3 not-so-great alternatives to Steelers paying Alex Highsmith

  • What would the Steelers have received in a Highsmith trade?
  • Was a franchise tag in 2024 a viable option?

Steelers, Alex Highsmith
Steelers, Alex Highsmith / Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
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You'll be hard-pressed to find many Pittsburgh Steelers fans who weren't happy for Alex Highsmith after he earned his massive contract extension. Just ahead of training camp, Highsmith agreed to a four-year, $68 million extension with the Steelers -- locking him up for the foreseeable future.

However, many questioned whether or not Pittsburgh should have paid him so much money. Some of these concerns are justified, as Highsmith's performance has been significantly better when T.J. Watt is on the field, and he only has a one-year sample of elite production.

The new deal makes ties Highsmith for 10th in the NFL in terms of average annual earnings, according to Over the Cap. This is certainly a sizeable contract, and most would agree that Pittsburgh did the right thing. But what were the alternatives to extending him? Here are three other choices the Steelers theoretically could have made.

3. Steelers let Highsmith walk in free agency

Letting Highsmith play out his rookie contract and hit the open market during the offseason would have been the worst choice of they could have made with their former third-round pick. By doing this, Highsmith would have played for the Steelers in 2023 on a very team-friendly rookie deal. However, he would have almost been sure to sign elsewhere if he was able to hit the free agent market.

When it comes to bidding wars, the Pittsburgh Steelers just don't have the firepower that other teams have. As of now, Omar Khan and his front office are projected to have just over $14 million in cap space during the 2024 offseason. Meanwhile, four teams are projected to have over $90 million in spending money. The Patriots are projected to have a whopping $110 million.

Highsmith would be one of the better players to hit the free agent market, and other teams can afford to pay much more. It's also worth noting that the Steelers are not guaranteed to get a high compensatory pick for his departure. If they go out and spend on a high-priced free agent, that signing would work against the comp formula -- decreasing the value of the pick they would have otherwise received from losing Highsmith.