The Pittsburgh Steelers are due to deal receiver Antonio Brown seemingly any day now, and when Brown is officially out of Pittsburgh, a huge hole will be left for whoever replaces him in terms of production on the field.
The top of the Steelers pass-catching depth chart features JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ryan Switzer and James Washington, all at different stages of their career. Smith-Schuster is well on his way to NFL stardom, Switzer looks to settle his feet in as a young slot receiver, and Washington will need to find some sort of progress after what many consider a disappointing rookie season.
Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey may find themselves in new uniforms for 2019, as both are set to hit the open market.
The Steelers have $27.4 million sunk into the wide receiver position, per Spotrac.com. Antonio Brown’s $22.1 million accounts for most of that figure currently, while Smith-Schuster and Washington are the only other rostered receivers to see an annual salary of +$1,000,000.
While Pittsburgh may focus their efforts in the draft to find another young receiver for the depth chart, a veteran presence in the receivers room would pay dividends for the development of a depth chart that has an average age of under 25.
What are some possible fits for the Steelers in free agency? While this class of receivers doesn’t possess true star-power that can match what the Steelers are losing, valuable pass-catches are still within range of Pittsburgh’s grasp.
Golden Tate is likely the best receiver currently on the open market, but may also cost the most on an annual basis. Tate made $6.2 million in 2018, but will hope to see that figure rise when looking for his next team. Tate saw great numbers as a member of the Detroit Lions, but suffered from a lack of involvement after being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Tate, should he find his way to the Steel City, would assume Brown’s role as a number one receiver and make defenses respect him enough to not double Smith-Schuster. Tate has displayed speed to get behind cornerbacks on deep routes, while also being able to make catches in the middle of the field or tip-toe on the sideline. Tate’s game is solid all-around, and would pair well with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s creative play-calling.
Donte Moncrief made $9.6 million in 2018, and will likely see another contract similar to that number, if not a tad lower. Moncrief’s numbers don’t jump off the page with his one year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars (48 rec, 668 yards, 3 TD) thanks to lack of QB play+run first mentality, but the 26-year-old offers a lot of upside as a speedy route-runner that has showcased his ability to hit the big play any given touch.
While Moncrief may not come in and draw attention away from JuJu, he will provide a respectable option on the opposite side of the field. Moncrief is not a huge name that will get fans excited, but the tools he possesses makes him one of the better free agent wide receivers available.
Tyrell Williams only made $2.9 million in 2018, but is expected to see a huge pay increase when free agency opens. Williams, who caught 41 balls for 653 yards and 5 scores (tied for first among free agent WR’s) will likely the draw one of the larger crowds of teams interested in his services.
His 6’4″ frame would provide the Steelers with another big-bodied receiving option, and his knack for coming down with ridiculous balls downfield would be a welcome sign for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Williams is a straight-up playmaker on the field with athleticism to match his big frame. Williams would find a lot of success in black and gold, but it’s up to the Steelers if they want to fork over some cash to make it happen.
If Tyrell Williams is option A, Chris Conley is option B. Conley’s big frame closely matches that of Williams, and the touchdown production mirrored each other in 2018. Yet Conley was buried on what was an extremely talented Chiefs roster, not shining quite like Williams did in LA.
Yet Conley still embodies a solidified red-zone target, and would provide a nice complement to Smith-Schuster should the 26-year-old continue to improve his game. He is not as polished as Williams when it comes to route-running and does not have highlight reel catches, yet Conley could make positive contributions to the Steelers if given the opportunity.
Other Free Agent WR’s
These guys, for one reason or another, didn’t make the list of potential Steelers targets. Whether it be an expensive price tag, not fitting in the scheme or just flat-out might not wanting to come to Pittsburgh, these guys are unlikely to see themselves in black and gold.
However, the NFL is a funny business more times than not, and not everything can officially be ruled out. These guys may still find their way to Pittsburgh, even if it’s just for a visit.
- Demaryius Thomas
- Randall Cobb
- Tavon Austin
- Ryan Grant
- Kevin White
- Devin Funchess
In today’s modern-day passing league, the importance of quality receivers continues to become a staple in most offenses. If Roethlisberger plans on throwing another 5,000 yards next season, the Steelers may very well find another piece to that puzzle in free agency.