4 Steelers who deserve contract extensions (and 2 who don't)

Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Offseason Workout
Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Offseason Workout / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to have over $78 million in salary cap space to work with next offseason, according to Over the Cap, but that money is going to deplete quickly. During the 2024 offseason, the Steelers didn't have any notable free agents who needed to be retained. The opposite can be said when looking ahead to the 2025 offseason.

Pittsburgh is projected to have numerous pivotal staters hitting the free agent market while others enter the final year of their contracts and will need an extension. Unfortunately, the front office won't have the funds to retain every player, so some business moves will need to be made.

Some of these decisions of which players to retain and who to let walk away will be easy for the team. Others will leave them scratching their heads. Here are four Steelers who deserve contract extensions and two who don't in 2025.

Steelers who earned contract extensions

EDGE T.J. Watt

This one is about as easy as it gets. T.J. Watt has been the face of the franchise since his second season in the league in 2018 when he quickly emerged as the best player on the team. It was a no-brainer decision to make Watt the highest-paid defender in the NFL during the 2021 offseason, and the Steelers will have to fork up big again for him on a contract extension next offseason.

Watt turns 30 during the 2024 season, but they can't let a generational player walk away when he could still have a few seasons left in the tank as one of the most impactful defenders in the game.

RB Jaylen Warren

Game after game and snap after snap, Jaylen Warren has proven that he's a player willing to put his body on the line for the sake of the team. Warren is the best undrafted free-agent gem the Pittsburgh Steelers have found in quite some time, and with only 226 NFL carries under his belt, there's still plenty of fuel left in the tank.

Warren is today's NFL running back thanks to his quickness, burst, contact balance, and receiving ability. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2023 while chipping in 1,154 scrimmage yards on 210 total touches on offense.

DL Cameron Heyward

There's no question that Cameron Heyward is still a dominant run defender, but fans have good enough reason to wonder about what he will offer as a pass rusher in his late 30s. At 35 years old, the Steelers certainly should not break the bank for the aging defensive lineman.

However, Heyward is still an anchor to this defensive line who can serve a pivotal role late in his career. His best years are behind him, but if he can stay healthy, he's still one of the best players on the team.

OG James Daniels

There haven't been any James Daniels contract extension talks, but that doesn't mean that he's not deserving. Daniels has his faults. He's not an imposing player as a run blocker and his performance took a slight step back last season.

Even though the Steelers have Isaac Seumalo and drafted OG Mason McCormick in the fourth round, Daniels has been a very solid offensive lineman throughout his career despite less-than-favorable situations in Pittsburgh and Chicago. He's still just 26 years old entering his seventh NFL season and his best years are ahead of him.

Steelers who should not be extended

TE Pat Freiermuth

Now we get into muddier waters. Following Pat Freiermuth's first two seasons in the NFL, I was on board with giving him a contract extension. Now the script has flipped. Freiermuth suffered more injury setbacks in 2023 -- including a hamstring injury that landed him on IR.

Freiermuth already has a scary history of concussions, and with his production taking a massive slide last season, it would be hard to trust making him one of the higher-paid tight ends in the game. Freiermuth is a sound football player, but the ability as a blocker has never been there and he's not irreplaceable as an athlete. Pittsburgh could look to move on at tight end.

RB Najee Harris

After two inefficient seasons to begin his NFL career, Najee Harris finally looked more like the high-profile running back everyone thought the Steelers were getting when he was drafted in the first round out of Alabama in 2021. Unfortunately, it might be too little too late.

Despite his promising season, Najee's 4.1 yards per carry last year was still a very average number when compared to the rest of the league, and he doesn't offer anything special as a receiver from the backfield. The biggest factor, however, is that he already has 834 carries under his belt in his first three seasons. Najee will be 27 years old before the 2025 season and running backs break down fast in the NFL.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.