Steelers May Finally Take Free Agency Seriously

Part 1 in a 2-part series that focuses on the Steelers impending Free Agent Needs

Part One: The Steelers Own Free Agents

In the mid-to-late 1990’s, you could guarantee that the Steelers would never sign their own top free agents, which led to disappointing seasons in 1998 & 1999. Even after the Salary Cap was introduced in 1994, which was supposed to create an even playing field when it came to signing free agents. But after the construction of Heinz Field in 2001, the Steelers became more aggressive at keeping their own free agents, a practice that they continue today.

After their disappointing 2018 in which they missed the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record, the Steelers know they need to make some splash moves to turn their fortunes around and free agency may be the ticket. First, here’s a look at their own free agents:

Unrestricted Free Agents: A veteran player with four or more accrued NFL seasons, or who is not subject to Right of First Refusal or Draft Choice Compensation.

RB Le’Veon Bell
TE Jesse James
G Ramon Foster
DE L.T. Walton
P Jordan Berry
OLB Anthony Chickillo CB Coty Sensabaugh
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey DT Daniel McCullers

WR Justin Hunter RB Stevan Ridley S Nat Berhe
ILB L.J. Fort

WR Eli Rogers ILB Ryan Shazier

Notes: Bell is gone. He rejected 2 long-term offers, played on the Franchise Tag in 2017 and sat out all of 2018. He’s ready to test the free agent market and the Steelers have made it plain that they will not offer him the Transition Tag. Foster is a valuable guard on one of the NFL’s top

offensive lines, but he’s also looking for his big payday, unless the Steelers ‘wow’ him with a deal or they Franchise Tag him. James is a big Red-Zone target at TE, and the Steelers would be wise to re-sign him. Chickillo, Sensabaugh, McCullers, Ridley and Berhe are replaceable. The Steelers will probably keep Berry as he was their punter, Heyward-Bey (special teams), Fort (backup ILB), Rogers (Slot WR) and will have to decide on Shazier due to his health as he’s recovering from the spinal injury, he suffered from in 2017.

Restricted Free Agents: A veteran player with three – but no more – accrued NFL seasons. An RFA is eligible to sign with another franchise, but his current franchise is given Right of First Refusal on any contract the player may receive on the open market. Additionally, the player’s current team may receive Draft Choice Compensation – which depends on the level of contract they tendered to the player – if they choose not to match the player’s free agent contract.

TE Xavier Grimble G/C B.J. Finney

Exclusive Rights Free Agents: A veteran player with less than three accrued NFL seasons. An ERFA is limited to either signing the contract tendered to him by his current team, or not playing in the NFL that season. If a team chooses not to tender a contract to an ERFA, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

LS Kameron Canaday G/T Matt Feiler
CB Mike Hilton
S Jordan Dangerfield TE Jake McGee

S Malik Golden ILB Keith Kelsey OL Joseph Cheek

Notes: Grimble didn’t make an impression in 2018, as his goal-line fumble vs. Denver still stings, it would be surprising if the Steelers gave him a 1-year tender. Finney is a valuable backup who could earn a starting spot if Foster moves on. Steelers will probably give him a 1- year tender or sign him to a long-term deal that also depends on Foster’s future. The Steelers will probably offer exclusive rights 1-year tenders to Canady (Long-Snapper) Feiler (who started 10 games at Tackle in 2018 when Marcus Gilbert was injured), Hilton (the team’s top Nickel-Back) and Dangerfield who was valuable on Special Teams.

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