After finishing the regular season with a 12-4 record, the Pittsburgh Steelers could look quite different in 2021 as several players will become free agents. Unfortunately for the Steelers, cap space could be a massive hindrance, and some staples of the franchise could be gone in free agency.
2021’s free agency could usher in a changing of the guard in Pittsburgh
The Steelers have several contracts expiring at the end of this season. In total, 26 players are free agents. Of those players, the only one with a club option is tight end Vance McDonald. Throw in the potential retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, and the days of stability for the Steelers could be numbered.
Numerous marquee players on defense could be gone as free agents for the Steelers
Until this season, T.J. Watt joined this list, but the two sides worked out an extension for the 2021 season. When looking at the moves the team will make this season, cap space needs to be considered for an extension that could be the most lucrative contract in Steelers history.
The biggest name on defense is LB Bud Dupree
Dupree played under the franchise tag in 2020 after failing to sign a long-term deal with the Steelers by the July 15th deadline. He was off to an incredible pace in 2020, racking up 8.0 sacks and 31 tackles. Unfortunately, Dupree’s season ended abruptly when he tore his ACL in Week 12 against the Baltimore Ravens.
After disappointing in his first few seasons with the Steelers, Dupree played like a man in a contract year, twice. It’s hard to see how the Steelers could work out a way to keep Dupree from leaving in free agency.
His estimated market value on Spotrac is a five-year, $83.03 million deal with an annual salary of $16.6 million per season. According to Over The Cap, the Steelers are entering the 2021 season $21.789 million over the salary cap. With all the other issues facing the team, it’s hard to see Bud Dupree in Pittsburgh in 2021.
Mike Hilton, a 2021 free agent, had a career-best season
Ending the year with 51 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and three interceptions, Hilton quietly had an excellent season on the outside. Hilton suffered an injury against Cleveland in Week 6 and remained out until Week 11. He added his name into the conversation as one of the better nickel corners in the NFL.
Hilton will be 28 next season and has earned himself a nice payday after being signed off the street following previous stints in Jacksonville and New England.
Other Pittsburgh Steelers defensive free agents for 2021
- LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, 23
- S Marcus Allen, 25
- DE Tyson Alualu, 34
- S Jordan Dangerfield, 30
- S Sean Davis, 27
- OLB Jayrone Elliott, 29
- DE Cassius Marsh, 29
- LB Robert Spillane, 25
- CB Cameron Sutton, 26
- ILB Avery Williamson, 29
- DT Chris Wormley, 27
Two figures loom large for the Steelers offense as free agency approaches in 2021
The Steelers offense could look very different in 2021, and that’s not even including a potential retirement of Ben Roethlisberger. The most significant losses could come from two of his favorite targets and two of the most beloved Steelers by the fans, RB James Conner and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Smith-Schuster’s 2021 free agency will be intriguing for the Steelers
Going back to his draft in 2017, JuJu Smith-Schuster quickly worked his way into the hearts of the organization and the fans. Everything from his play on the field to his escapades involving his bicycle.
While he has not taken over the role the way people thought he might, he is still one of the most coveted free agent wide receivers in the NFL.
The likeliest scenario is Smith-Schuster will be playing somewhere else in 2021. Teams like Miami or the New York Jets seem to be logical destinations. As much as he has said he wants to be a Steeler for life, if the money doesn’t work, you can’t blame him for taking care of himself.
Steelers RB James Conner is a free agent in 2021
The city of Pittsburgh is a different animal at times. They still remember the days of the Steel Curtain and respecting the legacy of what that logo means. Not every player who wears it is judged the same. One of those players who rises above the rest in recent times is RB James Conner.
Everyone knows his story. Born in Pennsylvania, he went to college at Pitt, battled leukemia, and stepped up and took over the role while the drama of Le’Veon Bell was going on at the same time. One day they could, and should, make a movie about him.
The issue for Conner has been staying on the field, unfortunately. Since 2018, he has played in 13 or fewer games each season and has averaged 1,040 scrimmage yards and 8.7 seven touchdowns per year.
Conner knows his days are numbered, and any game could be his last in a Steelers uniform as free agency approaches.
“It’s playoff football. I’m giving everything I got to this team,” he said in a press conference on Friday. “I can’t control anything about my future.”
I expect the Steelers to address the position in the NFL Draft. Finding production at the position on a rookie contract is a massive advantage to teams regarding cap space and maneuverability.
Other Pittsburgh Steelers offensive and special teams free agents for 2021
- T Zach Banner, 27
- P Jordan Berry, 30
- QB Joshua Dobbs, 26
- RB Trey Edmunds, 26
- T Matt Feiler, 29
- C J.C. Hassenauer, 27
- T Jerald Hawkins, 27
- G Danny Isidora, 27
- WR Ray-Ray McCloud, 24
- TE Vance McDonald, 31
- T Alejandro Villanueva, 32