The 2020 off-season promises to be one of the toughest of any of the twenty plus seasons Kevin Colbert has been in charge of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With very little cap room, an aging and injured quarterback, and several holes to fill on the roster this will be no easy task for the Steelers general manager. Having said that, Steelers Sanctuary will take its best shot at predicting what the Pittsburgh Steelers off-season plan might look like…..
Who stays, who goes:
Key players returning:
Bud Dupree, Nick Vannett, Mike Hilton, Tyler Matakevich, Zach Banner
The key to the whole off-season for the Steelers is Bud Dupree. The first thing we’d do is slap the franchise tag on here. That would at least keep Dupree around for the 2020 season at the tune 0f $16.5 million. (Read more about Dupree’s value here:Steelers Need to Bring Back Bud Dupree). Unfortunately, this is where things get complicated. The team has roughly $2 million in salary cap space to work with so some cuts will have to be made.
Mike Hilton is a restricted free agent that will end up costing a few million dollars after his tender. This is a spot where we could save some much needed cap space if we thought Cam Sutton was ready to take his place. We’ll stick with Hilton for at least one more year however. He has become a premiere slot corner, and at that price its a bargain to keep him.
Key players leaving:
Ramon Foster, BJ Finney, Vance McDonald, Javon Hargrave, Mark Barron, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Anthony Chickillo (Here’s a further breakdown for the comings and goings of current Steelers players Setting the odds on Steelers players returning for 2020)
To make the room necessary for a large Bud Dupree contract, there will have to be several cap casualties. Foster, Chickillo, Barron, and McDonald will all have to go in order to make the room needed. Moving on from these four players alone would save us roughly $20 million in cap space.
Instead of out right cutting Vance McDonald as many have suggested, shopping him around for a trade is a much better plan. It’s tough to judge what the market would be for a talented, but injury prone player like this. A fourth round pick would probably be where the value lands. Any additional picks will be welcomed considering how many the team has lost due to trades.
As we discussed earlier, there is little to no room to do any free agent shopping. Expect a handful of players on veteran minimum contracts added for depth. One player we’d target on such a deal is former Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. He was once one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the business before injuries took their toll on his career. If he could remain healthy (that’s a big if), Eifert could help lesson the blow of losing Vance McDonald.
The Steelers currently have no first, third, or fifth round pick, but do have an extra 4th due to the trades they made in 2019. They are expected to get a third round pick back as compensation for losing free agent Le’Veon Bell. Add an extra 4th rounder for our proposed McDonald trade, bringing the total to three fourth rounders in 2020.
Tight end is the hot button position going into the draft. At this point LSU’s Thaddeus Moss seems to be the favorite in the second round for the Steelers. It’s early though, and Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet is also very intriguing. Pittsburgh simply has no depth at this position, so the need is too great not to go in this direction first in the draft.
With the rest of the roster pretty much set, I would take a swing at a quarterback in round three. Washington State’s Anthony Gordon has caught is an interesting prospect. It may be a stretch, but if Gordon is still there when the Steelers select in the third round he would be the selection.
The rest of the draft will focus on adding depth throughout the roster. Defensive line will be a key position with the loss of Javon Hargrave. The offensive line could use an infusion of new blood as well. As always, you can never have enough edge rushers on defense. We would be looking to add at least one more to the mix with one of the fourth round picks.
As far as the defensive side of the ball goes, things should be left alone for the time being. I have long been in favor of moving on from Keith Butler. He is clearly a better position coach than a defensive coordinator. The fact remains however, that this defense is so talented it may not matter who Is calling the shots on that side of the ball. Not to mention that Mike Tomlin like to play a big role in the defense no matter who the coordinator is.
Our hands are pretty much tied on offense at this point. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and Ben Roethlisberger are tied together for as long as he is the quarterback on this team. With all the obstacles Roehtlisberger must overcome, changing his hand picked coordinator is not the way to go. Adding a new face to groom as Fichtner’s replacement is the directoin we’d take. Call it a “passing coordinator”, or an “offensive assistant” or any other term to get a different voice for this stagnant offense.
49ers assistant coach Mike LaFluer would be my pick for just such a position. Tapping into the Kyle Shanahan’s offense is something that would benefit this team going forward. LaFluer has been with Shanahan since his days with the Atlanta Falcons. Mike Lafluer is also the brother of Packers head coach Matt Lafluer (https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/01/15/lafleur-brothers-put-sibling-rivalry-aside-for-49ers_packers-rivalry/)
The final result:
This is our best guess to what you can expect in the coming months for the Pittsburgh Steelers. We can’t expect any major changes with the Steelers off-season plan. Everything they have done over the last few years has been with the idea of making one last run with Ben Roethlisberger before its too late. This roster only needs a few tweaks, and a healthy Ben Roethlisberger to be in line for that elusive seventh Super Bowl trophy.