked into the right tackle role after the new league year kicks off.