The Pittsburgh Steelers have over a dozen pending unrestricted free agents as the team navigates the 2021 off-season, but the NFL’s most powerful tool for teams to preserve their own free agents will likely not be available to them, general manager Kevin Colbert said on Wednesday when speaking with members of the Pittsburgh media, including Alan Saunders of Steelers Now.
The Steelers’ list of unrestricted free agent includes starting right tackle Zach Banner, starting running back James Conner, starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree, starting left guard Matt Feiler, nickel cornerback Mike Hilton, starting wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, dime cornerback Cam Sutton and starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
But salary cap constraints will likely prevent a Steelers from using the franchise tag in order to keep any of those players. The franchise tag creates a one-year contract if used, and the value of that contract is the average of the top five salaries at that position in the league.
With the Steelers an estimated $24 million over the 2021 salary cap, the idea of adding a player and a contract of that size for this season is unrealistic, Colbert said.
“I’d say it’s doubtful we’ll be able to use a tag on anybody,” Colbert said.
The Steelers have used the franchise tag extensively in the past to keep their team together despite free agency considerations. Dupree played under the tag in 2020 and running back Le’Veon Bell was tagged by the Steelers in 2017 and 2018.