On March 16th at 4 p.m. EDT, the 2022 NFL free agency window will open. The Pittsburgh Steelers will see a huge roster overhaul this year with many players out of contract as well as several needs identified following a season where the team got into the playoffs, but only just!
So what are the top needs in the Steel City, and which will be resolved through free agency and which will be resolved in the NFL Draft?
I see the team’s needs as follows (in no particular order): quarterback, offensive line (both exterior and interior), defensive tackle (depending on the Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu situations), middle linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver (will the team resign Juju Smith-Schuster) and strong safety.
Quarterback – Will the Steelers Look for a Veteran?
Mike Tomlin has already stated that mobility will be a key need at the position. Do any of the available quarterbacks potentially fit the Steelers?
Jameis Winston is a ‘gunslinger’ option and was of course 2013 Heisman trophy winner but how is his knee? Teddy Bridgewater is a good all-around option, but perhaps again the injury concerns will hold him back to some extent.
Marcus Mariota would potentially be the best fit for Tomlin’s preferred mobility requirement. Ultimately, a drafted quarterback seems to be the preferred option as it stands, much of the talk has been around Tomlin’s appreciation of the skillset of Liberty quarterback Malik Willis.
The Steelers badly need to improve the offensive line. The draft pick of Dan Moore Jr is perhaps the only ‘safe’ starter for 2022 after the Texas A&M rookie showed some quality in his debut season. Every other player is a potential casualty of a much needed offensive line improvement and Pat Meyer, the new offensive line coach in Pittsburgh, will have some input on this.
Scherff allowed zero sacks in 2021 and is considered one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. He would be an expensive option, but if the Steelers take a rookie quarterback then how better to let him develop than behind a solid guard who would also allow the team to get the best use out of Najee Harris in his sophomore season. Washington has used the franchise tag on Scherff before, so the question of his availability remains.
Jensen allowed only one sack at center. He is a tough, robust option and has played every game since 2017. He is a former Raven, so he will be familiar with the rough and tumble AFC North.
Middle Linebacker – Could the Steelers Look to Acquire Dont’a Hightower?
The former Patriots linebacker will be 32 come the start of the new season, but he opted out of the 2020 season due to covid. He is a physical downhill player who could improve the Steelers’ run defense which struggled in 2021. One would have to conclude that it is likely Hightower stays in Foxborough given his importance to Bill Belichick’s 3-4 defensive scheme, but could Brian Flores‘ appointment at linebackers coach tempt Hightower to consider a move to Pittsburgh? Hightower’s experience could lead to the rejuvenation of Devin Bush who approaches the key fourth year on his rookie contract. Another alternative option at linebacker could be Kwon Alexander, formerly of the New Orleans Saints.
Stephon Gilmore would be a premium option at the cornerback position. There has been a long-running contract dispute and he was eventually traded to Carolina. His contract price may be a little too steep for the Steelers’ front office given all the other needs in 2022. Perhaps a stronger likelihood would be to bring Steven Nelson back to Pittsburgh after a year with the Eagles, but has too much water passed under the bridge to allow this to happen?