Free agency begins tomorrow. Although the Pittsburgh Steelers will never be big players, made especially likely with little cap space to work with, they still won’t stand completely still on the sidelines during this time. There aren’t any Eric Decker-caliber players below, but here’s a short wish list of free agents the Steelers should consider signing.
Brian Leonard, RB: Signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason, he saw a few more carries than expected after Doug Martin’s season-ending injury. He finished the season with 47 carries for 182 yards, both highs since his rookie season, and also caught 29 passes. His role has been the same his whole career: come in as a third down back who can pass protect and catch out of the backfield.
Le’Veon Bell proved to be a workhorse, including being able to play on third downs, so having backups with niche roles is important. There’s no guarantee LaRod-Stephens-Howling will be re-signed, and if he is, competition will be important for an unknown player coming off a torn ACL.
Although of minor influence, the Steelers of course are familiar with Leonard from his time spent with the Cincinnati Bengals. A one-year deal should be all it takes to sign him.
Toby Gerhart, RB: Just some dot-connecting here. With the team hiring James Saxon as their running backs coach, he’ll have as much insight as anyone on Gerhart. He was actually productive in 2013, averaging 7.9 yards a carry on 36 totes. Five of those 36 carries (14%) went for 15 yards or more. He also has 77 career catches. Depth is obviously an issue behind Bell.
Jermichael Finley, TE: This comes on the heels of reports the Steelers could have interest in him. It makes a lot of sense. As we’ve already talked about, Steelers physician Dr. Joseph Maroon was the doctor who performed his spinal fusion surgery.
In my mock draft, I talked about the desire for a ‘move’ tight end that can stretch the field. Finley has underachieved even when healthy the last two seasons, but with an almost certain one-year deal with little guaranteed money, it’s a low-risk/high-reward move.
Alex Carrington, DE: If Ziggy Hood is let go, the Steelers will be extremely thin at defensive end and likely don’t want to be forced to spend yet another first-round pick at the position. Carrington tore his quad in Week Three last season, but at 27, he doesn’t have too much wear and tear, and he has the size at 6’5″, 301 pounds. The injury, coupled with the relatively low value of five techniques, will make him a cost-effective signing.
Vance Walker, DE: Like Carrington, Walker has graded out well against the run. In his final season with the Atlanta Falcons two years ago, Pro Football Focus graded him as the second-best defender on their roster.
Of course, Walker has played defensive tackle his whole career, making him a little less appealing, but he’s another player that should be cheap and won’t be signed during the first wave of free agency. The Steelers can sit back, let the market sign the top defensive ends on the market, and use their leverage to snag a cheap deal—the way this team does business.
Pat Angerer, ILB: Knee and head issues have sapped his ability, and the Indianapolis Colts have reportedly moved on from him. But I still can’t shake seeing the guy who racked up 237 tackles in his first two seasons. With essentially just Vince Williams at ILB, Sean Spence can’t be counted on for anything, so adding Angerer makes a lot of sense.
Jameel McClain, ILB: McClain is another low-key signing to boost the inside linebacker spot with a veteran. He doesn’t produce any splash plays, with just two sacks, an interception, and and a forced fumble since 2010, he’s but a player the Steelers have seen a lot of during his time with the Baltimore Ravens.
Corey Graham, CB: Baltimore reportedly would like to re-sign him, meaning the chances of him coming to the Steelers are rather slim. I just could not find any fits out of the available free agents. Alterraun Verner sounds nice, but practically, the team can’t afford him, especially after seeing Sam Shields’ contract.
Graham was always a thorn in the side of the Steelers and would give the team four legitimate cornerbacks. Depth is vital at this position.
Stevie Brown, FS: Brown fell off the radar after tearing his ACL and missing the entire 2013 season with the New York Giants. In 2012, he came out of nowhere to pick off eight passes and force two fumbles in 11 starts. The Giants are making a push to re-sign him, but once free agency starts, perhaps the Steelers can pry him away The Giants also like Will Hill at the position as a backup plan. I like Brown’s size at 5’11″, 221 pounds.