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.