Omar Khan’s not messing around. He went ahead and cleaned house Monday evening, releasing three Steelers’ players: QB Mitch Trubisky, OT Chukwuma Okorafor, and P Pressley Harvin III. In fairness, there’s a benefit for each of them. They get a jump on free agency, now free to talk with any team. With the NFL Combine in two weeks, that’s as good a time as any to begin mapping out future moves.
But perhaps who the team didn’t release speaks as loudly as the players they moved on from. Trubisky and Okorafor were due mid-March roster bonuses. With them shown the door, those obviously won’t be picked up. This leaves C Mason Cole, CB Patrick Peterson, and DT Larry Ogunjobi as three players the Steelers still have to make decisions on, all due roster bonuses as well.
Nothing guarantees those three will be kept. Okorafor was a no-brainer move, and Trubisky was similar. His situation was only complicated by the lack of 2024 quarterback options. With Cole, Peterson, and Ogunjobi, there’s much more discussion and uncertainty. But it’s certainly not a bad sign for their odds of having their roster bonuses picked up and carried through the summer. Dave Bryan shared the thought earlier today.
Could they still be released? Absolutely. By no means are their spots set in stone. But if the Steelers had decided they were definitively parting ways with any of these three players, odds are high they would’ve been released right alongside the others. Three veterans who would get the courtesy of jumpstarting their free agency.
Meaning, it would be reasonable to now believe Cole, Peterson, and Ogunjobi will be part of the team’s offseason program. Cole is the most controversial name on that list, his play regressing hard from 2022 and struggling to even snap the ball consistently in 2023. His run blocking only improved a tick throughout the season, and he was a miserable pass blocker. Clearly not the long-term answer, the Steelers are likely to explore a strong and deep center draft class.
But without other internal options, there is no true backup center, and Cole a durable leader, the Steelers may want to hold onto him through at least the summer. He can play center and guard and is more appealing as a backup option who could mentor a rookie.
Peterson is nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career but still provides value to Pittsburgh. He settled in at safety after being forced there following the team’s slew of injuries and Damontae Kazee’s suspension. There’s work still to be done, and his tackling must improve. But he found the versatility the team was searching for after losing CB Cam Sutton.
Ideally, he’ll only play cornerback in the slot while rotating at safety in passing situations, allowing Minkah Fitzpatrick more opportunities to read and rob routes over the middle. His mentorship is also valuable, continuing to teach CB Joey Porter Jr., and he’d do the same should the Steelers draft a young corner to play opposite of him. Peterson has a desire to play another year, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Steelers to want and see that through so long as his outside cornerback snaps are heavily reduced or eliminated entirely. Peterson no longer has the speed to turn and run.
Ogunjobi’s production hasn’t met his contract, and he has just 4.5 sacks in his two seasons with the Steelers. That’s despite appearing in every single game, though he battled a toe injury throughout much of 2022. His game runs extremely hot and cold. In 2023, he got off to a hot start, completely faded in the middle of the year, and picked back up during the team’s stretch run. While owed a hefty amount in 2024, given the team’s lack of d-line depth, Ogunjobi is most likely to remain a Steeler.
The lack of alternative options might be a key reason why all three names remain. Which isn’t the soundest basis to form a decision. But the Steelers don’t like going into the draft with obvious holes. That’s when teams panic, reach, and miss. Today’s cuts do create some concern. Kenny Pickett is the only quarterback under contract for 2024 while there isn’t a punter on the roster, but the Steelers will sign a veteran (or re-sign Mason Rudolph), and adding a punter won’t be an arduous task.
Right now, my guess is, and really has been throughout the offseason, all three of these Steelers’ players will have their options picked up. Does that mean all three will make the 53-man roster ahead of Week One? No. Cole might have the worst odds of sticking that long, assuming the team drafts a center who beats him out. But all could be part of the roster for a little while longer until the team restocks the shelves in free agency and the draft.