Khan Wins First Gamble: James Pierre Resigns with Steelers

Free agency isn’t quite (officially) a week old, yet Steelers General Manager Omar Khan has already won one of his gambles. Well, at least half of one.

Omar Khan moved the franchise out of its comfort zone a bit when he opted not to offer restricted free agent tenders to Steven Sims, James Pierre, J.C. Hassenauer and Jeremy McNichols. Under Kevin Colbert, Steelers policy was to tender their restricted free agents. Sure, there were cases like Stevenson Sylvester, but they were the exception, not the rule.

James Pierre, Donavan Peoples-Jones, Steelers vs Browns

James Peirre goes after a pass. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

By opting not to offer them tenders all four men became unrestricted free agents, and were able to sign with any NFL team.

  • James Pierre drew no interest and signed with the Steelers yesterday.

Terms of James Pierre’s contract have not yet been released, but he figures to have signed for something at or close to the NFL veteran minimum, which would be $1.010 for someone of his level of experience.

$1.010 million dollars a year is a lot of money for anybody who is reading this, but it’s a lot less than $2.627 million that a right of first refusal free agent tender would have cost the Steelers.

The Steelers lost Cam Sutton on the first day of free agency but quickly moved to replace him with Patrick Peterson. At the moment Levi Wallace is the other starting cornerback for the Steelers. Ahkello Witherspoon is also on the roster and would seem to be Pierre’s competition for a playing time if not a roster spot itself.

Arthur Maulet and Tre Norwood round out the Steelers cornerbacks, with Norwood functioning as a “Swiss Army Knife” like member of the secondary.

The Steelers are expected to use one of their premium picks in the 2023 NFL Draft to get a cornerback and Pierre’s return won’t change that. His presence could allow them to look comfortably elsewhere in later rounds.

Sims Watch is On

Khan’s gamble that he could make James Pierre an unrestricted free agent and get him back was a low-risk one, but a gable nonetheless. As mentioned earlier, the signings of Nate Herbig and Isaac Seumalo, probably mean that J.C. Hassenauer’s time in Pittsburgh has come to an end.

However, given the thinness of the Steelers depth cart at wide receiver behind Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, you would have to figure that the Steelers want Steven Sims back. We’ll see if Khan wins that gamble too.

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Wedil Paints a Pickett Fence: Steelers Sign Isaac Seumalo, Guard, from the Eagles

Wow. Woke up this morning to see the Steelers signed guard Isaac Seumalo from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Talk about a blogger falling asleep at the switch. Due to personal/family reasons had kept me from writing about any of the Steelers free agent moves save for the loss of Cam Sutton and signing of Patrick Peterson.

  • And of course they came in rapid succession after that.
Isaac Seumalo, Steelers vs Eagles

Isaac Seumalo lines up against the Steelers. Photo Credit: Indianapolis Star

Saturday was the first day I was able to pick up my pen, so I wrote about Nate Herbig signing as an indication of Andy Wedil’s influence. Figured that as free agent news is typically slow on the weekend, I could run the Herbig story on Sunday morning, use Sunday to write about the inside linebacker situation with the signings of Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb and that would be that.

  • But Omar Khan and Andy Wedil are marching to their own drummer, aren’t they?

And there can be no doubt that Andy Wedil is deliberately leaving his finger prints on the Steelers roster. Isaac Seumalo is a 6-foot-4, 303-pounder whom Pro Football Focus rated as the NFL’s ninth-best guard in 2022. At age 29 Seumalo only gave up one sack and started all 20 games for the Eagles.

How does he fit in?

Well, to quote Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, that’s “…a mystery to team sources not named Mike Tomlin and OL coach Pat Meyer.” Herbig’s arrival signaled that Kevin Dotson’s starting job was likely on the line. The arrival of Herbig and Seumalo mans that Dotson will have to fight for a roster spot.

Kendrick Green’s chances of making the team just got very, very complicated. And it is also very unlikely that J.C. Hassenauer, whom the Steelers made an unrestricted free agent, will get a chance to return to Pittsburgh.

In an exchange with readers Jim Wexell shared, “Someone called it building a Pickett Fence. I love it.” The metaphor is apt. Pickett fences are white, and white is an official alternative color to the Steelers Black and Gold.

But this white Pickett fence has a definite hue of green.

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Weidl Effect? Steelers Signing Nate Herbig, a Road Grading Guard, May be Sign of Andy Weidl’s Influence

So far everything the Steelers have done in free agency has been by the book. Well, ok “by the book” if you channel your Ben Kenobi and agree that its “by the book from a certain point of view.” Which is to say that by signing 33 year old cornerback in the form of Patrick Peterson is not something the Steelers typically do.

But all things consider equally, the Steelers would have preferred to keep Cameron Sutton. When Cam Sutton signed with the Lions the Steelers needed a starting corner and turned to Patrick Peterson.

Ditto the signings of Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb – personnel moves at inside linebacker have been a staple of Steelers off seasons for the last 5 seasons. (More on that in a day or so.)

  • But the Steelers decision to sign Nate Herbig is an outlier.
Nate Herbig

Steelers newest guard Nate Herbig. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

While it’s a given that the Steelers need depth at offensive line, those conversations had typically focused on tackle. Behind Mason Cole, James Daniels and Kevin Dotson the Steelers had J.C. Hassenauer and Kendrick Green. Guard wasn’t considered an area of need.

Yet the Steelers wasted little time in signing Nate Herbig for 2 years at 8 million dollars with Herbig getting 3 million of that in guarantees. That’s not crazy money for an NFL guard – James Daniels is going to have a cap number $11,166,666 this year, but there are certainly starting guards that make less in today’s NFL.

  • That means that heading into his contract year Kevin Dotson is going to need to fight for his starting job.

The move is also the first sign of Assistant General Manager Andy Weidl’s influence. Herbig came out early from Stanford and that probably cost him getting drafted. But the Philadelphia Eagles signed him. When Joe Douglas left Philadelphia for the New York Jets he signed Herbig. And now he’s followed Weidl to Pittsburgh.

During his time in Philadelphia, Weidl developed a reputation as a personnel man who bought into the idea that football games are still won and lost at the line of scrimmage. (See the Eagle in people moving mode on short down situations in the Super Bowl.)

At 6’4” and 335 pounds, Herbig is in the 93rd percentile of offensive guards. By all accounts he’s a road grader in the run game even if his pass pro skills remain a work in progress. When asked about where he would play, Herbig quipped he’d play punter if the Steelers asked him to.

Just the attitude you’d like to see in an offensive lineman.

Cutting Them Loose – Steelers Don’t Tender RFAs

The Steelers also made another uncharacteristic, if under the radar move: They didn’t tender any of their four Restricted Free agents.

The Steelers had until 4:00 pm on Wednesday to offer tenders to J.C. Hassenauer, James Pierre, Jeremy McNichols and Steven Sims.

Most people probably don’t know who Jermey NcNicols was so that’s no surprise. Hassenauer has some starting experience, but he wasn’t much of a surprise. But Sims is their de facto 3rd wide out and James Peirre was their starting cornerback at year’s end.

So it is a bit of a surpise that Omar Khan and Mike Tomlin opted to let those guys reach the free market.

All remained unsigned at this point, so they could still remain in Pittsburgh.

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Lose a CB, Gain a CB: Steelers Sign Patrick Peterson, Lose Cam Sutton in Free Agency

NFL Free agency hasn’t even officially started and the Steelers cornerback depth chart has undergone a major change.

Just over 1 week ago at the NFL Scouting Combine Omar Khan affirmed that resigning Cam Sutton would be a priority for the Steelers in free agency. Priorities have their limits for Pittsburgh, as the Detroit Lions have agreed to a 3 year deal with Cam Sutton totaling $33 million and with $22.5 million in guarantees.

That 11 million dollar average is high, but still only puts Sutton in the top 15 or 16 corners in the league.

  • That however was too high for the Steelers.
Antonio Brown, Patrick Peterson, Steelers vs Cardinals

Patrick Peterson knocks a pass away from Antonio Brown. Photo Credit: Sports 247

Omar Khan responded by signing Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson to a 2 year contract. Terms of Peterson’s deal haven’t leaked yet, but last season he earned 4 million dollars – just under what Cam Sutton earned, and he had 5 interceptions and 15 passes defensed.

  • In contrast, Sutton only had 3 interceptions, although he also defended 15 passes.

Patrick Peterson was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2011 NFL Draft. While in Phoenix he made 8 straight Pro Bowls and was named All Pro twice. He’s played the last two seasons for the Minnesota Vikings where he started all 30 games that he has participated in.

Omar Follows Colbert Template, Takes Risk Nonetheless

Let’s not mince words – cornerback is a young man’s game in the NFL. The idea of replacing a 29 year old corner who is just budding into his prime with a 33 year old seems questionable to say the least.

Free agent cornerbacks come at a premium. And the Steelers have made these sorts of “Dollar Ball” trade offs with corners before, as they did in the 2013 off season when they let Keenan Lewis go but brought William Gay back.

But this isn’t just a cost-benefit move.

Peterson made plenty of “Splash Plays” in 2022. And the 2023 NFL Draft is said to be deep at cornerback. Even had the Steelers resigned Sutton they were likely to draft a corner. By signing Peterson the team gives itself some breathing room and avoids finding itself in the same situation it was in in 2016, when they had to reach for Artie Burns.

Doubling up on a key position in free agency and the draft was a move Kevin Colbert made many times. It seems like Omar Khan has learned the lesson.

In addition to Patrick Peterson, who cannot officially sign until Wednesday, the Steelers also have veterans Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon and Arthur Maulet under contract. James Pierre is a restricted free agent, whom the Steelers still must decide to tender or not.

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