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Fantasy Football Free Agency Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

Free agency has a major impact on fantasy football. We’re a long way from the 2017 league year, but for dynasty team owners it’s never too early to start thinking about how player values could change.

I’m going through each team’s free agency and salary cap as a thought exercise. As an avid dynasty player, knowing how player values could change is key to making good decisions about which players to stash and which to put on the trade block. Once I finish running through the teams, I’ll circle back and do some more player or position-specific analysis.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Free Agents1

Landry Jones QB Steelers UFA $649,805 $439,220 $36,964,343
DeAngelo Williams RB Steelers UFA $2,000,000 $1,130,000 $36,964,343
Le’Veon Bell RB Steelers UFA $1,030,150 $2,276,800 $36,964,343
Fitzgerald Toussaint RB Steelers ERFA $555,000 $0 $36,964,343
Roosevelt Nix RB Steelers ERFA $525,000 $0 $36,964,343
David Johnson TE Steelers UFA $760,000 $0 $36,964,343
Xavier Grimble TE Steelers ERFA $450,000 $0 $36,964,343
Markus Wheaton WR Steelers UFA $702,844 $591,376 $36,964,343
Cobi Hamilton WR Steelers ERFA $450,000 $0 $36,964,343

Cut Candidates

Steelers D.Heyward-Bey WR 0.27 1.1
Steelers M.Bryant WR 0.1 0.69

Needs – QB, RB, WR

Both Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams are free agents. Even if Bell re-signs, there’s a need at the position. Martavis Bryant may be eligible to return from suspension, but Markus Wheaton is a free agent, Darrius Heyward-Bey is a cut candidate, and Sammie Coates had a rocky season. Even if Bryant returns, there’s a need there as well. It’s also worth noting that all-world receiver Antonio Brown is entering the final year of his contract. Ben Roethlisberger is obviously locked in at QB, but backup Landry Jones could be gone, and Roethlisberger (soon to be 35) has missed multiple games both of the last two seasons, so a low-key move of some sort seems possible here as well.


Bell is arguably the premier free agent this year, and where he ends up will have major fantasy implications. Pittsburgh seems willing to re-sign him and maybe even franchise tag him. Last year, the tag value for RB was $11.9 million, so it’ll be even more than that this year, say $13 million. That’s getting close to Adrian Peterson’s $14 million salary, and nobody thinks he’ll actually get it. Could the Steelers actually tag Bell?

You could make a good argument that he should be the highest paid back in the league…except that he’s missed 17 games in four years due to a variety of injuries and suspensions. That $13 million would be fully guaranteed to a player that’s only played in 73 percent of possible games. Maybe that’s why no RB has been tagged since Matt Forte in 2012. I don’t think either the Steelers (a lot of guaranteed money for a player and position that are risky) or Bell (long term injury would crush his 2018 value) really want the tag.

Another thing to consider is that Doug Martin is probably going to be released. Yes, he’ll have a poor season and suspension driving down his value, but he’s another starter-level free agent RB. That might help to keep Bell’s value down just a bit, and keep the tag from coming into play.

What is certain is that wherever he ends up, Bell will be a workhorse RB, and a highly coveted fantasy asset. Free agency doesn’t really change anything about that. There’s no buy or sell opportunity here, really. But any RB that ends up getting drafted or signed as a free agent by the Steelers will have some value (see: Bell, missed games, history thereof).

At wide receiver, I think we should pay close attention to what happens. Over the past four seasons, only four teams have averaged more expected points to wide receivers than the Steelers. One of those teams is Denver, whose average includes Peyton Manning’s monster 2013. In other words, there’s opportunity in this passing game, and nothing concrete after Brown. I think banking on Martavis Bryant is a risky proposition. As I demonstrated in that article, players suspended under the substance abuse policy have generally poor careers thereafter. The last two players suspended for a full year: Josh Gordon and Dion Jordan. Both managed to get reinstated, but neither played in a game – Gordon didn’t even make it to the regular season. Furthermore, Bryant’s issues appeared to include a mental health component in addition to substance abuse. I’m not investing in him anywhere, but I understand the appeal, if you’re willing to ignore the off field concerns.

I’m actually a bit interested in Eli Rogers. He produced five double-digit PPR games this year, and compares well to some other young players.


I think there’s a real chance that neither Wheaton nor Bryant return, which could leave Rogers as the team’s WR2. Of course, it’s quite likely the Steelers sign or draft another WR. But Rogers — or if you want to go even cheaper, Sammie Coates — makes a very cheap stash with some significant upside.

One final thought is that the Steelers do have Zach Mettenberger under contract for next year, so they could elect to let Landry Jones leave, make no moves, and keep Mettenberger as the backup. He’s not worth a roster spot in any format I can think of, but I’d bet a few dollars on him to be a “random QB to be relevant for a few weeks in 2017.”

  1. Available cap space was compiled in mid-December, 2016, and may have changed since. I’ll update that once I finish reviewing all the teams.  (back)

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