Pittsburgh Steelers' 2020 NFL free-agent signings: Ebron brings another offensive weapon

If he can stay healthy, Eric Ebron adds a new weapon to the Steelers' offense. AP Photo/Doug McSchooler

NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2020 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from Bill Barnwell. The new league year begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2020 NFL draft begins April 23.

Here's a breakdown of every 2020 NFL free-agent signing by the Pittsburgh Steelers and how each will impact the upcoming season:


Cavon Walker, DT

The Steelers tapped into the XFL to sign Walker to a one-year deal.

What it means: The Steelers dipped into the pool of XFL talent by adding the league's sack leader. Through five games with the New York Guardians, Walker recorded 4.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits. He's the second defensive lineman added to the team in free agency, joining former Baltimore DL Chris Wormley, who was acquired via trade.

What's the risk: There's not much, if any, risk in bringing Walker into the fold for a year. After losing Javon Hargrave in free agency, the Steelers needed to add depth to the line. They began that process with the Wormley trade and continued it here. Walker was unsigned out of Maryland in 2018, but spent preseasons with the Bears and the Chiefs.


Stefen Wisniewski, G

The Steelers acquired a veteran with Super Bowl experience, agreeing to terms with Wisniewski, who recently played for the Chiefs.

What it means: In signing Wisniewski, a Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Penn State product, the Steelers are getting a Super Bowl LIV champ who took over the starting LG job in Week 16 after an injury hurt and never gave it up. He was exceptional in pass pro last season and fills an immediate need for a Steelers offensive line depleted by the retirement of Ramon Foster and free agency departure of B.J. Finney. Wisniewski was also the starting left guard for the Eagles in the Super Bowl LII victory against the Patriots, and he played center for five seasons -- four in Oakland and one in Jacksonville.

What's the risk: There's not much risk in signing a veteran guy like Wisniewski, who comes with two Super Bowl rings and an inexpensive price tag. The Steelers restore depth with the signing and give the room a good veteran presence. He'll likely compete with Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor for the starting left guard spot, pushing the two younger players to develop during camp. Wisniewski could either be a ready-made starter for the Steelers' offensive line, or he could become the 2020 Finney -- a versatile interior lineman capable of filling in or starting at either guard or center.


Eric Ebron, TE

The Steelers reached a two-year, $12 million deal with the former Colts tight end.

What it means: The Steelers needed a tight end who could be a threat in the receiving game. In his six-year NFL career, Ebron has 3,195 yards and 27 receiving touchdowns. He also added two rushing touchdowns. Drafted by the Lions in 2014 at No. 10 overall, Ebron made his first Pro Bowl appearance a year ago after finding a new life in Indianapolis. Though he's listed as a tight end, Ebron has most recently been used as a hybrid receiver with the Colts. The Steelers needed another receiving threat in the tight end room to complement Vance McDonald. This move fortifies the position group in a major way and allows them to go back to using their signature two-tight end sets.

What's the risk: The Steelers are paying quite a bit for Ebron, who had an inconsistent season during his final year in Indianapolis. After a career-high 66 receptions for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns in his 2018 Pro Bowl season, Ebron had just 31 receptions for 375 yards and three touchdowns in his injury-shortened 2019 campaign. Ebron shut down his season after a Week 12 ankle injury. Though the injury isn't expected to have long-term effects, the decision he made to shut himself down, which didn't sit well with the Colts at the time, could be a potential red flag for the Steelers. A two-year contract likely has an out after the first year, but for a team lacking cap space, that's a large chunk of resources to give to a player with one truly standout season.


Derek Watt, FB

The Steelers added Watt, brother of linebacker T.J., on a three-year, $9.75 million deal.

What it means: The Steelers plugged the hole on special teams from the departure of Tyler Matakevich with a Pro Bowl-alternate special teamer in Watt. A core special teamer with the Chargers, Watt played 326 snaps on special teams, good for second on the team. Like Matakevich, Watt had a league-high 16 special teams tackles. In adding Watt, the Steelers continue to show their preference for adding guys from football families -- see: Trey, Terrell Edmunds -- and emphasizing special teams play.

What's the risk: Adding him on a 3-year, $9.75 million deal, the Steelers are paying a premium for a special teamer -- especially considering they won't use his services often on offense. The Steelers only used fullback Roosevelt Nix a max of 16 percent of the offensive snaps during his five-year career. Even after releasing veteran players and restructuring contracts, the Steelers don't have much cap space to play with, so dedicating resources to Watt shows they're impressed with the 27-year-old and believe he can be a major factor on special teams.


Bud Dupree, LB

Franchise tag salary: $15.828 million

Seasons: Five

Career highlights: A 2015 first-round pick, Dupree finally showed why the Steelers thought so highly of him when he came out of Kentucky. Healthy all season, Dupree had a breakout year with 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2019.

Why he was tagged: Coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert said bringing Dupree back was a priority and Dupree expressed his desire to remain in Pittsburgh at the end of the season. Dupree would have commanded a big price tag on the open market, and the only way to keep him in-house with a tight cap situation was by tagging him.

What he brings: If he stays healthy, expect Dupree to continue building on last year's career season -- especially as long as he's playing off T.J. Watt. The pair combined for 26 sacks a season ago, almost half of the Steelers' 54 sacks. With the defense expected to stay mostly intact this season, retaining Dupree helps the Steelers make the most of a narrow championship window in the waning years of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's career.


Zach Banner, OT

The Steelers gave Banner a new one-year, $1.75 million contract.

What it means: No. 72 is reporting as eligible next year. Primarily used as an extra offensive lineman, and yes, eligible receiver, Banner will be even more important this year with the retirement of Ramon Foster and the expected departure of other linemen like B.J. Finney in free agency. Banner wound up playing 22% of offensive snaps last year and had some bright spots facilitating the run game. Against Arizona, he played 25 snaps -- including two plays where running backs gained 9 and 16 yards. Banner's deal shows the Steelers believe he can be more than a gimmick.

What's the risk: He became a cult hero last season for the in-game announcements and his big personality, but he made it clear he wanted to be taken seriously as a member of the offensive line. Banner made strides in earning the trust of his fellow linemen as he matured throughout the season. Now, he has to prove he truly learned from veterans like Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey if and when he earns a bigger role on the line. He'll be competing with Chuks Okafor for any playing time or preferred backup roles.


Kameron Canaday, long snapper

What it means: The Steelers are maintaining the status quo at long snapper by signing Canaday to a new two-year deal. Canaday has been a three-year starter and hasn't missed a game during his time with the organization. With kicker Chris Boswell under contract through 2022, the Steelers are keeping him in his comfort zone by retaining Canaday. Though the kicking unit was inconsistent in 2018, in the 2017 and 2019 seasons, Boswell made 92 and 93.5% of his field goal attempts, respectively.

What's the risk: There's no real risk in bringing Canaday back. It's easier to keep things in a routine with the kicking unit, especially when it's working out rather than searching for another long snapper in free agency or the draft.


Jordan Dangerfield, S

The Steelers re-signed Dangerfield to a one-year deal.

What it means: Signing Dangerfield, who initially joined Pittsburgh as a practice squad player in 2017, is another move that shows the Steelers are dedicating resources to their special teams. Dangerfield only played six snaps on defense last season -- down from 75 the year before -- but he played 308 snaps on special teams, or 71% of the snaps. He had 12 special teams tackles in 2019, tied for seventh overall in the league, and he had a forced fumble.

What's the risk: Adding Dangerfield is a smart move for the Steelers for a couple reasons. He's on an inexpensive and low-risk one-year deal, and his primary position is one of need. The Steelers have strong starting safeties, but with the departure of Sean Davis, building depth behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds is important. Retaining Dangerfield was also important for special teams with the departure of Matakevich. Dangerfield will now help set the tone on the unit, along with Derek Watt.


Jarron Jones, OT

What it means: The Steelers are a team willing to give players from alternative leagues a chance. Jarron Jones joins fellow N.Y. Guardians teammate Cavon Walker as a recent signee, and last year, the Steelers added AAF standout Kameron Kelly. Jones, a Notre Dame product, switched from the defensive line to the offensive line shortly after joining the Giants in 2017, but he didn't stick in New York. He also spent training camp or preseason with the Seahawks, Bills and Cowboys.

What's the risk: Like with the other XFL and AAF signings, there's little risk in adding Jones. He won't be competing for a starting job, but he could end up on the roster as a depth player, or could stick to the practice squad as he continues to develop into a professional-caliber offensive lineman.


Tyree Kinnel, S

What it means: GM Kevin Colbert remained true to his word that the Steelers would evaluate XFL talent, and he liked what he saw in former Michigan safety Tyree Kinnel after five games with the DC Defenders. Kinnel had 17 tackles in the XFL, but he was also a contributor on special teams in college.

What's the risk: Kinnel had 17 total tackles in the shortened season. After a Michigan career where he had 170 tackles, two interceptions and one sack, Kinnel signed with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2019 but was cut after training camp. Signing him is another low-risk situation.