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.