We’ve dedicated quite a bit of internet ink on this site this offseason to the possibility of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, defensive end Stephon Tuitt and tackle Alejandro Villanueva all receiving new contracts prior to the start of the 2017 regular season. While future posts are sure to be dedicated to each of those players’ situations in the coming days and weeks, today, I wanted to turn my attention to a year from now and specifically which players we’re likely to be talking about possibly getting new long-term deals ahead of the start of the 2018 regular season.
The following discussion assumes that Bell, Tuitt and Villanueva will all ultimately sign new long-term deals prior to the start of the 2017 regular season, so keep that in mind as you continue reading.
Assuming the above happens, the Steelers will be forced to make key contract decisions when it comes to several current players now under contract and I will itemize each of them below.
Ryan Shazier – The Steelers picked Shazier’s fifth-year option several weeks ago and assuming he has a productive and healthy 2017 season, it’s easy to speculate he’ll be the team’s primary 2018 offseason candidate for a long-term extension. With Shazier’s 2018 earnings now scheduled to be $8.7 million because of his fifth-year option being picked up, you can probably go ahead and count on that being his yearly average starting point whenever contract extension discussions with him get underway next offseason. As you can see, Shazier’s 2018 offseason status should be pretty cut and dry.
Jesse James – It’s hard to believe that James is now in his third season with the Steelers as it seems like only yesterday the team drafted him in the fifth-round out of Penn State. With 2018 set to be the final year of James’ rookie contract, there’s a very decent chance the team will be looking to sign him to a long-term extension a year from now. Not signing James to a contract extension prior to the start of the 2018 regular season would mean the Steelers are comfortable with the young tight end hitting unrestricted free agency in 2019 as it’s very unlikely he’ll warrant a franchise or transition tag come that time.
Martavis Bryant – Of all the names on this list, Bryant will likely be discussed the most a year from now. Due to his 2016 suspension, Bryant’s contract tolled and that essentially means he won’t be an unrestricted free agent until after the 2018 season is completed. The Steelers could obviously try to sign Bryant to a long-term contract a year from now, but I’m willing to bet that doesn’t happen. If that ultimately winds up being the case and Bryant proceeds to have two very productive seasons in the meantime, the Steelers will have to decide if they want to use a tag on their former fourth-round draft pick just ahead of March 2019. Personally, I can’t see that happening right now, either, and thus fully expect Bryant to shop his services as an unrestricted free agent in 2019 and ultimately wind up signing elsewhere.
Sammie Coates – Coates, like James, is now in his third season and assuming he sticks on the roster, 2018 will be the final year of his rookie contract. As we sit here in the middle of June 2017, there no reason to currently think that Coates will be a candidate to receive a long-term contract extension a year from now. A stellar 2017 season could ultimately alter that viewpoint, so we’ll see.
L.T. Walton – Walton is yet another member of the Steelers 2015 draft class that has managed to stick around and his current contract is set to expire after the 2018 season. In short, it’s hard to imagine that the Steelers will be looking to extend his contract over a year from now for a lot of obvious reasons.
Anthony Chickillo – Like the last two players I just recapped, Chickillo will be in the final year of his rookie contract a year from now. He’s currently a backup outside linebacker and special teams contributor and barring anything unforeseen happening during the 2017 season, he’ll remain as such moving forward. With Chickillo essentially locked-up through the 2018 season, it’s hard to imagine him receiving a contract extension a year from now.
Eli Rogers – Rogers, a former unrestricted free agent, is now in the final year of his contract and thus is scheduled to be a restricted free agent next March. His future status probably depends a lot on how he plays in 2017. With that said, and assuming he stays healthy and on the roster this season, he’ll like be candidate to receive a restricted tender from the Steelers just ahead of the start of the 2018 league year. It’s easy to speculate his future restricted tender being a second-round level as we sit here today, but just the same, you can’t rule out the possibility of the Steelers gambling and only giving him an original round tender just as they did this past offseason with cornerback Ross Cockrell. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine that the Steelers will be in contract extension talks with Rogers and his agent a year from now.
Roosevelt Nix – Nix was an exclusive rights free agent this offseason and is thus now scheduled to be a restricted free agent in 2018. In short, and assuming he remains healthy and productive as a fullback and special teams contributor, he’ll be prime for a tender of some sorts just ahead of the 2018 league year in March. An original-round tender for Nix next year would be mighty risky, but not surprising just the same. Like a few other players on this list, it would be surprising if the Steelers extended the contract of Nix prior to the start of the 2018 regular season unless they can do so at a very affordable level with not much guaranteed money involved.
Chris Boswell – An exclusive rights free agent this year, Boswell should be around next offseason and thus ultimately receive a restricted free agent tender from the Steelers. As to what level, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers only issuing him a right of first refusal tender being as he’s a former undrafted free agent. In short, the Steelers will likely need to place a second-round restricted tender on Boswell to keep other teams from signing him to an offer sheet during the 2018 offseason free agent period. Early speculation is that a second-round restricted tender next year will be around $3 million. So, what happens after that? The Steelers could choose to sign Boswell to a long-term extension with an average yearly value between $3-$4 million after he signs his restricted tender. If, however, they choose not to sign him to a long-term contract over a year from now, they could potentially be forced to use either a franchise or transition tag on him after the 2018 season. In short, there’s not a lot to worry about when it comes to Boswell’s future as he’ll be easily retained through at least the 2019 season as long as he’s doing his job well.
Jordan Berry – Berry’s potential future in Pittsburgh looks very similar to that of Boswell’s. The former undrafted free agent will also be a restricted free agent next offseason and if he’s still punting well, he’ll also be candidate to receive a second-round restricted tender from the Steelers if the team’s not willing to gamble with the right of first refusal level. Assuming he is issued a restricted tender and ultimately signs it, the Steelers will then need to decide if they want to proceed in long-term contract talks with Berry as well.
Others – Currently, Cockrell, linebacker Arthur Moats, tackle Chris Hubbard, defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, wide receiver Justin Hunter, linebacker Steven Johnson, running back Knile Davis, and safety Daimion Stafford are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March of 2018. Assuming each of those players stick around throughout the 2017 season, which is very unlikely to happen, none of them will likely be candidates to be re-signed to anything more than one-year deals for near or about the minimum prior to the start of free agency.
Summary – While the list of above players is somewhat lengthy, when it comes to the ones we’re likely to be discussing possible long-term contract extensions at this same time next year, I believe it will be Shazier, James and perhaps even Boswell being the strongest candidates. Some of the Steelers biggest contract decisions after the 2017 season is over will be centered around their then-restricted free agents as it relates to level of tender they issue.