The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the first teams to make a huge financial move in 2017, signing receiver Antonio Brown to a four-year, $68 million contract extension that in new money ($17m annually) made him the highest-paid player at his position by far. That’s something that perhaps Brown deserves, as his numbers over the last four seasons are historic, but as I wrote last week for SportsOnEarth I simply don’t think it’s a good idea to make it a habit to pay non-QBs more than $15 million/year.
Not only are the Steelers going to do that for Brown though, they gave running back Le’Veon Bell the franchise tag, meaning they will be paying him $12 million next season unless he also gets a huge long-term contract ... with the released of Adrian Peterson that means that no running back will be making more than Bell in 2017. Brown makes $2 million more per year than second-place at receiver, and Bell will make over $3 million more than the next highest paid running back barring new contracts.
That doesn’t sound like good business sense to me. It’s probably why I consider Pittsburgh to sort of be “the Green Bay of the AFC.” (Read my link to the Packers free agents below to find out why that’s not a good thing.)
The Steelers are somewhat limited in cap room right now ($21 million after the retirement of Ryan Harris on Friday) and don’t have a ton of high-profile cap casualty candidates. In addition to big contracts for Brown, Bell, and Ben Roethlisberger, they’re also paying $11 million to their center, $11 million to one of their guards, and $10.4 million to defensive end Cameron Heyward, who missed nine games last year and has a career-high of 7.5 sacks. People complain about the Seattle Seahawks offensive line, which I understand, but is it better to pay your starting o-line $36 million and be a comparable team? It’s a give and take. Pittsburgh may pay their o-line six times as much as what the Seahawks pay theirs, but will they have a top-20 defense next season?
Not unless they manage to successfully re-sign and replace a number of players, which will be hard to do because of the $75 million they’re already paying to their top six players. Which ones will they have to let go of and will any be of interest to Seattle?
Impending Free Agents
Lawrence Timmons, ILB
Word on the street is that Timmons wants to finally test free agency and see what his value is on the open market, and the answer could surprise us all. Though Timmons mostly plays inside in a 3-4, I don’t think that limits him to being an inside linebacker or being out of position on another defense if he’s asked to rush the passer; Timmons has averaged four sacks per season in his career. He made $9.5 million/year on his last contract and many expect him to take a slight paycut but if there’s a bidding war between four or five teams, I don’t expect those teams to be shy given the rising cap and the dearth of excellent linebackers on the market like Timmons.
The 10-year veteran turns 31 in May and he’s been a dominant player for most of his career despite getting little in the way of accolades or attention. The Seahawks would love to have him, but he’s probably not going to be in their budget. His potential destinations would honestly just be teams that have a lot of cap space, like the Browns, 49ers, Buccaneers, Patriots, Titans ... honestly, it shouldn’t matter too much. All a team knows is that they’re adding a great player. He’d fit in a lot of defenses. There’s an expectation that eventually he’ll just sign with Pittsburgh, but I’m not so sure about that quite yet. Can they match an $8-9 million/year offer?
Jarvis Jones, OLB/DE
Timmons isn’t the only former first round pick at linebacker that the Steelers could lose this year, as Jones (17th overall, 2013) is also going to test the market. A lot of people hoped that he would put on muscle once he hit an NFL weight room but Jones is still considered undersized and that’s only one reason why he has six sacks in four years.
Jones got benched at one point last season and he’s had a really disappointing career but it wouldn’t be the first time a rival team overpaid for a player based on his pre-draft potential. (Brock Osweiler?) His NFL comparison in 2013 was Bruce Irvin. It’s possible Seattle kicks the tires but at anything more than a one-year deal, they should leave said tires to someone else. I think he’ll probably do better than that and get a dumb deal we all scoff at.
Markus Wheaton, WR
You’re familiar with Wheaton for one of two reasons, probably: He played at Oregon State and 13.3% of his career receiving yards came in a single game against the Seahawks.
In 2015, Wheaton had 201 yards and one touchdown in Seattle’s 39-30 win over Pittsburgh. It’s still the only game in his career in which he’s hit triple digits in yards. Wheaton missed all three games last year but still managed to drop three passes in a single game. He’s extremely inconsistent and a pretty big liability, but on a one-year contract he’s also low-risk. He had a really good combine in 2013 and the Seahawks saw what he could be under the absolute best case scenario so who knows ... not that I expect it. He could potentially be seen as a Taylor Gabriel-type signing in the best case scenario.
DeAngelo Williams, RB
The Steelers will bring Bell back but his reliable backup is a free agent about to turn 34. With the running back class looking as good as it does right now, I’d expect Pittsburgh to try and cut corners at this position to save money and not pay Williams a seven-figure salary. He’s old for a running back but has shared the ball for basically his entire career so he’s got a relatively low number of carries.
Others: TE David Johnson, DE Ricardo Mathews, C Cody Wallace, QB Landry Jones, S Shamarko Thomas
Potential Cap Casualties
William Gay, CB
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
Unless they do something really shocking like release Heyward or Mike Mitchell, there’s probably not going to be a ton of interesting news in this regard. They could also release tight end Ladarius Green after one injury-plagued, inconsistent season, but he did put up 50 yards/game when healthy. Gay is 32 and definitely not a premier cornerback, while Heyward-Bey had just six catches in 10 games with a number of drops. There’s not much to see here unless something very unexpected happens.
More 2017 NFL Free Agent News: