General manager Kevin Colbert and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of work to do this offseason, just like practically every team in the NFL. With the salary cap having finally been set at $182.5 million for the 2021 NFL season, the Steelers have an achievable number that they will need to get under before the start of the new league year.
A restructure of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s contract has already occurred, which has helped free up $5 million in cap space after reducing his ‘21 cap figure down from $19 million to $14 million. With four voidable years tacked on after the ‘21 season, the writing is on the wall for this season to be the last with the Steelers having Big Ben as their starting QB.
But there are plenty of holes that this team still needs to address, like their offensive line, defensive line, pass catchers, and more. But with limited cap space, the Steelers are going to need to rely on ring-chasing, one-year deals for players that, in a regular offseason, would command much more money and years than that.
Planning for the future also should factor into the team’s planning this offseason, especially with the lack of proven options behind Roethlisberger – having brought in Washington cast-off Dwayne Haskins provides the team with a potential moldable option moving forward, but he was let go for a reason.
With that in mind, here are two trade targets for Pittsburgh to consider this offseason, keeping both the building for the present and for the future in mind.
The New Orleans Saints are the team that looks to be having the toughest time this offseason dealing with the established cap sheet. Having sat above $50 million in the red before any offseason moves were made, a cluster of contract restructures and cuts were made by the Saints.
Still needing to make quite a few moves to lower their crazy-high cap figure, the Saints could look to move onto a high-priced offensive lineman, like left tackle Terron Armstead. While a pre-June 1 trade would add on $3 million in dead money, a post-June 1 trade would provide the Saints with over $7.1 million in space.
The Steelers have a need on their offensive line, especially at left tackle, and a gamble on a one-year experiment involving Armstead would be a good move to make. The final two years for Armstead’s deal are void years, meaning that the Steelers essentially would be acquiring Armstead for a one-year deal that carries a $0 guaranteed salary figure.
Armstead would help fill the void left by free agent Alejandro Villanueva, as the 33-year-old Villanueva is heading into free agency, looking for more money than what the Steelers should offer.
This move helps out both sides, and most likely would involve a pick swap, with New Orleans essentially paying the Steelers to take Armstead off of their hands.
The kind of thinking that has helped keep Colbert as the team’s GM for over 20 years is the kind that has prioritized current results with also an eye for the future – and making a trade for QB Sam Darnold would fill the latter part, helping create a path for the future that would be a smart investment.
The New York Jets have been rumored to be looking to move on from Darnold, and their place holding the second overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft puts them in a great spot to pick from the likes of Justin Wilson, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance. Darnold has been there for long enough and certainly has not impressed the new leadership there, so a fresh start for both parties would make a lot of sense.
Darnold’s deal only runs through the end of the ‘21 season, as the Jets ended up not picking up his fifth-year rookie deal option. While that kind of contract does not give this team a ton of time to see Darnold in action, they certainly could see how he fits the long-term plan for this team, both on and off the field, and make the next move(s) after that, which would likely include entering into contract extension negotiations.
Pittsburgh knows what they would be getting from Darnold, even in a limited role this year, but having that kind of insurance policy for the oft-injured Roethlisberger is invaluable. Keeping Darnold within the AFC may help him with his development, as he would be facing defenses that he is used to seeing,
With the price of acquiring Darnold having shrunk ever since the rumors came out about the Jets being comfortable accepting trade offers, the odds of Pittsburgh grabbing him have increased. With not a lot of bargaining power on the side of New York, a second-round selection or even a third would probably be enough to get Darnold out of a situation that he is destined to fail in and into a situation that could provide him with a long-time home.
Even if the starting role is not there for him to have right on entering the building, the Steelers love having a long-standing QB on their team for many years, something that should be appetizing to Darnold and his team. If the Steelers were looking to take a chance to solidify their future, then taking a lottery ticket on a guy like Darnold is a no-brainer.