The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly figure to be in the market for a new punter this offseason, given that all three punters that spent even a second on the roster last year are either not on the team or will be a free agent on Tuesday. But that search will not include Pat McAfee, who re-signed with the Indianapolis Colts on a five-year contract worth close to $3 million per season and includes $5 million guaranteed.
Second-year punter Drew Butler edged out veteran Brian Moorman during the preseason and made the final roster cut, but when the New England Patriots released Zoltan Mesko, the Steelers were quick to jump on board.
If only they’d realized that would be a mistake.
Mesko’s inconsistency became such a deterrent to the team’s efforts to achieve victory on a weekly basis that they released him mid-season and scooped up another veteran punter, Mat McBriar.
That didn’t turn out to be a much better plan, as the efforts of the two combined to turn in the second-worst punting performance in the league.
They may as well have stuck with Butler, who has far more potential to improve than these two veterans. But the Steelers chose not to re-sign him when Mesko didn’t work out, and he’s now a member of the Chicago Bears, where his father played, at least for now.
In the meantime, the Steelers have just one punter currently on the roster under contract for the new league year, second-year undrafted free agent Brad Wing, whose off the field issues helped prevent him from sticking with a team past training camp during his first season in the league.
The Steelers will assuredly be bringing in at least one other leg at some point to compete with Wing, who had an accomplished yet brief college career, yet is thoroughly untested in the professional ranks.
McAfee, however, was far and away the most talented punter slated to hit the free agent market. The next best option among punters who were in the league last season is probably Donnie Jones, who spent the bulk of his career with the St. Louis Rams, but last season played for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jones has maintained a net average of 40.5 yards on his 136 punts over the course of the past two seasons. His average distance last year was 44.9, while in 2012 it was 47.2. He had five touchbacks in each of the past two seasons, but had 85 punts either go out of bounds, downed, or fair caught. He has had a punt returned for a touchdown in each of the past two seasons.
Outside of Jones, there don’t appear to be many promising leads, which means McBriar could be brought back as Wing’s competition, or possibly a rookie. Sav Rocca and Adam Podlesh are slated to be on the market, but they didn’t fare much better than what the Steelers already had last season.