Steelers Close The Book On Phase One Of Free Agency

With the signing late last week of running back LeGarrette Blount, the Pittsburgh Steelers put an exclamation point on what is likely the conclusion of Phase One of their free agency plan, which I expect to be on hiatus until June now.

The Steelers re-signed many of their own 21 unrestricted free agents in addition to adding five new outside free agents, with three of them coming on the defensive side of the ball and two of them replenishing losses on offense.

While it can be argued whether or not the Steelers are better off than they were in 2013 with the players that they have replaced, whether willingly or by choice (something that can be handled in another post), the organization should be commended for the way they responded to setbacks.

Few if any uttered much worry over whether the Steelers would have been able to retain wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who expressed his admiration for the organization and his fondness of playing with Ben Roethlisberger, which helped lead him to one of his best seasons and resulted in a career-high 10 touchdown receptions.

When the Carolina Panthers came calling, however, it was hard for him to refuse, given the immense need that the team had and the fact that Cotchery and his wife once called the state home.

As a result, it created an opening and a need at wide receiver, paired with the loss of Emmanuel Sanders. The Steelers had already prepared for the possibility by scheduling a meeting with former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore, who had been cut for financial reasons after losing playing time last season.

Moore came cheaper than what Cotchery cost the Panthers, but it still chipped away at the small stone that was left of the Steelers’ available salary cap, and the signing of Blount nearly finished the job, to the point where the Steelers have somewhere in the vicinity of a couple hundred thousand, a pebble remaining for the next two months.

In other words, the Steelers don’t really even have the salary cap space to sign anybody, outside of perhaps a veteran-minimum qualifying contract or two, which would put them precipitously close to the limit.

The Steelers, of course, do have the means of creating cap space if they so desired in order to continue their free agency excursions. Most readily, they could restructure the contract of Lawrence Timmons to create millions in space. More problematic but within the realm of possibility would be extensions with Jason Worilds or Roethlisberger.

The more significant reason that the Steelers are likely finished with their free agency maneuvers for now, however, is simply because they’ve already filled about as many holes as can while doing so in a timely and responsible manner.

With the moves they’ve made, the only significant remaining hole comes along the defensive line, with a starting defensive end likely still a need. But with Brett Keisel still available, and likely easily had down the road, there’s no sense moving money around to get it done now when they have money coming later.

The offensive line has been replenished. The safety position, once considered a glaring need, is no longer so with Mike Mitchell coming on board and Shamarko Thomas perhaps on a trajectory to take over for Troy Polamalu in a couple seasons. Arthur Moats provides depth at both inside and outside linebacker.

All the other concerns can be secured in the draft. Another wide receiver. Another running back. A cornerback to groom to start in a year or two. A defensive end or nose tackle to put into the pipeline. After the draft, they can reassess and prepare for Phase Two of free agency in June, which could include a couple more gap-filling signees, but most likely will consist of draft picks getting under contract and a key extension or two.

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

    I think WR and DL would be the two areas of loss that we added to but didn’t completely fortify, obviously losing two players Sanders and Cotchery and then signing Moore and then losing Hood and Woods and bringing in Cam Thomas…. that said, I fully expect DL and WR to be drafted at some point and possibly in both in the earlier Rds.. and of course CB!

  • Virdin Barzey

    Agreed.

  • pittsburghjoe

    If Gilbert, Dennard and Evans are gone, I think they may pick Nix. In effect, it takes care of DE with the thinking Mac will move over.

  • chris ward

    Agree, that should wrap it up for the first part of free agency. Steelers filled all the holes necessarily that they needed to in FA. I give the Steelers staff and Colbert a A+ during free agency.

  • afrazier9

    I’m with you guys this was a good article this showed something’s about FO putting together there puzzle

  • Ben Saluri

    Really stepped up there game w/ some very good signings. Hope the Bills sign D. Jackson have a legit shot at Evans at 15.

  • Tanner Blackman

    K.Benjamine in the first, S.Tuitt in the second, P. Disir and K. McGrill back to back at 3 and 4, then grabbing S. Henderson with our other 5th would be huge then you have 4 more picks to get a NT, TE, another WR, and OLB would be a great draft

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    In response to PittsburghJoe’s post below, Joe you are absolutely dead on – we need to fortify the DL, and the method you described is the PERFECT way to do it – draft a NT then move McClendon to DE. One pick, two spots fortified.
    I would still want us to pick a CB in rd1 or 2, then another CB in the later rounds. I don’t think we have to take Nix at 15 – we could get one of 2 or 3 true NTs who are capable (McCullers from Tennessee is my favorite) in like round 4 or 5.
    Don’t know why this approach is not being discussed more.

    Dave an article on the viability of moving McClendon to DE might be worthwhile.

  • Matt Manzo

    We’ve done an amazing job in free agency! I thought we’d be lucky to see 3 new faces!!

  • Jason

    That’s assuming McClendon is even a starting caliber DE which nobody really knows. People just see his size and assume he can play the position. Plus there’s no guarentee that Nix would even start considering how this team despises playing guys until they’ve been in the league for 3 years unless forced to like the Jarvis Jones/ Vince Williams situation. I like your thinking on the 2 birds with 1 stone thing but it’s for from a sure thing for the 2014 season.

  • steelster

    I do believe Casey Hampton started as a rookie. Not as much to learn at the NT position.

  • RyanW

    Honestly I think this offseason couldn’t have gone much better than it has. People were writing our epitaph before free agency like we lost major players. Instead weve let go of guys we didnt need and replaced them with imo upgrades Mitchell is young and upcoming and his speed and coverage ability is far better than Clarks and he signed a very cap friendly deal for 5 years. Blount is a major upgrade over Dwyer and hasnt had off field problems in a number of years. And he also came cheap. Lance Moore came cheaper than Cotchery and as Dave pointed out a few days ago compares favorably with Cotchery in terms of production especially on third downs. Moats is a solid LB depth signing for both ILB and OLB and Thomas is basically Al Woods someone can play both end and NT.

  • Jason

    Lebeau wasn’t the DC Hampton’s rookie year and while I agree there may not be as much to learn at NT Lebeau just doesn’t like the idea of starting a rookie. Granted while Lebeau has been here there hasn’t been a lot of spots for a rookie since the defenses have been successful but I think this defense could benefit from a young talented playmaker even if he makes a few mistakes along the way.

  • tim

    ” The offensive line has been replenished….”
    Guy Whimper is NOT replenishing ANYTHING….we plugged a few depth holes on the OL but do NOT say to me ” replenished”…..
    Thank you…