The Pittsburgh Steelers took a flier on former first-round cornerback William Jackson III at the NFL trade deadline, acquiring him and a conditional seventh-round pick for a sixth-rounder. Both of those selection will be in the 2025 NFL Draft.
But the move didn’t exactly pan out. Jackson didn’t play a down for the Steelers during the 2022 season, and despite being under contract for next season, it’s possible that he never will play a snap in Pittsburgh.
NFL writer Curt Popejoy of USA Today predicted Jackson to be 1 of 5 potential cuts this offseason for the Steelers to save money toward the salary cap.
“Trading for William Jackson III sounded good on paper but a back injury kept him off the field for his full tenure with the team,” Popejoy wrote. “Now the Steelers have a chance to right that wrong by cutting him loose and saving $12.75 million.”
Pros & Cons to Steelers Bringing Back Jackson
It’s almost a guarantee that Jackson won’t return to the Steelers on his current deal. Spotrac reported that he has a $12.75 million cap hit during the final season of his contract, and the Steelers could release him and have nothing in dead cap money.
Due to injuries, Jackson played just 16 games over the last two seasons in Washington. When he was healthy enough to play, things didn’t go well for Jackson either. According to Pro Football Focus, 2021 and 2022 were two of the three worst seasons in his career, with 2022 being the worst.
If the Steelers bring Jackson back at all, it most certainly will be on a re-worked contract that lowers his cap hit. Since Jackson isn’t in high demand, the cornerback will likely accept a pay cut.
However, the Steelers have other more important priorities for their secondary this offseason. Both cornerback Cameron Sutton and safety Terrell Edmunds are unrestricted free agents.
In a perfect world, the Steelers will lower Jackson’s cap hit on a more affordable contract and then re-sign both Sutton and Edmunds. But with no dead money, just flat out cutting Jackson will open up the most space.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Jackson at 24th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Steelers selected cornerback Artie Burns at No. 25. Jackson signed with Washington in free agency before the 2021 season.
In 75 career games, Jackson has posted 205 combined tackles, 51 pass defenses and 5 interceptions.
Steelers’ Cap Situation Heading into 2023 Free Agency
Looking at Pittsburgh’s 2023 salary cap, the good news is there are a few easy cut candidates to make more room against the cap. But as of January 13, the Steelers do not have one of the better cap situations in the league.
Granted, they have 54 players signed, which is higher than the league average. But the Steelers are also currently over the salary cap by about $300,000 according to Spotrac.
Cutting Jackson would jump the Steelers from 20th in salary cap space to 15th.
In addition to the veteran cornerback, Popejoy projected quarterback Mitch Trubisky and linebacker Myles Jack as potential cut candidates. Releasing Trubisky and Jack would result in a savings of $8 million for each.
In summary, cutting Jackson, Trubisky and Jack would move the Steelers to eighth in salary cap space with around $28.5 million to spend.
Of course, the Steelers would have to replace those players, but they could presumably do that with free agency upgrades or free agent bargains who offer similar upside.