A comprehensive list of Steelers free agents heading into the 2018 offseason

The following is a quick primer on upcoming Steelers free agents for the 2018 season. Below we define some of the critical terms while listing the player’s names and contributions to the team after.

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA or FA)

A player no longer under contract to a team, due to being released, having their contract expire or having not been selected in the NFL draft. (Players who are not picked in the NFL draft are also known as “undrafted free agents.”

A UFA is free to negotiate with and sign with any team. The high profile signings you hear about the first few days of the free agency period are UFAs.

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Le’Veon Bell

Headling this list is Bell, the Steelers starting running back who could be in line for another franchise tag.

Bell ran for 1,291 yards and 9 touchdowns this season while adding 85 receptions (second-most on the team) for 655 yards and 2 scores.

Prediction: Bell already hinted he will return in 2018, despite comments throughout the week prior to their playoff game that he wants to set the standard for running back pay. The Steelers will have to make some moves to free up some cap room, though it’s unknown at this moment just how much the league will increase the cap this season.

Chris Hubbard

A surprise conversion project on the line, Hubbard became so much of a pleasant surprise as a backup tackle that he not only won the backup job, he became a part-time starter and the team’s jumbo option as the “tackle eligible” player in run-heavy sets.

Prediction: All depends on the market. Seeing as Hubbard went from a nobody to a somebody with the Steelers, I feel they may mutually value one another. This one’s a coin flip.

Justin Hunter

An exciting offseason depth acquisition and training camp darling, Hunter’s summer didn’t translate at all into the regular season. He caught a total of four passes for 23 yards and a touchdown.

Prediction: the big, speedy receiver is in Darrius Heyward-Bey territory. The Steelers are stacked at the position, but injuries can flip the script at any time. Hunter could return on a team-friendly deal, as he’s bounced around the NFL enough that this team could be his last team if he doesn’t accept an offer.

Daniel McCullers

A mountain of a man, this nose tackle was rarely active on game days and was best utilized in special teams packages.

Prediction: McCullers has the size to be a force, but his physical prowess never translated to the expectations sought on the field. He will not be a Steelers in 2018.

Arthur Moats

A backup outside linebacker and special teams contributor, Moats’ lone appearance came in an attempt to patch the hole left behind when Ryan Shazier was injured.

Moats otherwise made spot appearances and finished the season with only four tackles.

Prediction: He and his family are very involved in any community he’s played for, and Moats has also been the Steelers “Man of the Year” for his off-field contributions, however, he turns 30 in March and had next to no impact in games this year. I’d be very surprised if he returned to Pittsburgh for 2018.

Stevan Ridley

A veteran player who just turned 28, Ridley was signed when rookie running back James Conner went on injured reserve.

Coming in with little practice time, Ridley saw a decent amount of work in two games this season, with the bulk coming as the starter in place of Bell for the final week of the season. He carried the ball 17 times for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Prediction: a bargain player who brings veteran experience and adds depth is never a bad thing. Expect the Steelers to sign him to a veteran minimum one-year deal and bring him to training camp this season to compete for the three spot on the roster.

Sean Spence

Another player who was sitting on his couch in November, Spence is a former Steelers draft pick who overcame insurmountable odds when he was initially diagnosed and told he’d never play football again, following an injury in a preseason game during his rookie year.

Spence wasn’t retained and bounced to the Titans and Colts, before being released earlier in the 2017 season. When Ryan Shazier went down, the Steelers needed help. Spence went from watching football at home to starting for the Steelers.

In four less than glamourous starts, Spence racked up 11 tackles and a sack.

Prediction: Due to his lackluster performance, he’ll be the odd man out, but the team could bring him back in a situation similar to Ridley just to come to camp and potentially compete for a spot with any other free agents or draft picks the team adds this offseason. A vet min deal wouldn’t hurt here.

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Restricted Free Agents (RFA)

A player who has accrued three seasons (six or more regular season games with a  team) of service, who has a “tender” which is set by the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (typically 110% of last year’s salary.) RFAs can negotiate with any team through a certain period of time. Those teams can give the RFA an offer sheet, which his old team then has five days to match the offer, or choose not to match the offer. If a team choose the latter, and does not match the offer sheet, they may receive compensation for “losing” the player via one or more draft picks from the player’s new team, corresponding to the round in which they were drafted.

No compensation is required if the player was undrafted.

Rather than drill through each individual player, most of, if not all of these players, will definitely come to camp for the Steelers.

Chickillo could be a key player to bring back as the team may also lose Moats, and only have T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree as the other linebackers on the roster who played this year. (7th round pick Keion Adams was on IR all season and could compete for a spot in 2018.)

Boswell and Berry are special teams starters. There’s no reason to believe they won’t be locked down with longterm deals soon.

Nix and Toussaint will come to camp to battle for a spot on the roster again as well.

Ducre, a cornerback, is the odd man out, but could sign a reserve/futures contract to come to camp as well.

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Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA)

A player whose contract has expired and has three or fewer tenured years in the league. The player’s original team must make a contract offer by the league imposed deadline or the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. No compensation is awarded for losing EFAs.

All three players are offensive linemen who factor greatly into the Steelers roster depth. Finney, in particular, is a key piece who plays as a reserve guard and backup center. With starting experience under his belt and a pay raise when he was only on the practice squad, I suspect he’s a priority for the Steelers.

Similar to Alejandro Villanueva last season, these players won’t be able to jump ship anywhere and are exclusive to the Steelers. They’ll pretty much have to accept what’s offered or sit out the 2018 season. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see all three at training camp in 2018.

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