Mapping Out The Steelers’ Free Agency Plans

With the salary cap now confirmed to be $10 million higher than last season—and nearly $7 million more than projected—the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a much more favorable position to operate than was anticipated just a few weeks ago.

The fact of the matter is that the Steelers are virtually already in cap compliance, which is certainly not something that can be said of the state of their salary cap at this point in the offseason schedule over the last several seasons.

While not technically the case, the mere inevitable release of tackle Levi Brown will be all it takes to get Pittsburgh out of the red. Every cap-saving move the Steelers make from there on out is money that can be spent on rebuilding their roster, which will take some effort given their 21 unrestricted free agents.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert had even discussed earlier this offseason, before the announcement of the increase of the projected salary cap, that the team could be more active players in free agency than they had been since the early 00s, which saw them add Pro Bowl-quality talent on both sides of the ball with inside linebacker James Farrior and center Jeff Hartings.

While Steelers fans probably shouldn’t expect the team to be bringing in any Pro Bowlers, it’s certainly well within the realm of possibility that they could add an affordable starter or two to the mix for 2014.

Should that happen, however, it’s unlikely to be on the offensive side of the ball, though that does not preclude them from adding a running back, for example, for depth purposes behind Le’Veon Bell.

The defensive side is certainly more ripe for change through free agency, given the expected departure of at least one starter with free safety Ryan Clark likely gone. The Steelers have already brought in former Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas for a look, and it shouldn’t be surprising if they kick the tires on others, and perhaps even sign one.

The Steelers don’t have an overly favorable situation at safety with Troy Polamalu possibly in his last season and the other players at the position untested. Free agent Will Allen is a possibility to start, as he did two years ago, but no doubt the team would prefer a more reliable player as a starter.

Even though the Steelers are evidently content with Steve McLendon’s performance at nose tackle last year, that probably won’t prevent them from taking a look at a couple of candidates at the position.

Dave Bryan wrote about the possible candidacy of former Miami Dolphin Paul Soliai yesterday, and there are other candidates as well. Getting a new nose tackle would give the Steelers the option to move McLendon to defensive end, and would give them greater leverage to move away from Ziggy Hood or Brett Keisel, or both, though Al Woods no doubt should be expected to be re-signed.

Though less likely, barring the unanticipated release of Ike Taylor, cornerback could be another position at which the Steelers target bringing in a starter. There are a number of starting cornerbacks available in free agency this year, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Steelers add at least a lower-end free agent for depth.

Another key potential target for depth needs would be both inside and outside linebacker, though the latter largely hinges on whether or not the Steelers are able to re-sign Jason Worilds. The inability to do so would not result in a search for a starter, but it would increase exponentially the necessity to add legitimate depth outside of Chris Carter.

At inside linebacker, Larry Foote could be released if the Steelers believe they can move on with Vince Williams, but if that happens, then they will need more linebackers in the pipeline. Foote’s future could potentially depend on whether or not they feel they can upgrade from him with a free agent. Given the team’s fondness for Foote, however, I would consider this less likely.

There is one more position that has significant potential to be a free agent target, and that would be punter. The Steelers’ punters last year turned in woeful to mediocre performances consistently throughout the year, and the only punter on the roster currently is a former undrafted free agent that wasn’t with a team last year and has never punted in the league.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • steeltown

    I would really like to see a FA Safety brought in and an OLB.. would still draft both of these positions at some point, but the depth in these areas is that thin that we should consider both avenues. That would also allow us to focus more on CB and WR early in the draft

    I see them holding onto Foote one more season to compete with and mentor Williams

  • dkoy85

    I’m really hoping they add FS- I almost expect them to. NT would also make me bappy because we could finally move on from Hood. I think they are most likely going to try and get starters at both positions.

    I’m one of the few that think Allen and Gay can hold down the fort while a high draft pick (hopefully Fuller) starts to rotate into the starting position by the end of the year- assuming the Jones gets stronger, we sign Worilds, and the pass rush improves because Allen and Gay are capable in run support. 1st and 3rd round picks at CB battling it out in camp, with the best man wins should really show who has great potential and speed up the process.

    I think they resign Foote and hopefully pick up a FA OLB. I really can’t believe we’re in this position to even be able to speculate these types of moves. Pretty awesome!

  • steeltown

    Foote is under contract through ’15

  • dkoy85

    Oh… even better. Whats his cap hit for ’14?

  • steeltown

    $1.8MIL in ’14 and again in ’15

  • Jack Gardner

    How much money in total could we be looking at to use?

  • dkoy85

    I take back the “even better” comment. After his injury he coulda been had at the min. Then again I never took the time to figure out the structuring of deals so what do I really know?!

  • Paddy

    They need to find one starter In free agency. DL LB S CB

  • Rob H

    I agree that FS is pretty much a given, I would personally like them to go after a starting NT as well. It would give you the “tie up the blockers guy” for for the run D, allow you to move McLendon to replace Hood/Keisel, and allow you to concentrate on getting the best available playmaker on the board (offense or defense) in the first round. As an added bonus it would stop the ridiculous talk of taking Nix at 15. You would end up solving several issues with just those two additions, just go for cheap depth after that.

  • Kareem Daniels

    Sam Shields would be a nice pick up at corner

  • stairman

    How do they get over the cap, if there is a cap time period, how long must they stay compliant, and when or how do they get above it? Does the cap currently not consider the 21 free agent? Just curious how it works.

  • Will Hammer

    Sign a nose tackle or safety in free agency .Go get that big receiver for Ben . Then draft D,D,D,D,D,D,Defense

  • Rob S.

    Players’ base salaries increase most every year, so their cap hits go up most every year. If those increases are greater than the increase to the total cap then you will be over the cap. Right now, I believe the teams are still under the 2013 cap numbers and saleries. Starting March 11? the new cap number and salaries take affect. All UFAs will be off the books and your 51 highest paid players must be under the new cap number and must be compliant at all times. Basically all of the “over the cap” talk is projected, as if they were not to make any moves before the new numbers start.

  • Alan Felicia

    Would be a nice pick up. Just one problem, if GB doesn’t lock him up, some team will pay him handsomely say $8-$10 Million per year contract. Would be much cheaper to draft Gilbert, Roby, Jean-Baptiste, or Denir.


    They raised the cap. Now the Steelers can keep this 8-8 team together! Yay. Ike Taylor gets a paycut. Bring in a couple low level Free Agents.
    Sounds like a mediocre plan.

  • Steelers12328882

    I don’t want to see any free agent signings other then one or two mediocre backups just to add depth incase draft picks don’t work out. The only position in free agency I’d consider is OLB, and that’s only if we lose Worilds to another team. CB, S, ILB, DE/NT, WR, TE and OL can all be addressed in the draft.

  • Chad H

    As discussed the Mosley pick in the 1st is making sense. I also think Barr May slide down to our pick. IMO they offer better value in the 1st than both Ha-Ha and Pryor. Gilbert will be gone and Dennard doesn’t fit the Steelers system. A FA safety pick for depth and 1st rd and 3rd D picks. 2nd rd pick going to be a WR.

  • Alan Felicia

    If you look at the list of Free Safety, its a pretty thin list. Lots of big hitters like Whitner (SF), Ward (Cle), Mike Mitchell (Car), Bernard Pollard (Tenn). The only ball hawks are Byrd (Buff) and Stevie Brown (Giants). Byrd will be Franchise Tagged while Brown is coming off ACL injury last year. The only other player worth while is Malcolm Jenkins (NO).

  • cp72

    That’s a plan I could get behind. If Evans isn’t there take the best defensive player regardless of position. You can make an argument for every defensive position needing new blood.

  • Matt Manzo

    I’m only asking cuz I don’t have the time to do it. But how about an article that goes over all the available FAs and whether or not they’d be a good fit for us? I can see us bringing in 2-3 impact players this year. S, LB, and or DL.
    I’m only asking you cuz you guys are the best, not because I think you need to do more.

  • pat

    Sounds good even better if Matthews falls to us in the 2nd im a big fan of him

  • Jazz

    As we get older, we seem to think we can still do the same things when we were 18, 19, 21, 22 – 30. We get slower and slower, it’s reality, it happens to us all. So why the Hell does it seem as though the F/O hasn’t excepted reality as well? Ike Taylor/Ryan Clark/Troy Polamolu/Brett Kiesel, these guys were once great players for that Organization, but they are no longer effective at what they do. It’s a young man’s game, time to move on. I watched the combine, if Justin Gilbert or the WR out of Texas A&M (Evans) is there, they have to select one of them. I still believe Defense wins Championships, I say take Gilbert if he’s there. More than likely he will not slip by Chicago or Detroit though. Mike Evans could still be there. The draft is deep with DB’s and WR’s, but I think there is a much bigger drop off after Gilbert and Denard.

  • Jazz

    The WR’s worthy of taking at the #15 spot is Mike Evans and the kid out of South Carolina. You don’t take a WR that high in the draft unless you’re close to 100% they can come in and be a contributor immediately. If Mike Evans is there and Justin Gilbert is gone, which I believe he will be, I say take Evans.

  • AzheDraven

    So… When is the deadline to know if they resigned Worilds? Or when are they most likely to cut Levi Brown? I assume before March 11, but I really have no clue

  • Steve

    Troy did really well and didn’t miss a snap in 2013. Yes he is getting up in age but still has a year or 2 left. Taylor, Clark and Keisel are at the end for our Defense and Foote is not far behind.

  • Alan Felicia

    If Detroit passes on Gilbert, I think Pittsburgh grabs him @ 15!

  • Matthew Marczi

    Well, that depends entirely on how much the Steelers are willing to do to create cap space, of course, as you know. Full restructures of the contracts of Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons could create close to $8 million in cap space. The projected salary reduction for Ike Taylor is $3 million, but if he ends up being cut outright, that would open up $7 million in cap space. If they actually work out an extension with Roethlisberger this offseason, which at this point is unclear, that would be another $4 million. There are other things they can do here and there to save $1 million or so, as well.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Well, technically there is no deadline, but I would imagine they’d like to get Worilds locked up before he has a chance to hit free agency (on March 11). Brown should be cut any day now.

  • dkoy85

    Wish we had our team locked and loaded with depth all over and cap room to boot. Then hey, who needs the next two 1st round draft picks? Theyd be luxury picks anyway… sooo ummmm… then we could got after Jimmy Graham 😀

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Remember the team won 6 of our last 8 games. The team came together. I think we are looking good with what we have but need a few pieces on defense to improve that side of the ball.

  • gene mann

    the odds of starting a rookie FS is not really good

  • gene mann

    I agree FA ILB and FS will be the top 2

  • gene mann

    hey will not start the season with a rookie at FS so that will be their #1 goal

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    More importantly why haven’t they signed him yet i mean whats the hold up

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    I rather FS and DT through free agency and cbs and lbs through draft class

  • blackandgoldBullion

    That’s what I’m praying for….Gilbert can help right away, covering and especially returning. I looked at the teams in between Detroit and Pittsburgh and they all having glaring holes at other positions that they are most likely to address.

    Hopefully the Lions look at someone like Evans at WR. Imagine all the jump ball catches with these 3 targets: Megatron, Evans, and that 6’8″ TE! Hopefully Gilbert does fall to the Steelers.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    ILB DeMeco Ryans. He used to be like the captain on the great Texans D from 2 years ago. Then he gets signed by the Eagles and totally disappears. Supposedly he will be cut as $7 million is too steep. Can he still play? Might the Steelers pick him up cheap as a backup?

    Of course, this is still conjecture, but I would like to see who gets cut in the next week or so.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to be the Browns or Raiders, with $66 million in cap space. I keep thinking about how they will draft. Reggie MacKenzie helped build the Packers and he will not be as stupid as the previous guys. Imagine that Cleveland picks someone like Sammy Wadkins to pair at WR with Gordon. RB’s can be had for peanuts or much later. Then their D is usually top 10 each year. Draft a few parts here and there plus add in FA. Wow! If it wasn’t for the stupid owner, these guys would be laughing.


    I agree but, bringing in a low level FA and keeping Taylor is a bad plan. Especially since anything over the vet min is overpaying for him.


    I read today that Buffalo doesn’t plan on franchising Byrd. He would be a major haul. They could do it if they got the first year cap hit within reason. I doubt they will though. With so much cap space in 15′ I would go after him. It’s time to make a splash IMO.


    Gay is better suited as a nickel DB, IMO. But he’s better than Ike Taylor at this time. They could look at Corey Graham from Balt, or Walter Thurman (although he’s had past substance abuse problems), or Terrell Brown. Those guys are solid and not considered top tier Free Agent CBs.

    They need to address the secondary in Free Agency even if they draft a cornerback or two. Because Gay is limited in what he can do and Ike gets beat like a rented mule.

    The Safety position has no depth, but I’m confident that Shark Tank and Troy can get it done.


    I’m guessing Larry Foote wouldn’t fetch $1.8m anywhere else in the league. But that’s the Steelers for you. You would think Colbert and Tomlin would feel the heat a little and grow a spine. They are fine paying Foote even though Vince Williams can do what he does. Foote may be a little better in coverage but he’s not what he once was.


    A $3 million salary reduction for Ike Taylor?? Who in the NFL would pay Ike Taylor $4 million dollars next year?


    We have Shamarko and Troy, Vince Williams and Timmons. I would say DL and CB are of higher need.


    I wouldn’t bet on $8-10 million, that seems kind of high. It also makes me want to throw up that NO signed Keenan for $5 per.

  • Will Hammer

    Trade back get more picks ,there still is quality in this draft in the 2nd 3rd 4 Th. and even the 5th . And the Steelers still will have those compensatory picks for Lewis, Wallace ,Mendenhall.

  • Will Hammer

    Jazz ,I think the front office knows those guys are done .. I think Troy will stay another yr ,the rest will be cut ..