The key to any negotiations is having a plan and being willing to walk away from the table and pivot if things start to deviate from that plan.
The Steelers have shown that ability for sure already this offseason.
It was no secret the team would have liked to keep cornerback Cameron Sutton. General manager Omar Khan said at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February the team had begun discussions with Sutton on a new deal that would have kept the free agent corner with the Steelers.
"We think very highly of Cam and conversations have commenced," Khan said back in late February. "We'll see where it goes, just like all of our other free agents. Everything is on the table."
Some took that to mean the Steelers would sign Sutton no matter what. But the key phrase in that statement is the final part. "Everything is on the table," means exactly that. And that includes being willing to walk away from the negotiating table if the price exceeds what you want to pay.
Sutton agreed to a three-year deal with the Detroit Lions earlier this week on a contract that, per average salary per season, makes him the 16th-highest paid cornerback in the NFL as of this writing.
The Steelers obviously weren't willing to go that high with him. So, they walked away from the table, pivoted and signed veteran Patrick Peterson instead.
Could the Steelers have matched the deal the Lions gave Sutton? Perhaps. But to do that would have meant shorting themselves somewhere else.
The Steelers were quite active in the opening week of free agency, not only signing Peterson, but guard Nate Herbig and linebacker Cole Holcomb, as well. There are reports that defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi and safety Damontae Kazee also have agreed to new deals, though nothing is official as of yet.
Some people might feel the NFL's salary cap is just a figment of the league's imagination, an arbitrary number teams can easily maneuver around. But that's not the case.
There's real money involved. And there are limits to what teams can spend.
Going above your budget to keep a player regardless of cost sounds nice in a vacuum. But it can't be done at the expense of shorting yourself at another position.
In the NFL, depth is everything. So, sticking with your plan and being willing to walk away from the negotiating table when contract talks exceed what you're willing to spend is a must.
The Steelers have been aggressive in free agency the past two years, signing a number of players. But they've also been smart in spending that available cap space.
The idea seems to be quality quantity instead of making a few big splashes.
• Many of the same people who were gnashing their teeth over the loss of Sutton were the same people who pound the table saying the Steelers shouldn't take a cornerback in the NFL Draft because they don't know how to develop and draft them.
Of course, those were the same people who had a lot of angst over the Steelers losing Mike Hilton in free agency a couple of years ago, as well.
So which is it? Are the Steelers unable to draft and/or develop cornerbacks, or are Sutton and Hilton good players who were drafted and/or developed by the team?
Yes, the team had some misses at the position, as well. But that's not all that extraordinary at the position in a league where half of the starting cornerbacks were originally on someone else's roster.
That's just the way that position works, largely because it might be the hardest position to judge going into the draft each season.
Very few college teams have their cornerbacks line up and play man defense. More often than not, college corners are playing some kind of soft zone coverage because they don't have to worry about college quarterbacks being super accurate with the ball.
That changes in the NFL. You have to mirror receivers and stay on them much more closely in the NFL. And you're not allowed to be nearly as grabby in the NFL as you can get away with in college.
After quarterback, judging college cornerbacks might be the toughest position for scouts to evaluate.
Both Hilton and Sutton are quality players. But could the Steelers really tie up more than $50 million -- what they've signed for in free agency -- in those two players?
• On that subject, the vaunted 2018 draft that had four quarterbacks selected in the top 10 for the first time in 70 years hasn't worked out so well.
The Browns took Baker Mayfield first overall that year, while Sam Darnold went third to the Jets, Josh Allen seventh to the Bills and Josh Rosen 10th to the Cardinals.
Of that group, only Allen is still with the team that drafted him.
Mayfield agreed to a one-year deal with the Buccaneers this week, while Darnold joined the 49ers.
Ironically, the two were teammates last season in Carolina before Mayfield was released and signed with the Rams.
So, Mayfield is now on to his fourth NFL team, while Darnold is now with his third team. That's still better than Rosen, who has been with seven different teams and is currently out of the NFL.
These are guys entering their sixth NFL seasons.
When people say the NFL stands for Not For Long, that particularly applies to the quarterback position. And the situation in which those quarterbacks land matters a great deal.
Allen has had one head coach and two offensive coordinators in his time in Buffalo.
Mayfield will be working with his eighth head coach and seventh offensive coordinator in six seasons with the Buccaneers this season. Darnold will be on head coach No. 5 and offensive coordinator No. 6 this year with the 49ers.
For a quarterback, who has to know the entire offense, that's a big deal.
• The moves the Steelers have made in free agency this week aren't the kind that generate big headlines. They aren't the kind that get the talking heads buzzing.
But they're the kind of moves that stable franchises make.
Much like a draft, free agent moves shouldn't be judged until a couple of years down the road.
Think about how many of the big-splash signings teams made just a couple of years ago found themselves released to create cap space. It happens all the time in the NFL.
This year's big free agent signing is next year's cap casualty.
• The thing many need to remember is that the NFL's new league year didn't actually begin until 4 p.m. Wednesday.
It's easy to get caught up in all of the excitement once the moves start to get announced. But there are several weeks for things to happen. Actually, there are several months for things to happen.
No team was going to line up and play a game at 4 p.m. March 15 when the new league year began.
Remember, the Steelers didn't sign Kazee a year ago until the day after the NFL Draft. Ogunjobi wasn't added until June of last year.
As former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher used to say – a lot – this is a marathon, not a sprint. There have been players released this week that will be playing in the NFL in 2023. There will be players released next month and after the draft that will play in 2023.
Spend all of your money now, and you won't have any available later to make necessary moves.