Dalton Schultz' new contract sets stage for Steelers negotiations with Pat Freiermuth

With Dalton Schultz paid, how much could Pat Freiermuth earn on his next deal (and should the Steelers sign him)?

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Dalton Schultz is the latest big-name tight end to receive a new contract. On March 5th, the Houston Texans inked the veteran to a three-year contract extension just before he was set to hit free agency.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Schultz is receiving a three-year, $36 million deal with $23.5 million fully guaranteed at signing. Now Pat Freiermuth's agent is going to be taking notes, as the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to enter the last year under contract with their top tight end.

Freirmuth is coming off a down year in Pittsburgh, some of the numbers are out of his control. In Week 4 of the 2023 season against the Texans, Freiermuth went down with a Grade 2 hamstring strain that forced him out of action for the next five games.

When he did return to the field, Freiermuth was used limitedly as a receiver. However, in his first two seasons, the former second-round pick quickly made a name for himself, as he became the first tight end in NFL history to earn at least 60 receptions in his first two years in the league.

Soon, the Steelers will have a decision to make when it comes to Pat Freiermuth. Both parties could elect to delay contract talks until this time next year. If that proves to be the case, Pittsburgh could find themselves in a situation with Freiermuth very similar to the Texans with Schultz.

How much could Freiermuth earn on a new contact?

Most of the time, these contract numbers aren't hard to figure out. In his first two NFL seasons, Freiermuth combined for 123 receptions, 1,229 receiving yards, and 9 touchdowns despite missing two games during this span.

In Dalton Schultz's two best seasons, the veteran tight end combined for 141 receptions, 1,423 yards, and 12 touchdowns. However, over the past two seasons before signing his deal, Schultz combined for 116 receptions, 1,212 yards, and 10 touchdowns.

Despite modest production over the past two seasons (in Dallas in 2022 and Houston in 2023), Schultz was just awarded $12 million per season with $23.5 million guaranteed. Freiermuth could be looking at very similar numbers (and quite possibly higher numbers) when he gets his new contract.

Much of this depends on when the contract comes. If Freiermuth's party was willing to negotiate an extension this summer, the former second-round pick would probably be paid in the ballpark of Schultz -- likely putting him in the range of the 9th to 13th highest-paid TE in the NFL.

However, there's no incentive for Freiermuth to sign his deal early. Instead, Freiermuth could bet on himself in 2024. If he stays healthy and has a big season, the numbers on his next contract could soar closer to the Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert range of $14 million per season.

Should the Steelers sign Pat Freiermuth this offseason?

While it would be nice to get a quality offensive skill player like Freiermuth locked up to a long-term deal, it makes sense for both parties to delay contract talks until after the 2024 season. Freiermuth is coming off an injury-plagued season which proved to be the worst of his three-year career so far. He will want the opportunity for much larger numbers that will help him in contract negotiations.

The Steelers would also be wise to wait. Freiermuth has an injury history of concussions and soft tissue ailments, and if he once again proves that he's not available when this team needs him, it will drive the asking price down.

We also don't know exactly how Freiermuth is going to be used in Arthur Smith's new offense. Smith requires his tight ends to block -- which isn't Freiermuth's cup of tea. If Freiermuth doesn't seem to be a fit, the Steelers can simply let him hit free agency in 2024 and allow his departure to work in their favor when it comes to the compensatory formula.

Pat Freiermuth is a solid player, but there are too many moving parts right now for the Pittsburgh Steelers to feel comfortable enough to lock him into a pricey long-term extension. Both parties should let the 2024 season play out before beginning contract negotiations.

Related: How much will Pat Freiermuth make in 2024 (and when can he sign an extension)?