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Steelers Analysis

Steelers Takeaways: What We Learned from Cut-Down Day



Pittsburgh Steelers at training camp, Aug. 17, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers, along with the rest of the NFL, had to cut their roster down to 53 players on Tuesday. There were some difficult decisions to make when considering the best approach to configuring the roster and in turn, giving the organization the best chance to compete this season.

The roster construction itself is far from over, with a plethora of moves set to happen across the league in the coming days. With that in mind, here are some of the biggest takeaways from their initial roster release.

The Omar Khan Era

Despite holding the general manager title for a little over a year, Omar Khan is earning a reputation as a master negotiator. After years of uneven play, Kevin Dotson was dealt on Sunday to the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of day three pick swaps. With 30 career starts and some start-level traits, it’s not a surprise that Dotson held some value in league circles. With the offseason additions of Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig, it became abundantly clear that the organization was ready to move on.

The Dotson trade felt like a formality all along but, Khan was also able to deal Kendrick Green to the Houston Texans for a 2025 sixth-round selection. Now in his third season with the Steelers, Green struggled once again during the preseason for the third season in a row which led to most of us believing that he’d be on the outside looking in. Pittsburgh wasn’t just moving on, but they were able to recoup some draft capital in the process for a player that was not going to be part of their plans moving forward. That’s a huge win in itself. However, it also signifies a willingness for Khan to move on from failed draft picks instead of falling victim to the sunk-cost fallacy. 

Prioritizing Pass Rushing

As a willing advocate for Armon Watts remaining on this roster, it was nice to see him make this initial list. The fifth-year defensive end has quietly had a nice summer that concluded with a solid preseason showing. Even though he wasn’t quite able to secure a sack, he registered five pressures and three hits on the quarterback. Watts wins with quick, precise hand usage and is just a couple years removed now from a five sack campaign.

Pittsburgh acknowledge that they had more quality defensive lineman than they could keep which meant that Breiden Fehoko was the man left out. As more of a traditional gap-plugging nose tackle, Fehoko doesn’t offer much value in neutral or passing down situations. With Larry Ogunjobi’s health a question mark moving forward, it makes sense for the Steelers to prioritize keeping a guy like Watts around who could hypothetically help fill that void in the event of an injury. Even in a crowded defensive line room, Watts has a useful skill set that can help this defense in 2023. 

Gunner Over Gentry

In case you needed any more reason to ignore the announcement of the initial depth chart, Zach Gentry went from TE2 to being released in a short time frame. Even after playing 50% of the teams snaps last season, the writing was on the wall after the team spent a third-round pick on monster tight end Darnell Washington out of Georgia. In short, Washington is a more physically imposing run blocker while Connor Heyward is a more versatile asset who can do a little bit of everything. With four accrued seasons, Gentry isn’t subject to waivers meaning that he could be brought back in the coming days.

Still, it was a little surprising to see the team choose Gunner Olszewski over him for the initial roster. With Calvin Austin III and Anthony McFarland handling return man duties, it’s hard to really see a path for him to see the field on Sundays barring injury. You just don’t see many backup slot-specific receivers stick around long if they don’t contribute on special teams. There’s a good chance that Pittsburgh wants to lean into more of those multi-tight end sets this season which is where more depth could come in handy down the road. It’s not a complete shock but Gentry was probably the most high profile Steeler that was cut loose on Tuesday. 

Cornerback Questions Still Exist

After a summer-long battle for the teams slot cornerback gig, both Elijah Riley and Chandon Sullivan made the initial roster. Both players made some plays in their preseason opportunities and looked fairly comfortable playing near the line of scrimmage, whether in run defense or as blitzers. The decision to retain both players seemingly implies that they’re comfortable deploying at least one of them on passing downs where they’ll be tested more in coverage. Those guys will have to prove it on the field as this looks to be the teams biggest question mark on defense at the moment. 

James Pierre sticks around, at least for now. It was a pretty shaky preseason for the former FAU corner to say the least, with him being heavily targeted in coverage. He’s a quality special teamer which certainly improves his chances of sticking around. Having said that, it’s likely that the Steelers will at least browse the market for a potential upgrade. At this point, Pittsburgh knows what they have with Pierre and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them opt for either more consistency and/or upside. 

Two Punters?

In somewhat of an unprecedented move, Pittsburgh kept not just one but two punters on their initial 53-man roster. Obviously this reality will be short-lived, but it’s an interesting strategy nonetheless. Incumbent starter Pressley Harvin III seemed to have handily won the teams punter job with a solid offseason, but it’s pretty clear that the Steelers think Braden Mann also holds value. The most likely scenario here is that Pittsburgh is attempting to trade one of their punters to a team that is desperate for help in this regard. The Philadelphia Eagles are a team to watch in the coming days seeing as they do not currently have a punter on their roster, along with the obvious connection to current Steelers assistant general manager Andy Weidl. In the event that Omar Khan is indeed able to get some sort of return back, whether via player or draft capital, consider this another win on his resume.

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