The Pittsburgh Steelers finished second in the AFC North last season, with a record of 9-7-1. They finished just barely behind the AFC Champions Cincinnati Bengals, whose record ended up at 10-7. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, their postseason hopes ended early when they were knocked out in the Wild Card round, with a 42-21 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
2021 marked the end of an era, as Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement from professional football on January 27, 2022. Big Ben spent 18 seasons in the NFL, all of them with the Steelers. He led PIttsburgh to two Super Bowl titles while he was at the helm, beating the Seattle Seahawks in 2006, and taking down the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.
Needless to say, it’s a big offseason for the Steelers as they’ll need to fill the huge void left at quarterback with Big Ben’s retirement. Not only that, they’ll need to look at shoring up their offensive and defensive lines as well as adding a wide receiver, with guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington hitting free agency this year.
As they stand, Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl title odds for next season are at +5000, courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook. Their odds to win the AFC North division come in dead last at +650, with the Ravens and Bengals both at +175, and the Browns at +340.
Obviously they have plenty of work ahead of them this offseason, so let’s take a look at their biggest needs and who they could target in free agency.
Pittsburgh Steelers free agency preview
Positional needs: QB, OL, CB, WR
As already mentioned, their biggest need will come at the quarterback position. It’s the first time the Steelers will have to look for a new QB since Roethlisberger joined the league back in 2004, so it’s a feeling that Pittsburgh players and fans are relatively unfamiliar with. Right now, Mason Rudolph is the frontrunner for the starting position, confirmed by Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, who said Rudolph would be the starting QB if the season started today.
Of course, nothing will be guaranteed for Rudolph, and it’s likely that the Steelers will want to bring in someone who can fill Roethlisberger’s shoes long term.
In addition to the QB spot, the Steelers will need to look for a new cornerback as Joe Haden is set to enter free agency this year. The other starting CB, Cam Sutton, will return next season, so if they can’t keep Haden around then they’ll likely look to free agency to replace him.
Players to target
Jameis Winston, QB
The Steelers are reportedly targeting three veteran quarterbacks around the league, with one of them being Saints QB Jameis Winston. The 28-year-old is set to hit free agency this year after completing his one-year deal with the Saints last season. After suffering a season-ending torn ACL in Week 8 last season, he’s been in recovery ever since and should be ready to hit the market. Luckily for Pittsburgh, Winston’s knee surgery should mean that his price tag shouldn’t be too terribly high, and the Steelers have enough cap space (estimated around $29 million) to bring him in while still adding solid talent at other positions around him.
The Steelers could likely pick a QB in the draft as well, but bringing in Winston on a one or two-year deal while letting a younger rookie quarterback learn the ropes behind him might be a great move for Mike Tomlin’s squad.
James Daniels, G
The Steelers had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season, and could stand to sign some new talent to add some depth to the OL. James Daniels is one of the better interior linemen in the league, having spent the last four seasons with the Chicago Bears. The 24-year-old is set to hit free agency this year after his four-year, $6.9 million contract expired at the end of last season.
Daniels could easily end up walking from the Bears if they’re not able to lock him down or slap a franchise tag on him, as he’ll be looking for a better deal having proven himself in Chicago. The Steelers have some need at upgrading their interior offensive line, and Daniels could be a quick solution since they should have the cap space to bring him in.
Chris Godwin, WR
Godwin suffered a season-ending torn ACL on December 19, cutting his last season with Tom Brady unexpectedly short. Entering free agency, he’ll be looking for a well-paying long-term contract as he gets back into playing condition after his long recovery. His one-year contract expired at the end of last season, earning him $15.9 million for the 2021 season. His price tag likely will be a little more affordable as he’s coming back from the injury, so this is where the Steelers could step in.
Pittsburgh could use a solid veteran wide receiver to go along with whoever their new quarterback ends up being, and Godwin fits that bill almost perfectly. He’s averaged 13.6 yards per catch throughout his career, proving how well he can fit into any team’s passing game.