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Rating the Likelihood of the Steelers Re-signing Their In-House Free Agents

With free agency getting underway, Zach breaks down the likelihood that each of the Steelers unsigned free agents re-signs with the team.

By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer

With the new league year officially set to kick off on March 9, many NFL teams are scrambling to take care of their in-house free agents while also simultaneously partaking in the “Legal Tampering Period” between March 7-9. As tradition has shown, the Steelers are not often big players in free agency, often attempting to take care of their in-house players first. With the extension of Antonio Brown, the franchise tagging of Le’Veon Bell, and the re-signing of James Harrison, the Steelers moved quickly to take care of three of their biggest priorities. However, it appears that 12 other players are set to hit free agency, including long-time inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. When the league year begins, how big of priorities will each of the Steelers’ free agents be to bring back for 2017?

Kevin Anderson, LB

Anderson is an ERFA who made zero impact to the Steelers’ 2016 season by not being a part of the practice squad or active roster after being released in June. There is no pressure to re-sign the former Stanford player.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Low

 

Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, C

Ume-Ezeoke is another ERFA for the Steelers that made no impact on the team after being waived/injured in August. With other undrafted free agents like B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard making impacts on the active roster as depth, there is no need to make a move on Ume-Ezeoke.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Low

 

Cole Manhart, G

Just as with Ume-Ezeoke, Manhart made no impact on the Steelers season and will be unlikely to return in 2017.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Low

 

Cody Wallace, C/G

Since signing with Pittsburgh in 2013, Wallace has been a valuable backup at both center and guard, appearing in 40 games over that span and starting in 22. Of those 22 games he started, 16 came in 2015 when filling in for the injured Maurkice Pouncey. In 2016, Wallace suffered a season-ending knee injury and spent the season on the IR. With Wallace’s absence, B.J. Finney stepped up to serve a similar role that Wallace did and performed quite well for being a 2nd-year undrafted free agent. The difference between Wallace and Finney: age. Wallace will turn 33 during next season while Finney will just turn 26. Finney provides an inexpensive, younger, and healthier option for the Steelers, meaning that Wallace has become expendable at this point in his career.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Low

 

Shamarko Thomas, S

After the retirement of Troy Polamalu following the 2014 season, many people expected 2013 4th-round pick Shamarko Thomas to step up and attempt to fill the huge shoes left by the future Hall of Famer. While Thomas showed flashes of potential as a safety, he never quite grasped the nuances of being a defensive back in the NFL. During the 2016 preseason, he seemed to be making some strides but with the emergence of rookie Sean Davis and undrafted free agent Jordan Dangerfield, Thomas was relegated to primarily special team’s play. While Thomas will likely never be a starting safety in the league, he provides the potential for safety depth and special team’s ability. I expect to see him in a different uniform next season, but the option is always there for him to return on a very minimal contract.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Low/Medium

 

David Johnson, TE/FB

Johnson returned to the Steelers in 2016 to help provide depth at both tight end and fullback. He primarily served a role in the run game, where he provided solid blocking for Le’Veon Bell during the absence of Roosevelt Nix for the early part of the season. Upon Nix’s return to the lineup, Johnson provided solid veteran depth at tight end behind Ladarius Green and Jesse James. While Johnson lacks a tremendous athletic skillset, he has been a consistent presence for the Steelers, who recently indicated that they would like to bring Johnson back for next season. Johnson would come at a very low price, making his re-signing a relatively easy and smart one for the Steelers.

Likelihood of Re-signing: High

 

Ricardo Mathews, DE

After the failed Cam Thomas experiment, the Steelers went after another former Charger in the form of Ricardo Mathews. The 29-year old depth defensive end carved out a solid role as a rotational piece behind Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. After Heyward went down with a season-ending injury, Mathews saw his playing time increase, leading to 5 starts at the end of the season. Mathews was effective in his time spent on the field, applying decent pressure against the pass and freeing up linebackers off the edge. Mathews probably won’t demand too much money, meaning the Steelers could realistically bring him back on another minimal deal to provide depth alongside L.T. Walton.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Medium/High

 

Markus Wheaton, WR

Wheaton’s 2016 season can be summed up in one word: disappointing. Not only for fans and the organization, but for Wheaton himself, who had the perfect chance to have a huge season in a contract year to cash in on a new contract. After breaking out in the second half of the 2015 season, many expected Wheaton to serve in a much bigger role with the suspension to Martavis Bryant. However, injuries prevented this from ever coming to full fruition and by the time he was healthy enough to play, other players had already began to eat up his would-be reps. Truth be told, Wheaton will come at a cheap price next season, as he has never really put up gaudy numbers during his career to warrant any big contract. This could be a decent opportunity for the Steelers to re-sign him to a 1-year deal at a low price to give him one more shot to make an impact for the team. The worst thing that happens is that he repeats his 2016 campaign. But on the other hand, he can show his worth as a receiver and leave town on a big contract elsewhere, while handing the Steelers a nice compensatory pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Will this happen though? Probably not.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Low/Medium

 

Jarvis Jones, OLB

Let me put this bluntly: Jarvis Jones is the most disappointing Steelers 1st-round since Jamain Stephens in 1996. His inability to carve out a permanent starting role due to injuries and a lack of production were extremely underwhelming considering his original top-10 pedigree. To be fair, the 2013 NFL Draft was an extremely weak draft class, with many teams swinging and missing like the Steelers in the 1st round. Jones’ career is likely far from over largely due to his 1st-round billing and he could serve well as a depth piece on a team’s roster. But at 27 years old and 4 ineffective seasons, Jones’ starting days are likely behind him, as are his days in the Black & Gold.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Low

 

Landry Jones, QB

The Great Landry Debate has been occurring for the better part of 2 years now and will likely continue until the Steelers take action on a backup quarterback. Jones has failed to truly establish himself as a viable #2 quarterback, but to be honest and go against the popular opinion, there are far worse options at quarterback to have as your backup. While he will never be a legitimate starter in the league, there is actually is some merit to keeping him around on a minimal contract. With Ben Roethlisberger always at a risk of being injured, it is beneficial having a quarterback around that knows the system and could be a temporary plug-and-play option. In all honestly, Jones didn’t play that terribly against the Patriots or the Browns in his two starts of the season in 2016. But looking at the big picture, Jones is a liability when on the field and you never know what you are going to get with him under center. And even if they re-sign Jones on a 1-2 year contract for minimal money, that doesn’t mean that they won’t bring in another quarterback via free agency or the draft; they will. At this point, though, it is too hard to say whether they will bring back Jones on a team-friendly deal. My gut tells me that there is a chance, but I won’t hold my breath.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Low/Medium

 

DeAngelo Williams, RB

An argument can be made that the Steelers’ signing of DeAngelo Williams in 2015 has been one of the most financially smart moves by a franchise during that time. Williams has been everything that the Steelers had hoped he would be and then some. Due to suspensions and injuries to Le’Veon Bell, Williams was thrust into the spotlight, where over two seasons, he amassed 1,750 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns, helping the Steelers to a 10-4 record in games that he started since joining the team. While Williams has been a blessing to the Steelers, his future with the team is uncertain. Recent reports indicate that the Steelers will let Williams, who will turn 34 in April, hit the open market because he is currently not among the team’s top priorities. This could be a risky move, as there will likely be some interest for Williams around the league. The door hasn’t shut on Williams returning in 2017, even with the team looking at other options via the draft and free agency. If there is still gas in the tank, I see no problem with bringing Williams back on a team-friendly deal.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Medium

 

Lawrence Timmons, ILB

Of all of the Steelers free agents this year that have yet to be re-signed, Lawrence Timmons presents the biggest predicament for the Steelers. After eating up over $15M in cap space in 2016, Timmons put together a respectable season, but was no where worth his hefty price tag. Timmons has began to regress a bit with his overall game, but he still has proven that he can be an effective linebacker. With Ryan Shazier entrenched as the Steelers linebacker of the future, there will be a need for a player alongside the athletic playmaker. The Steelers have Vince Williams and Tyler Matakevich, but neither one should be considered an upgrade over Timmons at the moment. If Timmons leaves and signs elsewhere, you can expect the Steelers to look at an inside linebacker early on in the draft. In a perfect world, though, the Steelers would be able to sign Timmons back on a 2 or 3 year deal that is extremely team-friendly. Much friendlier than his $15M cap hit last season. It is unknown if Timmons will go somewhere else, but I think after testing the waters, Timmons will ultimately come back on a team-friendly deal.

Likelihood of Re-signing: Medium/High

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