Who Should the Pittsburgh Steelers Be Looking to Re-Sign?

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PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23: Landry Jones #3 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action during the game against the New England Patriots at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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It’s coming to the end of the season in the NFL, and there are some sections of fans whose fantasy teams have flamed out, and some of us are already looking forward to next year. A lot of players will be coming off contract in March, and here is a look at who could be the Pittsburgh Steelers re-signings.

Who Should the Pittsburgh Steelers Be Looking to Re-Sign?

By contrast, the Pittsburgh Steelers season is far from over. That doesn’t mean we can’t take a peak at what will happen next season when presumably the impressive rookies and first time starters on this team will be better for having another year under their belts. As good as Ladarius Green, Sammie Coates, and Eli Rogers have been – all three should be healthy next year and be able to produce on a more consistent basis. On the defensive side of the ball, the tangible improvements of Sean Davis, Artie Burns, and Javon Hargrave week on week will hopefully lead into an even better year for that trio next season.

That said, there is a lot that needs to happen for Pittsburgh to come back as strong next season with 28 players out of contract in March, the question marks over whether Martavis Bryant‘s return to the team, and the looming prospect of Antonio Brown‘s new deal coming as well.

Here’s how the roster could look in 2017:

Quarterback:

  1. Ben Roethlisberger – Contract until the end of 2019. Cap hit: $18.2 million
  2. Zach Mettenberger – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 690k
  3. Landry Jones – Out of contract. Old cap hit: $650k

The good news is that Roethlisberger is locked in for another few seasons and there’s no concern there. The problem is his back-up. Landry Jones had been the primary back-up for the last two years, and while Jones has shown some improvements – is it worth signing him to a new deal that will almost definitely represent a contract that is at least twice as expensive?

The other aspect is Mettenberger’s contract. The former Titans starter has yet to take a snap for Pittsburgh, and his deal runs out in 2017. If Jones stays in town, then the potential Mettenberger reclamation project will end next year.

The alternative to re-signing Jones is taking another quarterback in the draft, and allowing the rookie to learn behind both bergers.

Running back

  1. Daryl Richardson – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit 690k
  2. Le’Veon Bell – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 1.03m
  3. DeAngelo Williams – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 2m
  4. Fitzgerald Toussaint – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 555k
  5. Roosevelt Nix – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 525k
  6. Karlos WilliamsPractice squad
  7. Dreamius SmithPractice squad

As of right now, the Pittsburgh Steelers running backs that are under contract after next year will be earning $0. That is to say, all five players will be looking for new deals in the next 15 months.

That includes one of the oldest running backs in the league, DeAngelo Williams, who will be 34 when the new season starts. He’s been incredibly effective in relief of the oft-injured Bell, but given his age, can he still be relied upon? He’s been making $2 million behind Bell, and his performances deserve a raise. His age could prevent that. If both parties could agree to a mutually beneficial deal, a la Matt Cullen with the Pittsburgh Penguins, then we could see Williams back again. Otherwise, there are quite a few decent running backs about to hit the market, and a load of talented ones about to enter the league.

Which brings us to Le’Veon Bell. The man who just single-handedly out-gained his opponent with one of the top ten yardage games of all time. Bell’s talent was never a question, but it’s his off-field habits that will worry the Steelers. Do you give him the contract his talent deserves, or let him go, and draft his replacement? It’s not like the likes of Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, or James Conner wouldn’t be able to thrive in Bell’s role. But Bell is a little bit special. We could see the franchise tag being used on a one-year, don’t do anything stupid and we’ll give you lots of money deal.

One player they should re-sign without question is Roosevelt Nix. The fullback played a huge role in Bell’s monster game, and should be rewarded for that alone. There are some question marks about Fitzgerald Toussaint, and practice squad member Karlos Williams. Like Bell, Williams’ talent alone deserves a contract. But his second drug-related suspension in the same season murks those waters. We might only see one Williams’ brother in the Steel City next year.

Wide receivers

  1. Antonio Brown – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 13.6m
  2. Darrius Heyward-Bey – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 1.33m
  3. Martavis Bryant – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 800k
  4. Sammie Coates – until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 773k
  5. Eli Rogers – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 541k
  6. Canaan Severin – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 540k
  7. Markus Wheaton – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 702k
  8. Cobi Hamilton – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 450k
  9. DeMarcus Ayers – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 450k
  10. Marcus Tucker – Practice squad.

Where to start? The vast majority of Steelers fans know that Brown is angling for another contract which will take up a good chunk of the $37 million in cap space that the Steelers will have to work with before they deal with Bell’s deal.

Then there’s whether Martavis Bryant comes back. A year long suspension is a tough one to come back from, and some Pittsburgh media outlets are questioning whether Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin will trust him enough to allow him back. He could be on a one-year, don’t screw up trial.

As for the out of contract players, it’s hard to believe that Wheaton will return. Wheaton will want to get paid, and with the players at the Steelers’ disposal, they have zero reason to pay him. Cobi Hamilton could be resigned after a decent season, but it would have to be for very minimal money. Likewise with DeMarcus Ayers.

The Steelers could look at drafting another receiver in the mid-rounds with the questions surrounding Bryant, and Wheaton’s contract. There may be value there, especially if someone like James Washington or Cooper Kupp falls – but that could depend on other needs – especially with whatever happens to Bell’s contract.

Tight-end

  1. Ladarius Green – Contract until the end of 2019. Cap hit: 6.187m
  2. Jesse James – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 667k
  3. David Johnson – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 760k
  4. Xavier Grimble – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 450k

It’s a nice situation to have both of the top two tight-ends on the team under contract for the next few years. That said, both 29-year-old David Johnson, and 24-year-old Xavier Grimble are useful members to have on the roster. One, or both, could resign. Value and age should lean in Grimble’s direction.

This is a decent draft class for tight-ends though too, and a look at the likes of Pitt’s Scott Orndoff, or Iowa’s blocking tight-end George Kittle, or Fordham’s Phazahan Odom in the late rounds could be steals.

Offensive Tackles

  1. Marcus Gilbert – Contract until the end of 2019. Cap hit: 7.3m
  2. Ryan Harris – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 2.237m
  3. Jerald Hawkins – Contract until the end of 2019. Cap hit: 598k
  4. Brian Mihalik – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 540k
  5. Alejandro Villaneuva – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 480k
  6. Matt Feiler – Practice squad
  7. Keavon Milton – Practice squad

Signing swing tackle Ryan Harris last year didn’t go according to plan with his season long injury. There aren’t many available tackles in the draft, which means that re-signing Alejandro Villaneuva should be a priority for the Steelers.

Interior Offensive Linemen

  1. Maurkice Pouncey – Contract until the end of 2019. Cap hit: 11m
  2. David de Castro – Contract until the end of 2021. Cap hit: 11m
  3. Ramon Foster – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 3.6m
  4. Cody Wallace – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 1.16m
  5. Chris Hubbard – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 600k
  6. B.J. Finney – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 450k
  7. Cole Manhart – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 450k
  8. Valerian Ume Ezeoke – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 450k

The positives are that the first choice guards and center are under contract for the next two seasons at least. The negatives are that there are no backups behind them under any sort of deals.

We’ve seen this year that backups are necessary, and the players that have come in – BJ Finney, Chris Hubbard, and Cody Wallace, have all performed extremely well when called upon. Steelers fans would love if all three of those players could return, but naturally all will want some sort of raise.

Manhart has featured in only two games for the Steelers – both losses this season, while Ume-Ezeoke hasn’t played in any snaps in the NFL.

Defensive Linemen

  1. Cam Heyward – Contract until the end of 2020. Cap hit: 10.4m
  2. Stephon Tuitt – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 1.466m
  3. Javon Hargrave – Contract until the end of 2019. Cap hit: 733k
  4. Daniel McCullers – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 733k
  5. Leterrius Walton – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 644k
  6. Ricardo Mathews – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 760k
  7. Cashaud Lyons – Practice squad
  8. Johnny Moxey – Practice squad

One of the biggest things to watch out for here is that Stephon Tuitt’s contract is also up at the end of next year, and we can expect him to get paid. When that contract dealing happens will be another thing, but its something to bare in mind when thinking of cap space.

Ricardo Mathews was a free agent pick up last off-season, added for depth along the line. He’s been value for money, and against the Giants he shone – getting his first sack as a Steeler. If he can be retained for similar money in a similar role, it would be an excellent move – even if the Steelers decide to strengthen the line in the draft and/or free agency.

Outside Linebackers

  1. Arthur Moats – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 2.9m
  2. Bud Dupree – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 2.5m
  3. Jarvis Jones – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 2.176m
  4. James Harrison – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 1.375m
  5. Anthony Chickillo – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 480k

Nobody gets to tell James Harrison whether he gets to stay or not. He’s earned the right to decide whether he wants another year or not. He’s playing well enough. Who knows when he’s going to retire?

Anthony Chickillo has been a good player in the outside linebacker rotation, and Steelers fans should see him return in a depth role.The 2015 6th round pick deserves a new contract, and even if the Steelers take a new pass rusher in the draft like most people would expect, there is a role for Chickillo next year.

That would mean that Jarvis Jones would find himself on the outside looking in. The 2013 first-rounder hasn’t lived up to those expectations. He hasn’t done badly, but he was billed as a fearsome pass-rusher, and that hasn’t happened. He’s good against the run, sealing the edge – and if he was a fourth rounder, you’d be delighted with his output. With the money he’s probably expecting, Jones shouldn’t return.

Inside Linebackers

  1. Ryan Shazier – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 3.025m*
  2. Vince Williams – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 2.5m
  3. L.J. Fort – Contract until end of 2017. Cap hit: 615k
  4. Tyler Matakevich – Contract until the end of 2019. Cap hit: 556k
  5. Lawrence Timmons – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 9.6m
  6. Steven Johnson – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 815k
  7. Kevin Anderson – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 450k

It’s not hard to make the giant assumption that the Steelers will take up Ryan Shazier’s fifth year option in the off-season, keeping him here until 2018. If Shazier can stay healthy for 16 games next season, the Steelers defense will be noticeably better. But, that’s a big if.

There is simply no way that the Steelers can re-sign Lawrence Timmons on that money. The 30-year-old has been a key player on defense, but also hasn’t lived up to that wage. Timmons showed his age against the Giants when he didn’t have the gas to return his interception. If he wants to stay, it’ll be on significantly less money.

Both Steven Johnson and Kevin Anderson were free agent signings last summer. Johnson has been one of the Steelers best special teams players, and may be worth a return. Anderson on the other had was injured in June and waived/injured. Even if he returns, he may not make the 53-man roster.

Cornerbacks

  1. William Gay – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 2.6m
  2. Artie Burns – Contract until the end of 2019. Cap hit: 2.2m
  3. Justin Gilbert – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit:2.2m
  4. Senquez Golson – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit:1.1m
  5. Ross Cockrell – Out of contract. Cap hit: 600k
  6. Brandon Dixon – Practice squad

Ross Cockrell has been fantastic this season. He’s been forced to cover opposing team’s no.1 wide-receivers, and kept the likes of AJ Green and Odell Beckham relatively quiet. That’s what you want from a player in a contract year.

On that contract he was a steal, and he may have priced himself out of a return. If a deal can be done, great – but with the quality of cornerbacks that will be available in the first three rounds of the upcoming draft – the Steelers should be looking to add another even if Cockrell does re-sign.

Safeties

  1. Mike Mitchell – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 8.135m
  2. Robert Golden – Contract until the end of 2018. Cap hit: 1.9m
  3. Sean Davis – Contract until the end of 2019. Cap hit: 929k
  4. Shamarko Thomas – Out of contract. Cap hit: 653k
  5. Jordan Dangerfield – Out of contract. Cap hit: 450k
  6. Jacob Hagen – Practice squad

Safety depth will take a hit this off-season and there are some decisions to be made. Shamarko Thomas hasn’t lived up to his draft billing, and has been given plenty of opportunities to earn a starting spot but hasn’t made the leap. His time as a Steeler could be over.

Jordan Dangerfield is a little different. In limited snaps. Dangerfield has done well, in particular against the Jets. There were times this season when he outplayed Robert Golden. The team should be in favour of re-signing him if the money is right, but that shouldn’t stop the Steelers from going out and drafting another safety if the value is there.

Special Teams

  1. Jordan Berry – Contract until the end of 2017. Cap hit: 615k
  2. Chris Boswell – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 480k
  3. Greg Warren – Out of contract. Old cap hit: 1.1m

It appears that Chris Boswell has done enough in his time in Pittsburgh to be given a new deal. He’ll need a raise though. Greg Warren is the only long snapper on the roster, and someone smarter than I will decide whether he’s a good one or not. He was in the top ten highest paid long snappers in the NFL.

All figures from overthecap.com

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