The Steelers have been floated as a favorite to acquire Jaylon Johnson in a trade prior to the NFL Trade Deadline at 4:00 p.m. Easter Time today. However, is making a move for an expiring contract, that they will have to extend the right move?
The Steelers have already dolled out plenty of lucrative contracts on the defensive side of the ball, with T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alex Highsmith, and Cameron Heyward all among the highest earners at their respective positions. This is one expensive defense, and while some want the team to trade for and extend Jaylon Johnson, or trade for a highly-paid Justin Simmons, I don't see how this makes sense financially for the Steelers.
Yes, Pittsburgh makes plenty of splash plays on their defense by sacking the quarterback and creating turnovers, but they have given up plenty of yardage to opposing offenses, both in the air and on the ground. Clearly, this defense has some holes, particularly in the secondary, but one move won't solve all of the issues and make them an unstoppable unit on the defensive side.
I do think trading for a cornerback could be a good move for Pittsburgh, but it would have to be someone already under a reasonable contract. While players like Johnson, Simmons, and Pat Surtain are all talented players who would undoubtedly improve their defense, they will be costly to acquire and will count a lot against the cap for Pittsburgh. Not to mention, the team will still be weak against the run, and won't have all of its holes fixed on that side of the ball while mortgaging some of its future capital to get them.
Spending Big on Offense has Translated to Success Around the NFL
The Steelers are zigging while the rest of the league is zagging when it comes to who the team is paying. The Steelers have prioritized paying their star defensive players big money, but haven't dolled out any big contracts to offensive players. Yes, this is partially because of the lack of star power on the offensive side of the ball, but if the team was going to make a splash it should probably be on the offensive side of the ball due to that being where they have struggled the most.
Young quarterbacks around the league including Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, and Tua Tagovailoa have taken a big step forward after their team has gone out and traded for a superstar weapon for them on the outside. While I'm not saying trading for a star wide receiver is the right move here, the point is team's around the league who have taken the next step have been aggressive on the offensive side of the ball while they have a quarterback on a rookie contract, because they can afford to do so, and the Steelers have not done the same.
Instead, they have decided to prioritize defense. While it has kept them competitive and made them a perennial playoff contender, they have lacked the firepower to make an extended playoff run. The Steelers have some talented weapons in Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Pat Freiermuth. Still, they haven't explored pushing the team over the top by acquiring a star on offense, whether it be a weapon to throw to or a big-name tackle to pair with Broderick Jones to protect the quarterback long-term.
Unfortunately, the Steelers are in an extremely tough spot. They have tons of talent on this team on both sides of the ball, but also have some huge holes, at cornerback, safety, and on the offensive line. And to make matters worse they have subpar play-calling offensively so it's hard to get a true read on Kenny Pickett long-term. They are in a weird limbo due to these factors as they aren't truly getting a good read on Pickett's progression, but have plenty of pieces in place to show they can win now.
I believe the correct move is to gauge the value of players around the trade deadline, and if you can fill a hole without giving up too much, for a reasonably priced player then you do it. If not, I believe they should stand pat, hope you can sneak into the playoffs, and make a change at Offensive Coordinator in the offseason, while addressing the rest of your needs then as well.