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Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 free-agency outlook

The Steelers face a genuine salary-cap crisis at a time when longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could take up more than $40 million in cap space.

Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field on December 27, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers rank as one of the NFL’s most stable and consistent franchises, though they enter an offseason of genuine uncertainty. The team faces critical decisions on several critical players, including longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Between age and injury, Roethlisberger’s game has shown considerable wear over the past few seasons. His declining skill set might have forced a difficult decision on its own. However, his $41.25 million cap hit for 2021 raises the stakes significantly in a year when the NFL expects the salary cap to plummet. How the Steelers approach Roethlisberger and his contract could not only affect the team’s ability to compete next season but also whether the future Hall of Fame signal-caller finishes his career in Pittsburgh.

Lost revenue due to COVID-19 will impact every team. However, with so many free agents, the league-wide drop in salary-cap space could make things difficult. The 2020 number came in around $198 million with the 2021 number potentially falling to $176 to $180 million, according to Over The Cap, but is subject to change.

Options for franchise/transition tags

The same player whom the Steelers franchised last offseason could garner consideration for the tag again: edge rusher Bud Dupree. The soon-to-be 28-year-old followed up his breakout 2019 campaign with a similarly impressive 2020, notching eight sacks and, according to Pro Football Focus, 43 total pressures. Pittsburgh’s cap situation makes extending the tag difficult, though not impossible.

Though the Steelers have several other pending free agents worth bringing back, none appear particularly likely to receive a tag. Alejandro Villanueva remains a steady presence at left tackle but has seen his performance dip as he approaches age 33. Wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster hasn’t replicated the production of his breakout 2018 and, given the team’s deep receiving corps, doesn’t appear as integral as other playmakers on the roster.

Salary cap

Estimated 2021 cap space (Feb. 5): -$35,101,664

2021 transactions

Free-agent signings

TBD

Free-agent departures

TBD

Trades

TBD

Notable unrestricted free agents

* Denotes Restricted Free Agent (RFA)

Steelers 2021 Free Agents

Pos Player 2020 Team 2021 Team
Pos Player 2020 Team 2021 Team
QB Joshua Dobbs Steelers
RB James Conner Steelers
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster Steelers
WR Ray-Ray McCloud* Steelers
RT Matt Feiler Steelers
RT Jerald Hawkins Steelers
RT Zach Banner Steelers
RG Danny Isidora Steelers
LT Alejandro Villanueva Steelers
EDGE Bud Dupree Steelers
EDGE Olasunkanmi Adeniyi* Steelers
EDGE Cassius Marsh Steelers
EDGE Jayrone Elliott Steelers
IDL Tyson Alualu Steelers
IDL Chris Wormley Steelers
LB Avery Williamson Steelers
CB Cameron Sutton Steelers
CB Mike Hilton Steelers
S Sean Davis Steelers
S Jordan Dangerfield Steelers
P Jordan Berry Steelers