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Biggest Winners and Losers from Steelers Offseason

Who are the winners and losers from the entire offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Here are just a few for each side.

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Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth shakes hands with fans as he walks off the field after a win over the Las Vegas Raiders in an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Now that free agency, the NFL Draft, and even rookie minicamp are in the books, it’s time to take a look at some of the winners and losers from the offseason so far. Which players have seen their stock rise in the last couple of months? Whose stock is potentially on the downswing? There’s a lot of reading between the lines involved in this exercise. Here are some interesting players to watch for their future with the Steelers and how things could play out in 2023 and beyond.

Pittsburgh Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth

Pittsburgh Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth against the Baltimore Ravens, Jan. 6, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Winner: TE Pat Freiermuth

After a disappointing 2023 season dampened by a hamstring injury, things are looking up for Pat Freiermuth. The Steelers hired Arthur Smith as their offensive coordinator. Despite outrage over Kyle Pitts’ lack of fantasy production, only two NFL teams targeted their tight ends more than the Atlanta Falcons last season. With a complete makeover at the quarterback position, there’s room for optimism that the passing game will be competent in the fall, which is good news for all playmakers involved. Pittsburgh’s receiver room is pretty bare, meaning George Pickens will likely see quite a bit of targeted coverage next season. On paper, he looks like their number two option through the air, so the volume opportunity should be music to Freiermuth’s ears as he enters a contract year.

Pittsburgh Steelers Guard Nate Herbig

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Nate Herbig before a game against the Green Bay Packers, Nov. 12, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Loser: IOL Nate Herbig

Suppose you were gullible enough to believe Steelers general manager Omar Khan when he declared Herbig the team’s starting center entering free agency. What does it say that he spent a second-round pick on a center? It’s also worth noting that Zach Frazier was a three-year starter at the pivot at West Virginia, and it would be surprising if he weren’t the man from day one. Not only that, but the team also invested a fourth-round selection in Mason McCormick, who is also heavily experienced after playing in 57 straight games during his college career. Herbig’s opportunity to start has likely vanished. McCormick’s athletic traits make him a better schematic fit for the offense, meaning his position as the team’s top interior backup could also be in jeopardy.

Steelers CB Cory Trice

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cory Trice Jr. during OTAs on May 31, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Winners: CBs Cory Trice & Darius Rush

Trice didn’t play a single snap last season after tearing his ACL again, and Rush played sparingly after being picked up off waivers. So why are these two completely unproven corners on the winners’ list? It comes down to being in the right place at the right time. From an athletic standpoint, both corners have the measurable (height/speed/length) that the franchise has recently shown an increasing interest in. The team traded for Donte Jackson but let veterans such as Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace and James Pierre walk out of the building without bringing reinforcements. The depth behind both starting corners, Porter Jr. and Jackson, is scary, but there’s a natural path to either of these guys securing the CB3 spot on the outside with a strong summer. Special teams will likely play a big part in their futures, but this is an outstanding opportunity for two talented youngsters.

Pittsburgh Steelers LB Cole Holcomb

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Cole Holcomb watches from the sideline during his team’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Acrisure Stadium on Oct. 29, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Loser: ILB Cole Holcomb

Just months after signing a three-year, $18 million-dollar deal with the Steelers in free agency, Holcomb suffered a brutal knee injury. The language surrounding his rehab has been murky at best, and there’s still no clear indication of when the middle linebacker can return to the practice field. With that in mind, Omar Khan and company hit the position hard in the offseason, making a rare splash by signing Patrick Queen, giving him a hefty contract during the opening stages of free agency. Pittsburgh also added another run-and-hit style backer in the third round, Peyton Wilson, who comes with a lengthy injury history. Holcomb’s deal has very little guaranteed money, and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his health raise questions about whether he’ll be a post-June cap casualty.

Steelers OT Broderick Jones

Steelers OT Broderick Jones against the Buffalo Bills, Jan. 15, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Winner:  OT Broderick Jones

Before the NFL Draft, Khan revealed that Jones was indeed drafted to be a left tackle but wasn’t ready to commit to when that move would take place. The team selected Washington offensive tackle Troy Fautanu in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, hopefully giving them bookend anchors for the foreseeable future. With the conclusion of rookie minicamp in the books, we may have been indicated the Steelers’ future plans for their offensive line, with Fautanu aligning on the right side throughout the weekend. There were undoubtedly flashes for Jones throughout his rookie season, particularly in the run game. His struggles in pass protection shouldn’t have been a surprise, and the team is betting on a move to his more natural position, fostering significant development in that regard.

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Calvin Austin III

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Calvin Austin III against the Buffalo Bills, Jan 15, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Loser: WR Calvin Austin III

After having his rookie season wiped out by a foot injury, Austin couldn’t hit the ground running as a sophomore. Among wide receivers, he ranked 112th out of 125 eligible players in yards per route run. Even after acknowledging the subpar quarterback play in a non-imaginative offensive system, he’s headed into year three and is still looking to beat the historical outlier charges. The concern is that the Steelers took cheap fliers on receivers such as Quez Watkins and Scottie Miller, who are cut from the same cloth and would occupy similar roles in Smith’s offense. Austin should still be considered the leader in the clubhouse among the group, but those three guys are likely fighting for one spot on the final 53-man roster. Austin will need another strong training camp and preseason to fend off his competitors and carve out a role in Pittsburgh.

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Less Tomlin
Less Tomlin
May 15, 2024 11:00 am

The 2022 draft is the last one Tomlin had major input, Khan and Weidl have thankfully taken over the 2023 & 2024 player personnel department. Calvin Austin is just one of many failed 5’6′ 160 lb. WR or DB Tomlin has foisted upon us. Going forward Tomlin should be given the title of ‘Player Liason’, for the benefit of all Steelers fans, players, employees and owners.

Last edited 3 days ago by Less Tomlin