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Steelers Analysis

Five Potential Steelers Free Agent Wide Receiver Targets



Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agent Target WR D.J. Chark
Carolina Panthers wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. (17) runs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

The Pittsburgh Steelers still need a wide receiver to play outside after drafting probable slot receiver Roman Wilson in the third round of the 2024 NFL Draft on Sunday.

General manager Omar Khan said the team has salary cap flexibility after restructuring the contract of outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, and will make a move to upgrade the team if they get the right deal.

But what is the right deal? The Steelers have been involved in trade talks with the San Francisco 49ers about Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, but those seem to have cooled for now. A deal with the Denver Broncos for Courtland Sutton could still be in play. Outside of that, they’re probably looking at the remaining targets in the free agent market to see if there’s a good fit.

The pickings are slim. Several of the remaining free agents, like Tyler Boyd, who the team has also had conversations with, a better suited to paying in the slot. Who is left that is mostly a perimeter target?

Let’s take a look.

D.J. Chark, Carolina Panthers, 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, 27 years old

Chark had a pretty miserable season last year, but what member of the Carolina Panthers offense didn’t? He caught 35 of 66 targets for 525 yards and was not retained after his one-year deal expired.
Why it might work: Chark is a big body that could be a blocking weapon, and has played in a similar scheme when he was with the Detroit Lions. In 2019 and 2020 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he was very productive, totaling over 1,700 yards, 13 TDs and a Pro Bowl nod in 2019. Though it’s been a while since he reached that level, he’s still only 27 years old.

Why it might not work: After those strong years in Jacksonville, Chark had two straight injury-filled campaigns, playing in four games with Jacksonville in 2021 and 11 games with Detroit in 2022. The trajectory is not good. He had 706 yards in 2020, 654 yards in 15 games between 2021-22, and 525 yards last season.

Saints WR Michael Thomas

METAIRIE, LA – JUNE 11: New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) works out on June 11, 2019 at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility in Metairie, LA. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints, 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, 31 years old

Thomas was released by the Saints in March, even after restructuring his contract in 2023. He was only set to make $1.21 million in base salary and a $2.2 million roster bonus. Thomas caught 39 of 6 targets for 448 yards and one touchdown last season.

Why it might work: Thomas is supremely talented, a two-time first-team All-Pro and a three-time Pro Bowler. He led the NFL in receptions twice, yards once and was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2019.

Why it might not work: Thomas hasn’t played a full season of football since 2019. He missed time with a high ankle sprain in 2020, missed all of 2021 after ankle surgery, all but three weeks of 2022 with a foot injury, and seven games last year with a knee injury. He also got into a fight with a teammate in 2020 and was arrested for battery in 2023.

Dallas Cowboys vs Washington Redskins. Oct. 21, 2018 — All Pro Reels

Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys, 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, 28 years old

Gallup was released by the Dallas Cowboys in March. He had been due $9.5 million in salary and roster bonuses this season. The 2018 third-round pick out of Colorado had spent his entire career with the Cowboys.

Why it might work: Unlike a lot of the rest of this list, Gallup has been very consistently available, playing in fewer than 14 games just once in his six-year NFL career. His career average of 14.1 yards per catch is a nice fit for what Arthur Smith is looking to do by moving the ball down the field in big chunks.

Why it might not work: Gallup has had the benefit of playing next to CeeDee Lamb and had Dak Prescott throwing him the ball the last few years, and saw his production wane, anyway. In the last two seasons, Gallup has caught 39 and 34 passes for 424 and 418 yards and a total of six touchdowns.

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oct. 8, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Odell Beckham Jr., Baltimore Ravens, 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, 31 years old

Once one of the most feared receivers in the NFL, Beckham has become a late-career mercenary, playing for three different teams over the last three seasons. He was released by the always receiver-needy Baltimore Ravens on March 13 — not a great sign.

Why it might work: Another high-pedigree player, Beckham was a two-time All-Pro, three time Pro Bowler, and has a Super Bowl ring, earned with the Los Angeles Rams in 2022. He has settled into a role as a bit-part player and his previous notoriety for complaining about targets seems to have passed. He had 64 targets with the Ravens last season.

Why it might not work: Beckham is the oldest and longest-tenured player on this list, and has not been consistently healthy or productive since 2019. He played seven games for Cleveland in 2020, 14 in 2021 and 2023, and not at all in 2022 while recovering from ACL surgery. The Steelers also might not want to put another loud, brash personality next to Pickens.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kansas City Chiefs, 6-foot-4, 206 pounds, 29 years old

One of the punching bags of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl era, Valdez-Scantling and the other Kansas City wide receivers have made more headlines for what they haven’t been able to do for Patrick Mahomes than what they have done positively the last few years. The Chiefs cut Valdes-Scantling in February, two years into a three-year deal.

Why it might work: MVS had a front-row seat for what it takes to win a championship, and even if he wasn’t a big part of it (three caches over two Super Bowl games), he might be a good example for younger players. He has also been a decent run blocker in the past, something the Steelers will need from their receivers in this zone scheme.

Why it might not work: Of the 153 receivers tracked by ESPN analytics and scored in openness, hands and run-after-the-catch, Valdes-Scantling was ranked tied for 149th. His best mark was an open score of 46. They player he’d be replacing, Diontae Johnson, scored a 78.