Making Sense of the Steelers

Oct 18, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) congratulates outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) on his sack against the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 38-7. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The initial wave of free agency has appeared to finally set in. Big contracts have been awarded, surprise cuts have been made, trade rumors continue to circulate. That’s just how the NFL goes; it’s a business after all. It has been hectic, to say the least. Particularly so for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have seen numerous players on the defensive side of the ball sign with the other teams. And it appears the offense might be taking the next hit. Let’s take a look at some of the early decisions made by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cameron Sutton

A few hours into the start of free agency, the Steelers took a considerable step in attempting to keep their defensive core together. A core that was one of the best, if not the best, in the league, leading the NFL in sacks and interceptions. To do so, the Steelers re-signed CB Cameron Sutton to a two-year deal for $9 million. At a $4.5 million per year average, this deal was a bargain and a slam dunk to kick off free agency. Given Sutton’s versatility at the position, it allows the Steelers to continue to deploy blitz packages and let their playmakers do what they do best. In fact, in the Mike Tomlin era, Cam Sutton is only the second corner to be drafted and receive a contract extension. Kevin Colbert and Co certainly did not waste any time in doing so.

Overall Grade: A

Bud Depree

Hours after the signing of Sutton, the defensive line took a significant blow. The Tennessee Titans had signed Bud Dupree to a five-year deal with a $16.5 million per year average. However, this was a blow the Steelers should have been expecting and preparing for. While his services (8 sacks and 2 forced fumbles) will undoubtedly be missed, Dupree was simply out of the Steelers’ price range. Combined with the fact that Steelers had already franchise-tagged Dupree once, his departure was inevitable. His loss leaves a significant void opposite of T.J. Watt. Will they find their eventual successor in the draft, or perhaps is he already on the roster? After all, the Steelers should have been more than prepared for this scenario.

Overall Grade: B

Matt Feiler

This one hurts. About 5 minutes after the official word on Dupree, it was reported the LAC had reached an agreement with former Steelers offensive linemen Matt Feiler. LAC was able to land Feiler on a three-year, $21 million deal. Which by no means is an overpayment for a quality offensive linemen. It will certainly be interesting to see if LAC moves him back to right tackle or keeps him at left guard. Really, the Steelers screwed themselves in this situation. In 2019, Feiler had an overall grade of 75.9 per PFF at the right tackle position. In 2020, the Steelers had moved him to left guard resulting in an overall grade of 65.0. It seems as if the LAC may have just stolen a high-quality right tackle for practically pennies on the dollar. The more significant concern is that the Steelers had appeared to be all-in for the 2021 season with Big Ben returning. Given his age, you would think the Steelers would do everything they can to keep him upright. Unless Kevin Colbert has another trick up his sleeve, this move doesn’t signal a great deal of confidence heading into 2021.

Overall Grade: D

Mike Hilton

The hits keep coming. This time it’s CB Mike Hilton who has agreed to terms with the Cinncinati Bengals. Given that the Steelers had already re-signed Cam Sutton, it seemed highly unlikely they re-sign Hilton as well. Even with the fit he had as a blitzer (3 sacks) in the Steelers blitz heavy defense, his departure should not be too significant. Considering his coverage grade was 67.0 and a run defense grade of 55.9. His services should be relatively easy to replace, through the draft. In fact, it might even be possible to find an upgrade Overall, it was probably the right move to let Hilton walk.

Overall Grade: B+

Tyson Alualu

After losing Dupree, the Steelers defensive line depth became even thinner with the loss of Alualu. He inked a two-year deal with the Jaguars for just $6 million. This price tag seemed to be affordable and doesn’t quite make sense on the Steelers’ end. At a grade of 82.0, Alualu was seen as one of the better run defenders on the squad. Coupled with Dupree’s departure and Vince Williams’s release, all of sudden, this Steelers front seven doesn’t look so intimidating. Go ahead and add a defensive tackle to the list of the Steelers’ needs, maybe even bold it as well. Overall this is a really puzzling move. It will be fascinating to see how the Steelers handle their depleted defensive line depth.

Overall Grade: C-

Zach Banner

Finally! The Steelers were able to slow the bleeding for today by re-signing offensive linemen Zach Banner to a two-year, $9.5 million deal. Even though he is coming off season-ending knee surgery, his relatively low price tag and familiarity with the system will be worth the risk. With a unit seeking to do everything they can to keep Big Ben protected, re-signing Banner will be instrumental.

Overall Grade: A-

Other Concerns

The team’s departures, specifically on the defensive side of the ball, will certainly be a story to monitor. After all, the Steelers have lost 40% of their front seven. And it seems like the current Steelers might be unhappy with the moves. Could this affect team chemistry? Has the front office lost their locker room? That might be a stretch, but recent tweets (seen below) confirm current Steelers players will undoubtedly miss their former teammates.