Free Agency Could Create New-Look Pittsburgh Steelers Defense

With free agency about to start, it seems certain the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a different look on defense.

It’s not that the Steelers necessarily need an overhaul on that side of the ball. Though they missed the playoffs with a 9-8 record in 2022, the Steelers ranked ninth in rushing defense, 10th in total defense and 20th in pass defense.

However, the Steelers have players from all three levels of the defense entering free agency.

Veteran defensive linemen Tyson Alualu, Larry Ogunjobi and Chris Wormley are all about to join the opening market. So are inside linebackers Devin Bush and Rob Spillane.

The secondary could also have plenty of defections with safeties Terrell Edmunds and Damonte Kazee set to walk as well as cornerback Cam Sutton.

Sutton seems to be the Steelers’ top priority when it comes to retaining any of their free agents. He has spent his entire six-season career with the Steelers and finished a two-year, $9-million contract at the end of last season.

The price tag figures to be higher for Sutton this time.

The 28-year-old set career high with three interceptions and 15 passes defensed in 2022. Pro Football Focus rated Sutton 28th among NFL cornerbacks.

The Steelers made some salary-cap room this past week to potentially re-sign Sutton by cutting veteran cornerback William Jackson. That saved almost $12 million and gives the Steelers about $10.5 million in cap space.

Spillane could also be brought back at the right price. He started five games last season and logged 79 tackles – four for loss – with two quarterback hits and a sack.

PFF graded Spillane at just No. 69 among league inside linebackers. However, the Steelers have long depended heavily on their internal scouting to make personnel decisions rather than outside metrics.

The Steelers are highly unlikely to try to retain Bush, whose stock has fallen dramatically since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in 2020. Pittsburgh traded up in the 2019 NFL Draft to select him 10th overall.

General manager Omar Khan seems more likely to focus on restocking the defense in free agency than signing offensive players. The only potential losses of on offense are a trio of backups in quarterback Mason Rudolph, running back Benny Snell and fullback Derek Watt.

Rudolph has made 10 career starts in five seasons. However, he never saw the field last season while serving as the third-string quarterback behind rookie Kenny Pickett and veteran Mitch Trubisky.

Snell had a career-low 20 carries last year. Watt has played just 7% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps during his three seasons in Pittsburgh.

Also among the Steelers unrestricted free agents are safety Karl Joseph, linebackers Malik Reed and Marcus Allen, wide receiver Miles Boykin, tight end Zach Gentry and offensive linemen Trent Scott and Jesse Davis.

Wide receiver Steve Sims, cornerback James Pierre, offensive lineman J.C. Hassenauer and running back Jeremy McNichols are restricted free agents.