Jim Reineking of NFL.com posted a photo essay on Wednesday of his top 20 free-agent signings in NFL history. I was a little hesitant to even flip through it for fear that he would not include former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Farrior in his list. Surprisingly, he did.
Reineking ranked Farrior 14th overall, which is more than fair, in my opinion.
Farrior remains the best free agent acquisition that Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has ever had in his 13 years in Pittsburgh. After being signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2002, Farrior would go on to start in a 154 regular season games for the Steelers after being considered a first round bust by the New York Jets after his first 5 seasons in the league.
Farrior was signed by the Steelers to a three-year, $5.4 million contract in April of 2002 that included a $1.7 million signing bonus. The Steelers chose to go with him over unrestricted free agent Earl Holmes, who wound up signing a five-year, $17.5 contract with the Cleveland Browns.
"We felt James was the best fit from both the player standpoint as well as a cap standpoint," said Colbert, via the 2002 report by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We wanted to get this thing settled and we tried to get aggressive in that direction."
With the Jets, Farrior had played weak outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, so the move to the inside of the Steelers 3-4 defense was a risk, but one that Colbert felt comfortable taking.
"When we had him in for his visit we felt comfortable he could play in this scheme," said Colbert. "There\'s always some risk involved but with his intelligence and athleticism, we felt the risk was worth taking."
The Steelers head into the 2013 league year with a question mark at the position that Farrior played for so long. Larry Foote, who took over the position last year after Farrior was released in the offseason, played adequately, but is now an unrestricted free agent himself. The Steelers have had contract talks with him, but have yet to re-sign him. Even if they do, Foote only has one more season in him.
The position might be addressed during the upcoming draft, but in the meantime, Colbert might be looking at the long list free agents in hopes of finding the next Farrior. Being as how the Steelers are cap crunched, the pickings will certainly be slim.
Even if the Steelers were to stray away from their recent history of not being active in free agency, the chances of catching lightning in a bottle, like they did with Farrior, is slim. At least Reineking recognized that as well.