Pre-Draft Free Agent Movements: Running Back

The vast bulk of the offseason roster moves to be made before the draft are already completed, so now is a good time to start taking a look at how the month of March (and the early portions of April) have affected the depth chart.

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the offseason with 21 unrestricted free agents. They retained many of them, but also lost a few that they likely wished to keep, and were forced to replace them from outside the organization. The Steelers also released a few players, in addition to signing half a dozen (and counting) players from other teams.

The first position we will take a look at is running back, and the offseason gains and losses there that the team has experienced.

Re-Signings:

None.

Additions:

LeGarrette Blount: The Steelers found themselves in a bit of a bind after failing to sign or re-sign a trio of running backs that could provide veteran experience behind their second-year starter. LeGarrette Blount finally scheduled a meeting, reportedly heavily recruited by head coach Mike Tomlin, and ended up signing a two-year deal worth upwards of $4 million.

Outside of a penchant for putting the ball on the ground, Blount brings with him some significant pedigree for toting the ball, boasting a career average of 4.7 yards per carry. He scored 11 total touchdowns between the regular season and the postseason last year, and also showed significant potential as a kick returner.

Given the contract that he signed, it would appear likely that Blount will be asked to carry a greater percentage of the workload than the Steelers’ reserve backs from a season ago, in order to save some wear and tear from Le’Veon Bell.

Losses:

Jonathan Dwyer: The Steelers entered free agency with three of their four running backs slated to hit free agency. The only one they appeared interested in re-signing was the one that they drafted, Jonathan Dwyer.

Previously cut in the final roster trimming before the regular season, Dwyer was re-signed after the season opener due to injury, and slowly carved out a role for himself as the season progressed. He had some success on third downs and ultimately built up to a 4 yards per carry average that was un an upward trend.

However, Dwyer chose to sign with the Arizona Cardinals instead, where he figures to be in the competition to start. He would have no chance to do so in Pittsburgh with Bell entrenched as the starter. A change of scenery won’t hurt, either.

Remaining Free Agents:

LaRod Stephens-Howling: LaRod Stephens-Howling was brought in to try to offer what Chris Rainey couldn’t the year before. Rainey lacked toughness and the ability to run between the tackles, seemingly going down on first contact every time.

Stephens-Howling flashes some promise during the preseason, but he ended up tearing his ACL in the season opener (leading to Dwyer’s re-signing) after previously dealing with a knee ailment. The Steelers reportedly have interest in bringing him back after his knee is further along, but that remains to be seen.

Felix Jones: The Steelers traded for Felix Jones in order to provide competition for the last running back roster spot, realizing that they were overpaying two backup running backs. Jones ended up knocking Dwyer off the roster in large part due to his ability to save the team hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While Jones didn’t do anything explicitly poorly, he overall performance came across as generally mediocre: easily replaceable. The Steelers don’t appear interested in retaining him as of now.

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

    I will take UDFA’s over Felix any day. He is done, and that’s why other teams gave up on him as well. Bell, Blount, a rookie either drafted or UDFA, then either 1 or the practice squad guys or someone else off the street.

    No more Felix Jones!

  • Big White

    Bell & Blount are two pretty good bell cows. If we drafted Bell to be a three down back who can catch the football, all I see is the addition of a back who can cover of special teams. Blount played well enough late last year to warrant a starting position. Agree with blackandgoldBullion. Looking for a Willie Parker on the cheap.

  • Douglas Andrews

    I see Blount as an upgrade over Dwyer and Felix Jones both as a RB and KR. Now we need to add a speedster through the draft and sign LSH. That gives the RB position depth and some competition for the #3 RB spot.

  • tim

    Cept for LSH….I think we can find equal or better in FA for same or less $….seems to be rb galore and will be more to come…

  • Douglas Andrews

    LSH is only gonna cost you a vet minimum qualifier on a 1yr deal. His role will only be on some 3rd downs and ST’s. Seems like the RB well has dried up with decent 3rd down backs for the vet min.I only say LSH because he knows the system won’t require much to sign coming off that knee injury and is worth a gamble if he doesn’t pan out cut him. Who else did you have in mind?

  • tim

    Well om judt wondering if we do wait if we may be able to pick up someone who gets cut in camp or before and try to do the same with them…ONLY because LSH is a lil older now coming off an injury…not that hes OLD but…cant we maybe draft a guy before camp to do the same as he would’ve is all I’m thinking…

  • Douglas Andrews

    I’m sure the Steelers will draft a RB for the 3rd down role kind of a change of pace back. As far as the June 2 watch i’ll be interested in the cap casualties who knows maybe we can get us a dynamic playmaker. Thought Todd Haley would try and convince Dexter Mccluster to come over from the Chiefs but he’s gonna be expensive. He’d make a great change of pace back as well as a KR/PR…

  • shawn

    yup !

  • tim

    Mccluster would have been nice…but like you said, draft a guy for that role…

  • Douglas Andrews

    He’s still availabel

  • tim

    Yea but at whay cost?