With the 2022 NFL season fully in the rear-view mirror with the completion of Sunday’s Super Bowl, let’s turn our attention fully to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their 2023 offseason.
The Steelers have a bumper crop of their own players that are set to hit the free agent market in March, and also likely have eyes on upgrading some position groups after a 9-8 season left the team on the outside looking into the 2022 NFL postseason.
So where are the team’s biggest needs of the offseason? As I have in previous years, I’ve brown down the team’s needs into four categories: immediate starting needs, starting upgrade needs, future needs and depth needs.
Today, we’ll break down the first of those needs, the places that the Steelers have an immediate hole in their starting lineup.
IMMEDIATE STARTING NEEDS
These are positions where the team currently lacks a projectable NFL starter on their current depth chart.
Historically, the team has addressed these needs by re-signing their internal free agents, bringing in external free agents, and with their high draft picks.
In the 2022 offseason, the Steelers signed free agents at quarterback (Mitch Trubisky), guard (James Daniels), inside linebacker (Myles Jack), cornerback (Levi Wallace) and defensive tackle (Larry Ogunjobi) in an uncharacteristically active free agent period.
The team also re-signed strong safety Terrell Edmunds and cornerback Ahekllo Witherspoon from their own ranks and used second-round draft pick George Pickens as a plug-and-play starter at wide receiver.
This year, I’ve counted five such needs, four of which are a result of the team’s previous starters hitting free agency.
Wide receiver: The Steelers never really replaced starting slot wide receiver Chase Claypool after trading him for what became the No. 33 overall pick in the middle of the 2022 season.
The team has options here. Gunner Olszewski finished the 2022 season with some playing time in that spot. Anthony Miller and Calvin Austin III are set to return from season-long injuries. But none of those players are proven NFL starters at an important position on the offense.
Similarly, Diontae Johnson could (and has) play in the slot, but then the Steelers would need an outside receiver to replace Johnson.
Johnson and George Pickens are two of the team’s three starting wide receivers, but there isn’t a currently defined third and wide receiver remains an immediate need for the Steelers moving into the offseason.
Internal free agents: Steven Sims (RFA), Miles Boykin (RFA)
Cornerback: Technically speaking, the Steelers can field a full lineup of cornerbacks, with William Jackson III, Levi Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon on the outside and Arthur Maulet and Tre Norwood on the inside.
In reality, it’s more complicated. Jackson is almost certainly going to become a salary cap casualty and Witherspoon could be, as well. Even if Jackson and Witherspoon were retained, this position would likely be one the team would be trying to upgrade on after injury plagued seasons for both. The Steelers were 19th against the pass overall in 2022, but only three teams allowed a greater yards per attempt average. For now, it can stay here.
Internal free agents: Cam Sutton, James Pierre (RFA)
Defensive tackle: The Steelers use three interior defensive linemen in their base defense and two in their sub packages. Right now, they only have one. Cam Heyward returns as one base defensive end and sub package defensive tackle. Larry Ogunjobi, who played alongside him for most of 2022, is a free agent, as are backup Chris Wormley and nose tackle Tyson Alualu.
Isaiahh Loudermilk is currently the next man up on the depth chart inside, and given the fact that he was a healthy scratch for most of 2022, that’s probably not a good thing.
Internal free agents: Larry Ogunjobi, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley
Inside linebacker: Myles Jack is currently slated to man one of the Steelers’ two inside linebacker positions, but the other is a total tossup. Co-starters Robert Spillane and Devin Bush and backups Marcus Allen and Tae Crowder are all free agents.
Fellow backup Mark Robinson played in just a handful of games as a sixth-round rookie and is certainly not ready to step into a full-time starting role just yet.
The Steelers have dealt with uncertainly at this position for longer than I’ve been covering the team, and throwing draft picks (Bush), trade assets (Joe Schobert) and free agency cash (Jack) has yet to solidify the position.
The need at this position could be even more pressing. If it wasn’t such a critical need otherwise, Jack would be a prime candidate to be a salary cap casualty.
Internal free agents: Robert Spillane, Devin Bush, Marcus Allen, Tae Crowder
Strong safety: Terrell Edmunds has manned this spot for six years, but is a free agent again, and so is backup Damontae Kazee.
The Steelers absolutely need to find someone to put next to Minkah Fitzpatrick, whether that is Edmunds or an external addition, and given the lack of draft class options, this will likely be resolved via free agency.
The Steelers’ success with a three-safety Nickel package last season heightens the emphasis on this position, where backup Damontae Kazee is also a free agent.
Internal free agents: Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Karl Joseph