Draft evaluations have been going on this week at the East-West Shrine Bowl in Texas, but with the conference championship games in the rear-view mirror, and head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Omar Khan expected to be in Mobile at the Senior Bowl this week, the Steelers are turning our attention fully to 2024 offseason.
That makes projecting their needs a little bit dicey, because we can’t be certain of where cap-related cuts might occur.
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.
STEELERS 2024 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.
Last year, they added safety Keanu Neal to replace Terrell Edmunds, linebackers Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb to replace Devin Bush and Jack, added outside cornerback Patrick Peterson and re-signed internal free agents Larry Ogunjobi and Damontae Kazee.
So where are the holes on the Steelers’ 2024 starting roster? Turns out, there aren’t very many.
Defensive back: Defensive back isn’t one position, but the flexibility of Patrick Peterson confounds the issue somewhat here in the secondary.
The Steelers used Peterson in the slot, at outside corner, and at safety in 2023. Peterson moved to safety to help deal with a glut of injuries at the position. Now healthy, the Steelers have several safeties under contract for 2024, with the trio of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal set to return, as things stand at the moment.
Peterson could be utilized as the starting boundary cornerback opposite Joey Porter Jr., or the starting slot corner, as both players that filled those roles while he was moonlighting as a safety, Levi Wallace and Chandon Sullivan, are set to hit free agency.
So the Steelers could use a boundary cornerback to replace Wallace, with Peterson playing inside. Or they could bring in a slot corner to replace Sullivan and leave Peterson outside.
Peterson’s status himself is far from certain. With a $9.8 million cap hit, he’s one of the players that could provide the team with substantial salary cap relief with a release or restructure.
But whether Peterson returns or not, both cornerback positions will be of need for the Steelers in 2024, and at least one of those will need a new starter.
Internal free agents: Levi Wallace, Chandon Sullivan, James Pierre, Elijah Riley
To quote the great Tony Kornheiser, “That’s it. That’s the list.”
Of the Steelers other regular starters, only nose tackle Montravius Adams is on the free agent list, and he seems set to be replaced by second-year man Keeanu Benton, at least in terms of the starting lineup. Compare that to last year, when this same analysis yielded five positions of immediate need, and it’s clear that while Khan and company have some work to do to get cap complaint, they likely won’t need to have a very busy free agent period.
That doesn’t mean that the Steelers don’t have needs this offseason, but the roster has scant few outright vacancies.
We’ll talk about the rest as we go through the week.