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Steelers Don’t Tender Any of Their Four Restricted Free Agents

The Pittsburgh Steelers did not offer tenders to any of their four restricted free agents, including long snapper Christian Kuntz.



Pittsburgh Steelers LS Christian Kuntz
Pittsburgh Steelers long snapper Christian Kuntz during a game against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 9, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers did not tender a contract to any of their four restricted free agents before the 4 p.m. Wednesday deadline at the start of the new league year, making them all unrestricted free agents.

Long snapper Christian Kuntz, running back and kickoff returner Godwin Igwebuike, defensive tackle Renell Wren and inside linebacker Chapelle Russell are all now unrestricted free agents. The players are eligible to return to Pittsburgh, but are now also free to negotiate with other teams without restriction. To tender a player and retain their rights, the Steelers would have had to offer at least a one-year, $2.985 million tender offer.

The Steelers have already had significant turnover among their specialists. Whoever their long snapper is will work with new punter Cameron Johnston this season. The Steelers released Pressley Harvin III in February, and signed Johnston to a three-year, $9 million deal.

Kuntz signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Duquesne in 2017, after which he first started long snapping.

Kuntz spent time with the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 and 2019, but did not play in a game. He was signed by the Steelers for the first time on Aug. 15, 2019 and he recorded five tackles and a sack in a preseason game against Carolina, but was among the team’s roster cuts at the end of camp. Kuntz played with the Dallas Renegades of the XFL in the spring of 2020.

After the XFL folded, Kuntz re-joined the Steelers. He was waived on Aug. 2, but the Steelers re-signed him to their practice squad on Nov. 24. He spent the rest of the season on and off the practice squad, as the Steelers attempted to keep backups for all three of their specialists within the NFL’s COVID-19 testing protocols.

In 2021, Kuntz carved out an NFL role for the first time, beating out Kam Canaday in a training camp battle to unseat the Steelers’ incumbent long snapper. Kuntz played in all 17 games in 2021 and made two tackles.

Kuntz was inducted into the Duquesne Athletics Hall of Fame on Jan. 29. During is decorated tenure with the Dukes, Kuntz was a three-time All-American, a part of three NEC Conference titles, recorded 30.5 sacks (program record) and 71.5 tackles for loss (sixth NCAA FCS all-time list).

Igwebuike joined the Steelers from the practice squad of the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3 of the 2023 season. He served mostly as the team’s kick returner last season.

Igwebuike took advantage of one of the NFL’s most significant loopholes in the Steelers’ regular-season finale against the Baltimore Ravens. Popularized by the Green Bay Packers in the 2010s, Igwebuike saw the kick dribble near the sideline, stepped out of bounds, and then touched it, causing an illegal kick out-of-bounds penalty and giving the Steelers great field position at the 40-yard line.

Pittsburgh Steelers RB/KR Godwin Igwebuike

Pittsburgh Steelers running back and kick returner Godwin Igwebuike during a playoff game against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 15, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Igwebuike, 29, is a Pickerington, Ohio native. He has bounced around the NFL and the Steelers are his eighth team since going undrafted out of Northwestern in 2018.

The 6-foot, 212-pound Igwebuke was a three-year starter at safety for the Wildcats, and was still playing that position when he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a UDFA in 2018.

Igwebuike played one game at safety with Tampa before being claimed on waivers by the San Francisco 49ers later that season. Igwebuike played five games in San Francisco. All of his contributions in his rookie season came on special teams, and he recorded two tackles.

San Fransico cut him in the 2019 offseason, and he was claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia Eagles in April. The Eagles dropped him in August and he was claimed by the Jets, who cut him four weeks later.

After spinning through four NFL teams in one season and one offseason, Igwebuike signed up for the XFL, and was drafted by the Seattle Dragons. He played in five games with Seattle in the spring of 2020 and was the team’s starting safety, recording 18 tackles and an interception before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the league down.

In 2021, he signed with the Detroit Lions, who converted him to a running back right before the beginning of the season. He played 17 games with the Lions that year, rushing 18 times for 188 yards. He scored a 42-yard touchdown at Acrisure Stadium against the Steelers. He also had seven catches for 60 yards.

He was cut by the Lions after training camp in 2022 and caught on with the Seattle Seahawks. He played in five games for Seattle, rushing three times for four yards and catching one pass for seven yards.

Steelers DT Renell Wren

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Renell Wren at practice on Nov. 9, 2022. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Wren missed the entire 2023 season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon prior to the start of OTAs. The team placed Wren on the injured reserve list on May 17, ending his season.

Wren was injured in the second phase of the team’s offseason conditioning program. He told the Tribune-Review that it happened while he was practicing coming out of his stance.

The road to recovery from an Achilles injury is challenging. According to a 2010 study, only 64% of NFL players that suffered an Achilles tendon rupture returned to eventually play in the league. Those that returned did so an average of 11 months after their injury.

Wren spent his second straight season around UPMC Rooney Sports Complex without getting to play. He was on the Steelers practice squad for nearly the entire 2022 season. He received an elevation for the team’s Week 17 game against the Baltimore Ravens. The 27-year-old made his season debut but played sparsely in the game overall. Those were his only snaps in the 2022 season while with Pittsburgh.

A fourth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019, Wren played 12 games and made two starts with the Bengals from 2019 to 2021, recording nine tackles, most of which came in his rookie season. This Achilles tear is not his first severe injury. In 2020, he suffered a severe quad injury that forced him to miss the entire season.

Steelers LB Chapelle Russell II

Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Chapelle Russell II at training camp, Aug. 2, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Russell appeared to be injured while covering a kickoff in Friday’s preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was waived Russell with an injury designation during training camp, cleared and reverted to the injured reserve list.

The linebacker appeared to be having a strong training camp, his first with the team after joining the Steelers last year. He was injured while appearing in his first game in black and gold after spending all of 2022 on the practice squad.

Russell played 11 games for the Buccaneers in 2020 after they drafted him in the seventh round. He played in 16 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021 before spending 2022 on the Steelers practice squad.

On 94 defensive snaps and 298 special team snaps in Jacksonville, Russell notched a career-high 15 combined tackles. His 298 special team snaps accounted for 72% of all of the Jaguars’ special teams snaps. Pro Football Focus gave Russell the highest grade (50.4) of his three-year career in 2021.

The Buccaneers selected Russell out of Temple with the 241st overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Russell dressed for 11 games for the Bucs but failed to record any official stats. He recorded four defensive snaps in Tampa Bay. Prior to the team’s playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl victory, the Bucs waived Russell.

Russell was a part of Temple’s 2015 recruiting class after a successful career at Lakewood High School. In 2015, Russell was on the opening two-deep depth chart but ended up redshirting in his first year as an Owl.

As a redshirt senior, Russell played in all 13 of the Owls’ games for the second consecutive season. He finished the season with career-highs in total tackles with 72 and tackles for loss with nine.

Over his five years at Temple, Russell amassed 45 appearances and tallied 237 combined tackles, three sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles.