Steelers Urged to Re-Sign Former Pro Bowl Guard

Trai Turner Steelers

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images Trai Turner (#51) of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates scoring a touchdown with teammates in the fourth quarter of the AFC Wild Card game against the Kansas City Chiefs on January 16, 2022.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have too many needs to address in one draft, especially with only six draft picks in 2022, pending the addition of one—or perhaps two—compensatory selections. That’s part of the rationale behind Pro Football Focus (PFF) naming former Pro Bowl offensive guard Trai Turner as the “one impending 2022 free agent” that the Steelers should bring back.

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Turner ‘Had Something of a Bounce Back Season’

Trai Turner “was once a very good player, but his career had been heading in the wrong direction,” notes Sam Monson, alluding to the five consecutive seasons (2014-19) during which Turner made the Pro Bowl. Yet he “had something of a bounce back this season,” adds the PFF analyst, “aided by Ben Roethlisberger’s league-quickest average time to throw.”

Specifically, “Turner allowed 21 pressures and had his best pass-blocking grade (72.5) since 2017. His run blocking (65.5) was also solid, and the Steelers need to do a lot of work on the offensive line. They may want to keep Turner to ease that workload,” concludes Monson.

Indeed the Steelers may want to try to retain Turner—who was signed in June 2021 to replace David DeCastroif the team plans to use its early draft picks at other positions of need, including quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback. Otherwise, right guard figures to be a big hole in the lineup in 2022, unless 2021 third-round pick Kendrick Green is moved to guard and shows he can be a quality starter at that spot. Alternatively, the Steelers can try to sign one of the other unrestricted free agent guards, like Austin Corbett of the Los Angeles Rams.

Last year Turner, 28, played on a $3 million contract and started all 17 regular-season games. He finished the year as PFF’s No. 31 ranked guard, earning a total grade of 68.1.

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Cardinals Urged to Re-Sign James Conner

Meanwhile, Sam Monson identifies ex-Steelers running back James Conner as the one free agent, above all others, that the Arizona Cardinals should attempt to retain. The former third-round pick (2017) said goodbye to Pittsburgh in April 2021, signing a one-year contract for $1.75 million, a free agency loss that is said to have left Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin “heartbroken.”

“Conner had an unexpectedly impressive season in the desert this season for Arizona, eclipsing Chase Edmonds and becoming the team’s primary back. He only averaged 3.7 yards per carry, but 2.8 of those yards came after contact,” notes Monson, and he scored a total of 18 touchdowns, including three in a career game against the 49ers.

“The ex-Steeler posted the best PFF grade of his career (81.9), reminding teams he was once very highly thought of in Pittsburgh before its offensive line fell apart and the space to run evaporated,” concludes Monson.

PFF projects that he will receive a two-year contract worth $12.8 million, with $7.25 million guaranteed, saying “Conner has a unique skill set in that he’s one of the best short-yardage and goal-line runners in the NFL yet he also provides value as an outlet in the passing game. There’s no reason he can’t be on the field all three downs, but it would be wise for teams to avoid relying on him in a true bell-cow role, given his injury history.”

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