The Pittsburgh Steelers have, to date, signed six players from outside of the organization to free agent contracts this offseason. The three largest deals average between $6-8 million per season, with inside linebacker Cole Holcomb on the lower end, guard Isaac Seumalo the higher, and cornerback Patrick Peterson right in the middle.
The other deals have all come in at $4 million per season or less, and in the cases of most additions, they will be expected to be starters—specifically the three aforementioned, along with possibly Nate Herbig and Elandon Roberts. It’s a fairly common pattern for the team, which former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is very familiar with.
“The Steelers, I’ve felt, have done a lot in the past is they try to get a bargain free agent”, he said in the last episode of his Footbahlin podcast. “That usually means it’s a guy that maybe was banged up. It’s like, ‘Oh, no, he’s healthy now’, instead of going to get a free agent that is just [at the top of the market] because they don’t want to have to pay a lot”.
The proof is in the pudding, of course, with the best example being last year’s signing of defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi. Having had a three-year, $40.5 million agreement with the Chicago Bears in March wiped out due a failed physical, the Steelers signed him in June on a one-year, $8 million contract.
They’ve also taken advantage of lower rates for other players with injury histories that helped lead to their departure from their previous organization, such as tight end Ladarius Green and linebackers Myles Jack and Mark Barron.
Another example was the year before, when the Steelers were forced in June to find a new right guard after releasing David DeCastro due to injury. They turned around and signed Trai Turner, a former Pro Bowler who himself was compiling a worrisome injury history. He missed seven games the year before signing.
“Okay, everyone’s got different philosophies”, Roethlisberger said while discussing the Steelers’ typical process in free agency. “And it’s not all free agents [that] are that way, but to me it has felt that way traditionally”.
That’s because the Steelers devote their big-money contracts, typically, to retaining their own free agents, and they prefer not to wait until they are on the open market. Recent examples would include the top-of-the-market extensions in recent years for outside linebacker T.J. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Their in-house spending tends to be forgotten when criticism is bandied about insinuating that the Steelers are a somehow cheap organization. Rather, it’s merely a preference to commit money to the players they feel most secure in due to their personal history with them.
Not that Roethlisberger was necessarily criticizing the Steelers’ free agency process. Rather, he was just commenting on what he’d seen firsthand. It’s not like they ever landed him a huge help in free agency. Some of the most notable names off the top of my head would include DeAngelo Williams and Jerricho Cotchery.