Charting out a team’s offseason plans often feels like Doc Brown explaining time travel. One move sets off a series of subsequent events that ultimately come together to create a reality. Like time travel, a team’s offseason plans are often directed by what the team does first. That’s why it’s so hard to predict what a team will do during the offseason.
It may be hard, but predicting a team’s offseason plans is also hardly a shot in the dark. For example, it’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to address needs at several key areas that include defensive line, inside linebacker, cornerback, safety and receiver during the 2023 offseason. How they decide to attack those needs is the more challenging thing to forecast.
One thing we also know is that the Steelers won’t be looking for a quarterback after finding Ben Roethlisberger’s successor last year in Kenny Pickett. But in order to get the most out of Pickett, the Steelers need to do what they did during Roethlisberger’s early years by building a title-contending team around him. That is the challenge currently facing Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan and the rest of the Steelers’ brass.
With free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft on the horizon, and without the aid of Biff’s Grays Sports Almanac, here’s a look at the five things the Steelers should do this offseason.
All project market values used below are courtesy of Spotrac.
Highsmith is due for a payday after having a breakout season in 2022. A 2020 third-round pick, Highsmith’s 14.5 sacks last season was tied for the fifth-highest single-season total in franchise history. He also recorded a league-best five forced fumbles while picking up the slack during T.J. Watt’s seven-game absence.
Highsmith’s market value is projected at five years with an annual salary of $12.65 million. That’s an absolute bargain considering that Watt makes more than twice that amount on an annual basis.
2. Bring back ‘J Wobble’
Kevin Colbert made a slew of smart, under-the-radar draft picks during his 22 years as the Steelers’ general manager. One of those picks was the team’s third-round selection of Javon Hargrave in the 2016 NFL Draft. Hargrave, who starred at South Carolina State prior to being drafted by Pittsburgh, was a quality starter for the Steelers for four seasons before signing with Philadelphia after the 2019 season.
Hargrave blossomed into a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Philadelphia. He had 7.5 sacks in 2021 and a career-high 11 sacks last season while helping the Eagles reach the Super Bowl. Now 30, Hargrave is set to enter the open market again. The Steelers, who are in need of interior help on their defensive line, would be wise to bring back the player Steelers players playfully referred to as “J Wobble” during his first stint in Pittsburgh.
Similar to four years ago, signing Hargrave will come at a cost; his current market value is for three years and a little over $20 million a season. But by signing Hargrave, the Steelers would get an established run stuffer/pass rusher who is still in his prime.
Even if they sign Hargrave, the Steelers would be wise to spend a draft pick on an interior lineman who could learn under the tutelage of Cameron Heyward and Co. Pitt’s Calijah Kancey (who made waves during the combine) would be a slam dunk in the second round if he isn’t snatched up in the first round.
3. Bring in competition at offensive tackle
Pittsburgh is woefully thin behind starters Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor. While free agency is an option, the Steelers will likely use one of their first three draft picks to fill this need.
Alabama’s Tyler Steen and and Georgia’s Broderick Jones are interesting options should the Steelers choose to explore drafting a tackle with one of their top two draft picks. A three-year starter at Vanderbilt, Steen provided sterling protection for Bryce Young during his one season at Alabama. Steen, who is also a viable option at guard, will come to the NFL with 45 career collegiate starts under his belt.
Like Steen, Jones is a tackle who some analysts feel could also play guard at the next level. That should be welcomed news for the Steelers, who don’t need an immediate starter but could benefit by adding someone who could play either guard or tackle in a pinch. A first-time starter for Georgia last season, Jones is an impressive athlete who turned heads during the combine.
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4. Take advantage of a deep ILB free agent class
The Steelers need help at inside linebacker. Fortunately for them, there are a heap of talented players at that position who are slated to hit the open market on March 15. Among the inside linebackers who are slated to be free agents is Anthony Walker Jr., who is looking to revive his career after tearing a quad tendon against the Steelers in Week 3 of the 2022 season.
Formerly the Browns‘ MIKE linebacker, Walker is a savvy veteran who averaged 109 tackles per season from 2018-21. In Pittsburgh, Walker would complement fellow inside linebacker (and 2022 free agent signee) Myles Jack while rounding out Pittsburgh’s linebacker corps.
Walker, still just 27 years old, seems like a gamble worth taking. Best case, Walker returns to pre-injury form while not costing the Steelers much money when compared to other free agent inside linebackers. Worst case, he is a solid depth player who would present a formidable challenge for second-year linebacker Mark Robinson for the starting job.
5. Draft Porter over Addison
Pickett wants a reunion with former Pitt teammate Jordan Addison. Addison, who won the Biletnikoff Award when Pickett was his quarterback in 2021, told the Steelers to “come get me” during the combine. The Steelers could use a receiver after trading Chase Claypool, so using a first-round pick to reunite Pickett with his former teammate makes sense.
The Steelers shouldn’t, however, select Addison over Joey Porter Jr., one of the top-ranked cornerbacks in the draft, and someone who has also expressed his desire to play for his dad’s old team. Cornerback is a higher need for the Steelers than receiver, and in Porter, the Steelers would get a young, talented defensive back who is blessed with a rare combination of size and speed.
Pittsburgh shares a division with quarterbacks Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. It is paramount for the Steelers to have an elite secondary if they are going to get back to winning division titles. Porter could help them get there.
Addison would be a great fit in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers can get another wideout in later rounds. Among the receiving prospects who will be available after the first round include Cincinnati’s speedy wideout Tyler Scott, who caught nine touchdowns and averaged nearly 17 yards per catch last fall.
This content was originally published here.