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.
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.
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.