Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Steelers ranked #1 in Key Free Agency Metric: Analyst

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On July 21, Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus (PFF) published an insightful article titled, “Which NFL teams are getting the most value from their free-agent commitments?” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Pittsburgh Steelers made the rankings doing well, which ranks free agent signings made between 2013-21.

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“The Steelers … came out on top in every component of our analysis except their actual cash spend,” writes Spielberger, “demonstrating how a homegrown team built on design and a good development philosophy can also thrive in full agency can by being very selective about their acquisitions.”

Dig deeper and you’ll see that the Steelers are #1 on arguably the most important metric: $per win over FA-generated substitutes (excluding one-year contracts and QBs), with the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots being the closest teams in the ranking.

At the same time, the Steelers spent the second least dollars ($205,261,618) on free hands over the nine years in question, with only the Dallas Cowboys spending less.

What the PFF analysis reveals is that the Steelers are in the midfield in terms of average total free agent contract percentage at 77.4%, compared to league-best Tampa Bay Buccaneers (83.7%) and the league-worst Jacksonville Jaguars (68%). Some of this could be down to the fact that former general manager Kevin Colbert sometimes signed free agents to two-year contracts to spread the salary cap risk, as was the case with wide receiver Donte Moncrief. And on at least one occasion, a solid free-agent acquisition had to be released in order to save on salary caps, namely cornerback Steven Nelson, whose three-year contract was terminated in March 2021, giving the Steelers $8.25 million on a 25th season $.5 million deal.

But perhaps the most interesting chart in the PFF feature shows that the three teams that have traditionally not guaranteed any money beyond a player’s first year of contract are the three teams with the highest percentage of free agent contracts earned (excluding one-year contracts) . The Green Bay Packers are #1 with 72.4%, the Steelers are #2 with 72%, and the Cincinnati Bengals are #3 with 71.6%.

Those numbers make a pretty good argument to help these teams defend the practice, even though the Steelers already broke precedent with the TJ Watt extension (2021) and the Minkah Fitzpatrick extension (2022), although neither of them was an unrestricted free agent.

As noted by PFF, the Steelers were sparse in signing free agents in the Kevin Colbert era, with most of the major signings occurring in the secondary school, particularly at cornerback, with Joe Haden (2017) and the aforementioned Nelson (2019) the most notable additions were .

But this year, the Steelers have signed eight unrestricted free agents, including quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Also added: offensive linemen Mason Cole, James Daniels and Trent Scott; plus linebackers Myles Jack and Genard Avery, and wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, cornerback Levi Wallace, and defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi.

Most of the above signings came before new general manager Omar Khan Colbert took over, but it should be interesting to see if Khan will be more aggressive in the free hand or if the unusually high number of unrestricted free agent signings is mainly a function by war The Steelers have more than their typical amount of cap space.

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