Before I get into my thoughts on the 2013 draft, I want to review the players that were signed this offseason. Looking at the completed picture, I can see how the moves in free agency directly led to what positions were addressed in the draft. I am actually very impressed with the job that the Pittsburgh Steelers did in free agency for a normally dormant free agent team.
The biggest resigning was Ramon Foster. Not only did it impact the draft, but we can see what the starting offensive line should look like this year. There are a few backups, but outside of Kelvin Beachum and maybe John Malecki, there are no locks. The Steelers had 9 offensive lineman on the 2012 starting roster so that leaves a battle for 1 or 2 more spots. That being said, any players drafted would be strictly for depth purposes so a later round at best. I also have talked about the financial risk behind grabbing too many high profile offensive lineman and really the Steelers chose to wait until the draft was done to talk to offensive lineman.
The two most publicised re-signings were Steve McLendon and Emmanuel Sanders. Both players had interest from other teams but luckily are back with the Steelers. While Sanders\’ deal is only for a year, there is still a chance to try and work out a longer deal. If Sanders hadn\’t had his offer matched, wide receiver would have been very scary. Not only would there be a lack of depth, but no starting caliber Y receiver. Jerricho Cotchery has seen better days and David Gilreath needs more time. Plaxico Burress was also re-signed, but will need to fight for his spot on the 53 man roster. McLendon is now in a great position to show Steeler Nation that he is the franchise\’s next beast in the middle for a decade to come. Alameda Ta\’amu is still around, though most likely on a bit of a leash, so this position now ranks low on the need list.
Larry Foote was also re-signed and that took some of the focus off of inside linebacker. After hearing the news from linebackers coach Keith Butler that Sean Spence might not play again, it is no wonder that Foote was retained. Stevenson Sylvester was brought back to try and prove that he can take the role from Foote. That being said, this could still be a big area of need for the Steelers going forward, because there is no way a drafted player will start for the Steelers. Any drafted player will need to be assumed at least half a year (in a best case scenario) to get into the rotation.
The Steelers also signed some key free agents. Bruce Gradkowski was a smart move and maybe the best move the Steelers made. The Steelers need to make the playoffs and nothing hurts more than losing Ben Roethlisberger to an injury during the season. Gradkowski has the ability to keep the Steelers competitive in games without Roethlisberger. I have nothing but love and respect for Charlie Batch, but I\’ve really been lobbying for a while for some new blood behind Roethlisberger. I also think that Byron Leftwich played himself out of a contract this year, though he was a bit banged up.
The other really awesome signing was Matt Spaeth. While he has proven that he\’s not a catching machine, he makes up for it with his blocking ability. David Paulson can fill in for Heath Miller to a certain degree in the passing game, but his blocking isn\’t up to snuff yet. A power running team like the Steelers needs a better guy. While moving one of the full backs to tight end was an option, neither has the ability to sting as a pass catcher. Spaeth might not release as much as Miller does, but he can attack you if you don\’t cover him. Paulson is a great second tight end and in “big I” formations can be the pass option instead of Spaeth as well.
The final free agent the Steelers have signed is the explosive LaRod Stephens-Howling. He will take over the role that Chris Rainey was drafted for, and I honestly think he\’s much better at it. He will allow offensive coordinator Todd Haley to be creative and start implementing new plays in his sophomore year calling the shots on offense. Stephens-Howling has great speed, is much more durable than Rainey was, and best of all comes cheap. He can also compliment the return game if no one else is more capable.
I also have to give honorable mentions to the restricted tenders and lower impact signings the Steelers made. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer both signed their restricted tenders. David Johnson and Greg Warren were also brought back as unrestricted free agents. The final signing was William Gay, who signed a three year deal, but will likely factor into the bottom half of the cornerback rotation.
After reviewing these free agent signings and re-signings, I think it\’s easier to understand why the Steelers chose who they chose in the earlier rounds of the draft. I have a pretty safe feeling about the team right now. With the draft and free agency now behind us, the roster is essentially covered at every position and this storied franchise cautiously continues on while tight roping a strenuous cap situation. Sure, there were free agent loses along the way, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made. While it\’s a long time away, I am very excited for the Steelers heading into the 2013-14 season.