Metric analysis

Steelers rank first in key free agency metric: PFF analyst

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Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden #23 celebrates with cornerback Steven Nelson #22 after an interception against the Arizona Cardinals on December 8, 2019.

On July 21, Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus (PFF) posted an insightful article titled “Which NFL Teams Are Getting The Most Out Of Their Free Agent Signings?” Unsurprisingly, the Pittsburgh Steelers rank well in the rankings, which gauge free agent additions made between 2013 and 2021.

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The Steelers “very selective with their acquisitions”

“The Steelers … landed near the top in every element of our analysis – except for their actual cash spend amount,” writes Spielberger“showing how a home team built on draft and a good development philosophy can also succeed in unrestricted free agency by being very selective with their acquisitions.”

Dive deeper and we see that the Steelers are No. 1 in arguably the most important metric: $ per gain above replacement generated by the FA (excluding one-year contracts and QBs), with the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots being the next closest teams in the standings.

At the same time, the Steelers spent the second fewest dollars ($205,261,618) on free agency over the nine-year period in question, with only the Dallas Cowboys spending less.

What PFF’s analysis shows is that the Steelers are in the middle of the pack in terms of average percentage of total free agent contract won at 77.4%, compared to the best Tampa Bay Buccaneers (83, 7%) and the worst Jacksonville Jaguars (68). %). Some of this could be a reflection of how former general manager Kevin Colbert sometimes signed free agents to two-year contracts to spread salary cap risk, as it was with wide receiver Donte Moncrief. And on at least one occasion, a solidly performing free agent acquisition had to be released for salary cap savings, namely cornerback Steven Nelson, whose three-year contract was terminated in March 2021. saving the Steelers $8.25 million on a $25.5 million contract.

But perhaps the most interesting graph in the PFF feature illustrates how the three teams that traditionally haven’t guaranteed money beyond the first year of a player’s contract are the three teams with the percentage highest free agent contract won (excluding one-year contracts). The Green Bay Packers are No. 1 in this metric at 72.4%, the Steelers are No. 2 at 72% and the Cincinnati Bengals are No. 3 at 71.6%.

These numbers are a pretty good argument to help these teams defend the practice, although the Steelers have already broken the precedent with the TJ Watt extension (2021) and the Minkah Fitzpatrick extension (2022), although neither was an unrestricted free agent.

Change of GM, change of approach?

As PFF noted, the Steelers only signed free agents sparingly during the Kevin Colbert era, with most major signings coming in the secondary, particularly at cornerback, with Joe Haden (2017 ) and the aforementioned Nelson (2019) being the particularly notable additions. .

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; along with linebackers Myles Jack and Genard Avery, as well as wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, cornerback Levi Wallace and defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi.

Most of the signings above came before new general manager Omar Khan took over from Colbert, but it should be interesting to see if Khan will be more aggressive in free agency, or if the unusually high number of additions from Unrestricted free agents were primarily a function of the Steelers having more than their usual amount of cap space.

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