Will the Pittsburgh Steelers sign outside linebacker Alex Highsmith to a contract extension this offseason? It’s certainly hard to answer that question as we sit here in late January and Steelers team president Art Rooney II certainly didn’t say one way or the other when it comes to that topic when he met the media this past week. If there is one player that the Steelers could extend this offseason, Highsmith is the easy choice so with that, let’s take a quick look at what his value this offseason might be.
For the sake of this exercise, I have pulled the top 25 highest paid edge rushers from Over the Cap to compare them to Highsmith. Also as part of that data pull, I have also pilled the key stats of each player from the past two seasons to use as a comparison to Highsmith. The table of data is below.
The stats I pulled include things such as games played, sacks, total tackles, tackles for loss, stops, quarterback hits, combined forced fumbles and interceptions, along with pass rush production percentages, a metric that Pro Football Focus has made famous.
In the table of data below, I have highlighted each stat in green for a player who is in the top 10 related to the 26 total players used in this study. So, if a player does not have a green box, he was not in the top 10 in that stat when compared to his peers of 26. Pretty straight forward, right?
When you look at the green boxes in the table, only two players of these 26 have every one checked, and they are Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders and Haason Reddick of the Philadelphia Eagles. There are four players who have all but one box in green and that list include T.J. Watt of the Steelers, Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns, Matthew Judon of the New England Patriots and Highsmith. That’s certainly not bad company for Highsmith to have himself in when it comes to the last two seasons.
Now, the one box that Highsmith failed to check is PFF’s pass-rush productivity (PRP) metric. The formula for PRP: ((Hurries + Hits) / 2) + (Sacks) / (Pass-Rush Snaps). Unlike pressure percentage, PRP is weighted towards sacks and hits because of their added value.
With all of the explanations out of the way, you should be able to clearly see that Highsmith stacks up well with the 25 other edge rusher players used in this study.
Based only on the data I have presented in this post, a strong argument that Highsmith should be a top 15 highest paid edge rusher in the NFL, at worst, can be made. If you agree, that probably puts his floor at $16 million when it comes to a new money average as pat of an extension.
Based only on this exercise, one might could ty to argue that Highsmith should be a top five highest paid pass rusher and thus around $23.5 million when it comes to a new money average. That said, Highsmith is not that kind of game-wrecker that belongs in the top five highest paid edge rushers, in my honest opinion. At least not just yet. He’s still young, however, and hopefully his game-wrecking ability will continue to improve.
Quite honestly, a more just argument when it comes to Highsmith’s market ceiling is probably 10th overall, say $17.25 million. That number isn’t that much more than his perceived reasonable floor of $16 million, however.
So, where do I come down on Highsmith’s offseason market value right now? Really, somewhere between $16 and $17.25 million per year. I think he has earned that value based on his tape, what he’s asked to do and who he plays with in the Steelers defensive front.
Now, Highsmith’s perceived value and what the Steelers might offer him this offseason are two different things. Remember, the Steelers are not obligated to sign him to an extension this offseason as he still has one year left on his rookie deal.
Additionally, a 2024 franchise tag weapon can and will be used against Highsmith this offseason, assuming there are contract extension negotiations that take place. In short, Highsmith can be capped at around an estimated $26 million for the next two seasons if not extended this offseason and that’s if he stays healthy and productive in 2023 and he indeed gets the franchise tag a little more than a year from now. In short, I think an extreme low side market value for Highsmith this offseason could be $15 million because of that tag weapon.
There’s also the length and fully guaranteed money amount that plays into a new deal for Highsmith as well, and I will address both of those key topics further into the offseason. In closing, I will leave you with this. Should the Steelers indeed end up getting Highsmith signed to a contract extension this offseason, I think the new money average of that deal could come in somewhere between $15 and $17.25 million. That feels like the right range, all things considered.