The Pittsburgh Steelers like everybody else have a number of items on their agenda this offseason when it comes to what business they’d like to get done. There are the things about which a decision has to be made one way or another—like retaining Matt Canada as offensive coordinator—but then there are other matters with a more flexible timetable. Like attempting to sign players to contract extensions.
The number one candidate for an extension for the Steelers this offseason, by far, is three-year veteran outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, who recorded 14.5 sacks in 2022 along with a league-leading five forced fumbles. A 2020 third-round pick, he obviously earned himself some money, but how much and when are the questions.
“No doubt Alex had a great season, and we look forward to having him on the team”, team president Art Rooney II told Bob Pompeani on KDKA yesterday in an exclusive interview. “I think he and T.J. [Watt] can be a strong combination rushing from both sides, a little bit like Bud [Dupree] was with T.J. for a couple years there. We’ll see what happens with the contract, but we’re happy to have Alex, too”.
As the term extension implies, Highsmith is under contract for the 2023 season, meaning that it’s not absolutely essential that they get him under contract this year. Even if they fail to work out a new deal ahead of free agency in 2024, they could use the franchise tag to buy extra time.
That’s the route that they took with former first-round pick Bud Dupree, but he had a much more roundabout career and took longer to develop, and his free agency period coincided with dramatic cap shortfalls stemming from loss of revenue due to empty stadiums in 2020 because of COVID-19 protocols.
The cap has ballooned again since then and only will continue to do so unless yet another pandemic that is substantially worse than the first intercedes in the interim, or some similar global catastrophe befalls us, but by then, our priorities will be elsewhere. As for the Steelers at this time, they also have focus on another area of the defense.
“There’s a few guys out there that we’re gonna be looking at”, he said regarding their own free agents during another interview with Missi Matthews and the team’s website. “I don’t know that I can name one at this point, but definitely some, in the defensive backfield in particular. We have some work to do to either bring guys back or find replacements”.
The Steelers’ pending free agents include Larry Ogunjobi, Cameron Sutton, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Zach Gentry, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, and Derek Watt. They also have Steven Sims becoming a restricted free agent.
Other possible, at least theoretical, candidates for extension include Myles Jack, William Jackson III, Mitch Trubisky, Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, Montravius Adams, Kevin Dotson, and Arthur Maulet. None of them approach the significance, however, of Highsmith.