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How Will The Losses In Free Agency Alter The Steelers’ Offseason Strategy?

The Pittsburgh Steelers uncharacteristically dipped into the free agent pool early to bring in an outside free agent, signing former Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell to a five-year contract on Tuesday.

Yesterday was a different story. As per their norm, they worked toward rebuilding their roster by re-signing a trio of their own free agents: one on offense, one on defense, and one on special teams.

But they also lost a trio of free agents yesterday, one each signing with the Tennessee Titans, the San Diego Chargers, and the Arizona Cardinals.

All three losses come at fairly thin positions on the roster, having lost defensive end/nose tackle Al Woods, tight end David Johnson, and running back Jonathan Dwyer to the aforementioned teams, respectively.

The biggest loss would seem to be Woods, who signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Titans after playing not much over 200 snaps last season, but making two starts at nose tackle, and recording more sacks than Jarvis Jones.

With Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood—the latter of whom visited with the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday—also free agents, whom the Steelers up until now don’t appear overwhelmingly interested in re-signing—the defensive end position suddenly becomes a critical need.

As it stands right now, the starting left defensive end would be Brian Arnfelt, who played two snaps last season. It’s highly unlikely that he’s ready to be a full-time starter before even being in the rotation. Behind him is Nick Williams, who didn’t make it out of preseason healthy.

At first blush, it would appear that the Steelers may be forced to crawl back to either Keisel or Hood and attempt to address the position again in the draft, although there may be a couple of defensive end candidates among free agents that could come in and start.

Jim Wexell and others wrote earlier this offseason that in addition to meeting with several defensive backs, the Steelers also met with most of the top defensive end candidates at the Combine, which could be revealing as to their plans going forward. It’s not ideal to use another high-round pick on the position after using two first-rounders there since 2009, but it may be the road we’re headed down.

Unlike Woods, the Steelers apparently didn’t have Dwyer and Johnson in their plans. I had expected that they might be interested in retaining both, so while it reshapes my thoughts on what the Steelers might do, it evidently doesn’t alter their plans.

At tight end, they do have the top two positions on the depth chart locked up with Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth. While David Paulson is still on the roster, I suspect that they would still like to upgrade from him. I thought that Johnson could be that player, as he was the second tight end behind Miller before he was lost for the season. The Steelers have been connected to Jermichael Finley, who has yet to be cleared to play.

At running back, the Steelers must now be on the lookout for a complementary piece for Le’Veon Bell, because even though they reportedly would like to re-sign LaRod Stephens-Howling, he not only is not ‘change of pace’ back, but also must prove that he’s healthy after tearing his ACL.

There are still quite a few free agent running backs available, such as former Cincinnati Bengals Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott. Even LeGarrette Blount is available, but I have a hard time seeing them being interested.

As of now, the running back position would seem to be a top priority come draft time. Don’t mistake top priority with high-round pick, however, as they don’t need the invest a high pick to get a quality back.

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