Steelers’ 2024 Free Agents, Targets and Draft Needs After NFL Playoff Loss

Steelers’ 2024 Free Agents, Targets and Draft Needs After NFL Playoff Loss

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    Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin

    Steelers head coach Mike TomlinRandy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers experienced plenty of drama during the 2023 season. Their offense sputtered, offensive coordinator Matt Canada was fired in-season, and by the postseason, Mason Rudolph had taken over the starting quarterback role.

    Pittsburgh even lost to a pair of two-win teams in December, and some even questioned the future of head coach Mike Tomlin.

    However, the Steelers did what they have always done under Tomlin. They stiffened down the stretch, found ways to win ugly games and secured yet another non-losing season. Pittsburgh ultimately strolled into the postseason with a 10-7 record.

    Now that Pittsburgh’s playoff run has ended, it’s time for Tomlin and general manager Omar Khan to get back to work. The Steelers should be right back in the AFC North mix next season, but first, they must navigate free agency and the draft.

    Here’s a look at what’s in store for the Steelers during the 2024 offseason.

Free Agents

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    Steelers QB Mason Rudolph

    Steelers QB Mason RudolphRob Carr/Getty Images

    Unrestricted Free Agents

    DE Montravius Adams

    LB Kwon Alexander

    WR Miles Boykin

    LB Markus Golden

    S Miles Killebrew

    LB Blake Martinez

    CB James Pierre

    CB Elijah Riley

    QB Mason Rudolph

    CB Chandon Sullivan

    LB Mykal Walker

    CB Levi Wallace

    DT Armon Watts

    Restricted/Exclusive-Rights Free Agents

    TE Dylan Cook

    LB Chapelle Russell

    DT Renell Wrenn

    The good news for Pittsburgh is that it doesn’t have a slew of centerpiece players scheduled to reach free agency.

    Arguably the most important player right now is Rudolph, who took over the starting role late and held it, even after Kenny Pickett had recovered from ankle surgery. However, Rudolph isn’t likely to have a heavy market outside of Pittsburgh. His value lies in his experience with the Steelers’ personnel.

    Linebacker Mykal Walker saw a prominent role down the stretch, while Montravius Adams, Markus Golden, Levi Wallace and Miles Killebrew were all valued role players.

    Chandon Sullivan’s contributions may have been underappreciated. He played just 37 percent of the defensive snaps but allowed an opposing passer rating of just 59.4 in coverage, according to Pro Football Reference.

    Overall, though, there isn’t an impending free agent that Pittsburgh couldn’t easily replace or live without. That’s a result of the Steelers’ tendency to lock up players they want to keep before they approach the open market.

    The Steelers are projected to be $6.7 million over the salary cap, and Khan will have to create some wiggle room. However, Pittsburgh shouldn’t struggle to retain any players that it truly wants to keep.

Potential Free-Agent/Trade Targets

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    Cowboys CB Stephon Gilmore

    Cowboys CB Stephon GilmoreCooper Neill/Getty Images

    History suggests that the Steelers won’t be very active on the trade market or in the early stages of free agency.

    Pittsburgh will move on an elite talent if available—as it did when trading for standout safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019—but the franchise typically doesn’t like to overpay. Because of the cap situation, we’ll likely see the Steelers again be more active in the second and third waves of free agency.

    If, for some reason, Khan can generate a substantial amount of cap space, we could see the Steelers make a play for a top corner like Jaylon Johnson or Stephon Gilmore. Trading for a corner on an expiring contract—like Charvarius Ward or Jonathan Jones—could also make sense.

    Joey Porter Jr. flashed a lot of potential as a rookie, but Pittsburgh’s overall cornerback depth is lacking.

    Realistically, though, we’re likely to see Pittsburgh more focused on potential free agent bargains. Players like cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, linebacker Bobby Wagner, pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue and defensive lineman Denico Autry are much more reasonable targets for the Steelers.

    The big unknown here is whether Pittsburgh will be in the quarterback market.

    According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Steelers still believe in Pickett. However, the second-year quarterback’s underwhelming play and his effective late-season benching make that difficult to believe.

    Rudolph started in the playoffs because, as Tomlin told reporters, Pittsburgh wanted to stay “with the hot hand.”

    Tomlin viewing Rudolph as his best option for the postseason doesn’t suggest that the Steelers believe in Pickett at all. Should a quarterback with more upside, like Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears, become available, Pittsburgh just might have some interest.

Draft Targets

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    ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26:  The Pittsburgh Steelers logo is seen on a video board during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Steelers could be a potential wild card during the draft because of the uncertainty surrounding Pickett. The 25-year-old certainly hasn’t lived up to his draft status, and there’s at least some chance that Pittsburgh will dive back into the quarterback pool in April.

    Khan probably won’t have a chance to trade up for a top prospect like Caleb Williams or Drake Maye, but if LSU’s Jayden Daniels is on the board later in Round 1, the Steelers could have an interesting decision to make.

    Daniels is viewed as a tier below Maye and Williams, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a far more promising prospect than Pickett.

    “Overall, Daniels has an exciting floor as a prospect. He is a veteran-like presence in the pocket, and he’s far and away the best athlete in the class at the position.,” Derrik Klassen of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote.

    If the Steelers are being honest about their belief in Pickett, cornerback and offensive line are the two most logical Round 1 options.

    Again, Porter is loaded with potential, but the Steelers don’t have a ton of dependable depth beyond him. A prospect like Oregon’s Khyree Jackson could quickly become a reliable starter opposite Porter.

    And while 2023 first-round pick Broderick Jones appears to be a gem, the Steelers could use another tackle—either to replace Dan Moore Jr. or to replace Jones, should he pivot to the left side.

    Moore was again a liability in 2023 and was responsible for eight sacks surrendered, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Expect prospects like Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Iowa State cornerback T.J. Tampa and Clemson defensive lineman Ruke Orhorhoro to interest the Steelers on Day 2. Given the franchise’s tendency to target receivers in this range, wideouts like North Carolina’s Devontez Walker, and Texas’ Xavier Worthy are also sensible targets.

    Pittsburgh is currently set to own seven draft selections, with two fourth-rounders and no fifth-round pick as a result of the Kevin Dotson trade with the Los Angeles Rams.

    *Cap, contract and free-agent status information via Spotrac. Draft order information via Tankathon.

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