Tomorrow brings the beginning of the National Football League’s Free Agency period and I know I couldn’t be happier. While it’s doubtful the Pittsburgh Steelers will be ‘major players’ they do have some cap space and they have needs.
Between Monday and Wednesday at 4pm ET, teams are allowed to meet with free agents. Once the clock strikes four, they may begin signing players. If you’re wondering, yes, teams and players will no doubt come to ‘agreements’ before the deadline but they won’t be made public.
With the draft still nearly two months away, the Steelers will likely narrow their needs for that down by addressing free agency. As it pertains to the Steelers, we’ve gone through and looked at some of the key questions the Steelers are facing as the period begins.
Safety – The Steelers would feel much better about a veteran free agent coming aboard rather than hoping a rookie can come and take the job. The most common thought here has been Eric Weddle the former Charger. It’s a horribly kept secret that Mike Tomlin loves the guy and at 30 years old, is Weddle looking for his best shot at a title?
There are other options such as Cincinnati’s George Iloka but either way, this position remains one that the Steelers have to get right.
Cornerback – Because this position is one of overwhelming need I’m listing it here but I do believe the team is more likely to address this in the draft in terms of potential starter. Don’t mistake that as “they won’t address it in free agency” – they will – but I believe they will look for more depth in free agency rather than a starter.
I’ve slowly come around to the idea that Brandon Boykin could return because he has constantly spoken well of the Steelers. That said, he will get better money elsewhere. The Steelers have already re-signed Ross Cockrell and are likely to do the same with Antwon Blake but the wild-card is William Gay. If he re-signs, then that changes things a great deal but if he doesn’t there will be tremendous pressure to get this right. With Senquez Golson basically a rookie, the Steelers aren’t lacking as much depth as we might think but they desperately need upgrades.
Defensive Line – Right now the Steelers have Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. After that? You might not want to look. Steve McLendon is 31 years old and a free agent. I think he’s done a very good job after replacing Casey Hampton but unless he agrees to a really surprising deal I think they move on.
Cam Thomas cannot be an option here. While he showed some improvement last season he is still a significant liability in his reserve role and is an example of several mistakes the front office has made in regards to defensive line transactions. Look for a modest addition in free agency and then more following the draft.
Tight End – With the retirement of Heath Miller, the Steelers are left with second-year player Jesse James. I am of the mindset that James is a capable second tight end but I’m not convinced he’s ready to be a starter. Matt Spaeth remains with one year left on his deal but he’s not a starting, dual-threat tight end.
There are a couple of very interesting possibilities for the Steelers in free agency. Ben Watson has been around a long time but he had a big year in New Orleans in 2015. Perhaps he’s a one-year option? I think the Colts will re-sign Dwayne Allen but that could leave Coby Fleener available.
Regardless of what they do, I’m convinced they’ll draft a tight end to develop.
Offensive Line – Despite the fact that there is some cap space the Steelers are likely going to have to chose between Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum. If Foster is kept it will likely be for depth. He’s been a solid player but the Steelers need an upgrade at left guard. If it’s Beachum, then this assumes the Steelers like how he is coming along after ACL surgery and raises the question about whether he kicks down to guard or not.
The Steelers usually do well when it comes to finding some depth along the OL in free agency and I think they could do that here as well. Alejandro Villanueva made tremendous progress after taking over for Beachum so I believe they like where he is.
Quarterback – I think Mike Tomlin was pretty obvious in his comments about the back-up QB spot in his season-ending press conference. They have to do better than Landry Jones who has had his moments but just doesn’t seem capable of being consistent enough to hold down the job. We know the Steelers have met with several draft prospects at the position but I still think the way to go here is a veteran back-up.
Chad Henne was thought to be an option but he’s back with the Jaguars. Matt Moore, most recently with Miami, could be an option and we can’t totally dismiss a return by Bruce Gradkowski if he’s 100% healthy.
Running Back – Assuming Le’Veon Bell is ready to go for week one and with DeAngelo Williams as the primary back-up, the Steelers are in good shape. Still, they’ve learned valuable lessons about running back depth in the last two years and it would behoove them to make sure they have a guy ready to go.
While there are a couple of intriguing free agents, look for the Steelers to address the position in the draft and the post-draft free agency period.