The Pittsburgh Steelers have more than a dozen of their own free agents still unsigned, but according to a Monday afternoon tweet from Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there are four unrestricted free agents that they are focused on trying to retain.
It makes sense that Pittsburgh would zero in on the above-referenced quartet, as all figure to be less expensive than the likes of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and outside linebacker Bud Dupree, arguably the team’s most attractive UFAs.
Unrestricted free agent left tackle Alejandro Villaneuva, 32, also figures to be rewarded with a high-dollar contract, both because of the position he plays and his proven durability. Yet the Steelers don’t figure to want him back, as they look to get younger on the offensive line.
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The Case for Keeping Sutton, Hilton, Et. al
As for cornerback Cam Sutton, he has served in a reserve role to date but could conceivably replace Joe Haden in 2022, as Haden is entering the last year of his three-year contract. Meanwhile, Mike Hilton has been highly successful in his role as slot corner, and because slot cornerbacks command relatively modest contracts (at least as compared to outside cornerbacks), the Steelers might be able to afford him.
No doubt Matt Feiler is under serious consideration because the Steelers are currently short-handed at tackle, with only one proven tackle under contract for 2021, that being Chuks Okorafor, who is entering the final year of the rookie deal he signed in 2018. Meanwhile, the Steelers might also try to bring back Zach Banner on another one-year “prove it” deal, as he continues to recover from the torn ACL he suffered in last year’s season opener.
As for defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, he might be the most realistic of the four above-named priorities, in part because he’s a veteran who appears to qualify for a “four-year qualifying contract.” Per Front Office Football, such a contract “can be offered to a player with at least four credited seasons whose contract with a team has expired after being on said team for four or more consecutive, uninterrupted league years prior to his contract expiring….
“A qualifying contract under this benefit is a one-year deal with a base salary of up to $1.25 million more … than the minimum base salary for said player…. Under such agreements, only the applicable minimum base salary (not the $1.25 million benefit) is charged against the salary cap.”
All that said, the Steelers can offer Alualu a base salary of $2.325 million and a signing bonus of $137,000 (for a total of $2.462 million) yet his 2021 cap charge would be just $1.2125 million. This as compared to the $2,875,000 APY he earned on his previous deal, as per overthecap.com.
Pittsburgh Has Already Signed Its Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Last week Pittsburgh started the process of signing its own free agents by inking three exclusive rights free agents: safety-turned-linebacker Marcus Allen, center J.C. Hassenauer and inside linebacker Robert Spillane.
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