The opening day of free agency was certainly a busy one all around the league, and this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers even got involved, signing an outside free agent to a high-value contract for the first time, unless I’m mistaken, in Mike Tomlin’s tenure.
The Steelers began the day by officially releasing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who was the second draft pick in Tomlin’s era as head coach of the team, after seven seasons, six as the starting left outside linebacker.
Woodley had exceptional success early on, and reached a peak in 2009 when he recorded 13.5 sacks, being named to his lone Pro Bowl, and also being named to the second-team All-Pro team.
A series of soft tissue injuries over the past three seasons, however, have derailed his career, and it reached a tipping point this season after Jason Worilds had a breakout season in his contract year and the Steelers drafted an outside linebacker in the first round, making it a borderline necessary decision to part ways financially and schematically.
That news was not only old, however, but also not at all surprising. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum was the signing of former Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell.
Mitchell, who will turn 27 later this offseason, started 14 games last season, his first year as a starter. He showed himself to be a big hitter who needs to work on becoming a more solid tackler, but he offers legitimate size, speed, and big-play potential on the back end, intercepting four passes, forcing two fumbles, and registering three and a half sacks.
The deal was worth $25 million over five years, but further contract details are yet to come out, so it’s not clear where the Steelers still stand from a cap standpoint. They entered the day somewhere between $7 and $8 million under until June.
Elsewhere around the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens joined in on the flurry of offensive tackle transitions, locking up their own franchise left tackle, Eugene Monroe, to a comparatively modest five-year, $37.5 million deal. At the same time, they also lost defensive end/tackle Arthur Jones to the Indianapolis Colts.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals lost defensive end pass rusher Michael Johnson, who joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and also appear set to lose slot receiver Andrew Hawkins to the division rival Cleveland Browns. Hawkins is a restricted free agent with no draft penalty to sign. He accepted the Browns’ four-year, $12.2 million offer. The Bengals have a week to match the offer, but are not expected to do so.
The Bengals also released center Kyle Cook, who is expected to be replaced by the recently re-signed Mike Pollak, and re-signed Taylor Mays.
In addition to pilfering Hawkins, the Browns have allowed safety T.J. Ward to depart for the Denver Broncos, instead giving more money to his replacement, Donte Whitner. In order to replace D’Qwell Jackson, they also signed Karlos Dansby.
As far as the Steelers go, they likely have already taken their big dip into the free agency pool with Mitchell. The next step will be coming to a long-term extension with Worilds and retaining some of their own remaining free agents, among them Jerricho Cotchery, Jonathan Dwyer, and Al Woods.