Unsurprisingly, ESPN does not have the Steelers retaining their top-tier free-agent losses from 2020.
Now that the entire 2020 NFL season has come to a close, the next big event on the horizon is the kickoff to free agency and the start of the 2021 NFL league year in March. With the official start date of 4 PM on March 17, players will be able to negotiate contracts for 48 hours prior to this time beginning on March 15, 2021.
Currently, the Pittsburgh Steelers have 19 players who are set to become unrestricted free agents. Should the Steelers sign any of these players prior to the new league year, obviously this number will go down. Additionally, the Steelers have two restricted free agents in Ola Adeniyi and Ray-Ray McCloud, who if they do not offer them a tender will be also become unrestricted free agents.
Needless to say, there will be plenty of movement among players from the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers. In a recent article by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, he outlined the best destinations for the top 50 NFL free agents for the 2021 season. Of course, several Steelers are on the list. So where does Fowler have the best places for these players?
First off, coming in at number seven on the list is outside linebacker Alvin ‘Bud’ Dupree. According to Fowler, the best fit for Dupree would be with the Tennessee Titans. The breakdown by Fowler is as follows:
7. Bud Dupree, EDGE
Best fit: Tennessee Titans
The Titans are desperate for pass-rush help, and Dupree won’t fall flat like Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley did there. Plus, Tennessee might get a slight discount (key word: slight) with Dupree recovering from a torn ACL that could hamper his early-season production. Dupree proved to be a beast the past two years. The Steelers want to keep him but are $33 million over the cap.
Next up on the list at number 21 is left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. While it is uncertain if Big Al is going to continue his NFL career as he is set to turn 33 years old a month into the 2021 season, Fowler has Villanueva as a good fit for the Los Angeles Chargers:
21. Alejandro Villanueva, OT
Best fit: Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles has a major need at left tackle with Sam Tevi hitting free agency. Villanueva would be an upgrade, and though his best fit might be Pittsburgh, the Steelers probably won’t be aggressive spenders. Villanueva is 32 but has only six seasons of tread as a starter, so he’s still fresh, and his 74.6 Pro Football Focus grade is solid. Villanueva’s offensive line coach in Pittsburgh, Shaun Sarrett, landed an assistant O-line job with Los Angeles this offseason.
The final player from the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers in the top 50 free agents according to ESPN is wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster who comes in at number 25. Due to both need and salary cap room, Fowler expects Smith-Schuster to land in New York with the Jets:
25. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR
Best fit: New York Jets
Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will be looking for a yards-after-catch demon with toughness, explosion and blocking for his 49ers-based system (think: Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk). Smith-Schuster would fit as a do-it-all option opposite Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder. He’s not as fast as Samuel or Aiyuk but posted 409 yards after the catch last season, tops among free-agent receivers.The Jets are taking a look at Smith-Schuster and Will Fuller V at the top of the market, as well as second-tier options such as restricted free agent Zach Pascal.
In a bit of bonus coverage, there was one player in the top 50 whom Jeremy Fowler thought would fit best with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. Coming in at number 40 on the list is cornerback William Jackson IIII of the Cincinnati Bengals who is set to enter free agency in March:
40. William Jackson III, CB
Best fit: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers wanted to draft Jackson 25th overall in 2017. He went 24th to Cincinnati, and the team chose Artie Burns, who fell out of favor and is now in Chicago. Corner doesn’t seem like a major need, but starters Joe Haden and Steven Nelson are 2022 free agents, and Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton are free agents this March. Haden turns 32 in April. Getting Jackson covers Pittsburgh for any scenario. The Steelers face tough decisions at almost every position.
Of course, these are just projections and places where it seem these players could fit. Does it mean that the Steelers won’t re-sign any of these players? Not necessarily. Does it mean they will all be in Black and Gold next season? Most likely they will not. But until March 15 rolls around, the only way we will know anything of these players futures is if it would be with the Steelers.
Jeremy Fowler‘s entire article can be seen in the tweet below with a subscription to ESPN+.
Dak to Carolina
JuJu to Jets
Hunter Henry to Indy
Patrick Peterson to Raiders
We propose 50 free agency fits, including intel from around the league on the top players available. https://t.co/rwA3LDHr1v
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) February 9, 2021