The Pittsburgh Steelers made arguably the largest choice of their 2021 season this week, saying that Ben Roethlisberger will return for an 18th season and all however promising a restructure of the quarterback’s contract to make sure compliance with a diminished wage cap. The re-commitment to Massive Ben getting into the QB’s age-39 season, which follows weeks of hypothesis and ambiguous group statements concerning the longtime signal-caller’s future, says one factor above all: The Steelers are nonetheless decided to be contenders in 2021. There is not any different logical clarification for retaining a expensive, growing old quarterback with a decent cap.
Is it the good factor to do? Retaining Roethlisberger for one final win-now push? Not essentially. However by selecting this path slightly than swallowing the arduous tablet of an inevitable future reset, the Steelers have given themselves mainly no different alternative: they should construct round Ben. If that is the final hurrah, reinforcements are so as.
Enter the tight funds. The Steelers are effectively on their technique to getting underneath the projected 2021 cap because of restructures and potential extensions. However until they make some critical sacrifices, like letting Professional Bowl left sort out Alejandro Villanueva stroll in free company and chopping key veterans like Eric Ebron and Vince Williams, they are not going to have room to spend large on the open market. Which means no splashy play-maker like Aaron Jones or grade-A workhorse like Chris Carson. And that is not even accounting for their very own prime free brokers like extensive receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and working again James Conner, who had been as soon as thought of offensive centerpieces however at the moment are broadly anticipated to search out new properties.
With that in thoughts, the place can Pittsburgh flip to assist Roethlisberger in 2021 with out breaking the financial institution? Listed below are some potential low-risk, high-reward free brokers that might — and may — be on the Steelers’ radar:
Be aware: AAV denotes common annual worth. Participant ages are for the beginning of the 2021 season.
Projected AAV: $2-5 million
The previous fourth-rounder has by no means performed a full season and missed all however one recreation in 2020 as a consequence of damage, so likelihood is he’ll be obtainable as a one-year flyer. Pittsburgh would in all probability favor a extra sturdy again after James Conner’s perpetual bruising, however even 12-14 video games of a wholesome Mack can be an improve right here. The ex-Colts starter has been a play-maker when on the sphere.
Projected AAV: $1-4 million
Ingram is not any workhorse at this stage of his profession, as evidenced by Baltimore regularly phasing him out of the rotation in late 2020. However is there a greater short-term rental for a contender at working again? The man is a beloved teammate who’d don’t have any bother sharing carries with Benny Snell and whomever else Pittsburgh trots out of the backfield, and he is at all times given top-notch effort.
Projected AAV: $2-5 million
At one level one of many 49ers‘ most promising ball-carriers (1,075 scrimmage yards in 2018), he is been extra of an afterthought the final two years, falling on San Francisco’s depth chart throughout the membership’s Tremendous Bowl run after which failing to pop with Miami throughout a COVID-affected 2020. Nonetheless, he is younger and has tons of velocity, making him a worthy change-of-pace possibility.
Projected AAV: $8-10 million
Hilton is not precisely a “low-cost” free agent, contemplating he’ll doubtless command starter’s cash, however in comparison with the $15-18 million per yr that JuJu Smith-Schuster might haul in, you may view him as a discount. Accidents have taken their toll on the previous RB1, who’s now not an elite speedster, however with expertise within the slot and juice nonetheless within the tank, he’d be a rock-solid plug-and-play vet.
Projected AAV: $7-10 million
There is a much better likelihood Fitzgerald re-signs with Arizona or just hangs up the cleats. He is stated earlier than he’ll solely play for the Cardinals. But when ever there have been one metropolis to lure him elsewhere, it’d should be Pittsburgh, the place he performed his school ball. What a pure one-year experiment this may be, plugging him into JuJu’s slot position and giving him an opportunity to exit with a contender.
Projected AAV: $5-9 million
If the Steelers wish to fill the slot, which appears believable contemplating the payday Smith-Schuster can discover elsewhere, Bourne would make for a short- and probably long-term gamble. He is by no means posted gaudy numbers in San Francisco, however he had a career-high snap rely in 2020 and delivered, serving as a dependable mid-range goal.
Projected AAV: $3-6 million
You do not sometimes wish to be within the enterprise of signing 35-year-old slot receivers, however the Steelers will — or ought to — be searching for any immediate assist out extensive, particularly if JuJu walks. Amendola, after all, is finest recognized for working the center, the place he is usually been dependable greater than elusive. It is not arduous to think about a security valve like him rapidly incomes Roethlisberger’s belief.
Projected AAV: $5-8 million
Very similar to Amendola, Snead has been extra regular than spectacular, however that counts for lots on the slot place — particularly if the Steelers run something near the offense they did in 2020, when Roethlisberger dinked and dunked his means down the sphere. Whether or not new coordinator Matt Canada opens up the passing recreation or limits Ben’s makes an attempt, Snead can be an environment friendly short-area goal.