The Pittsburgh Steelers spent almost $100 million in NFL free agency last offseason. With that money, the Steelers signed Week 1 starters at quarterback, center, guard, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety.
The expectation is the Steelers won’t be buyers like that again this spring. But The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac predicted in his latest fan chat that the Steelers would sign several of their own free agents.
Specifically, Dulac projected general manager Omar Khan to agree to new deals with cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and James Pierre, defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, linebacker Robert Spillane, and tight end Zach Gentry.
Dulac also wrote that safety Terrell Edmunds may be back too.
Sutton figures to be the most coveted of those six Steelers free agents. Pro Football Focus ranked Sutton the third-best cornerback and 23rd overall player available in NFL free agency this year.
Contract Projections for CB Cameron Sutton
PFF projected Sutton to receive $25.5 million on a three-year contract, giving him an average annual salary of $8.5 million per season. Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox and Spotrac estimated a similar value for Sutton, predicting him to be worth $5.9 million and $7.6 million on a per annual basis, respectfully.
Based on the fact Sutton is one of the better cornerbacks available in free agency, though, he could easily receive a contract worth closer to $10 million per season.
The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly wrote that he would offer Sutton a three-year, $30 million deal but “wouldn’t go much past that.” Dulac told his readers in the chat room on March 9 that Sutton is not worth $10 million per season, but Dulac did admit he likes Sutton’s versatility, which could raise his value.
The Steelers don’t have any salary cap room, so no matter what, they will need to cut players on the current roster in order to fit Sutton under the cap. But Kaboly, along with other insiders and experts, have called the 27-year-old cornerback the team’s top priority in free agency.
Steelers to Bring Back Ogunjobi, Spillane?
After ranking Sutton first, Kaboly also placed Ogunjobi and Spillane in the top six of the team’s priorities to re-sign this offseason.
Kaboly rated Ogunjobi at No. 3 behind only Sutton and Edmunds.
Ogunjobi recorded only 1.5 sacks, but he was strong against the run, especially during December and January. The Steelers defensive line is overdue for a youth movement, but it would be helpful to have a veteran as a placeholder until the team can development younger players up front on defense.
Spotrac projected Ogunjobi’s market value to be $6.9 million on a two-year contract. Dulac would likely agree with that estimate, as he predicted the Steelers to retain the veteran.
But PFF estimated Ogunjobi’s value to be much higher — $30 million on a three-year deal ($10 million annually).
It seems like the Steelers have been trying to replace Spillane for years. He’s never started a Week 1 game in his career, but he turned into a reliable starter by the the end of his season each of the past three years. And like defensive line, the Steelers could draft a young inside linebacker soon, which makes having a veteran such as Spillane valuable.
To make room for Ogunjobi, Spillane and other free agents such as Pierre and Gentry, the Steelers will have to make tough choices with players such as linebacker Myles Jack and quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Steelers could release both players and save a total of $16 million against the cap.
Another alternative would be to offer either player a contract extension in an attempt to lower their cap hits for 2023.
The team is also expected to cut cornerback William Jackson II and save about $12.2 million.
Edmunds Returning to Pittsburgh?
If the Steelers re-sign the group Dulac suggested, the last top free agent that could leave Pittsburgh is Edmunds.
The safety signed a one-year contract to stay in Pittsburgh last year. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for the two sides to agree to a similar deal again. Spotrac projected Edmunds’ market value to be $10.9 million on a two-year contract.
Edmunds recorded 70 combined tackles, including 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 5 pass defenses in 2022. He has averaged 83 combined tackles per season since 2019.
The fastest way for the Steelers to improve their pass defense, which was one of the weaknesses of the team in 2022, would be to re-sign Sutton and Edmunds and then draft a cornerback early in the 2023 NFL draft.