The Pittsburgh Steelers have never been extremely active in free agency. It is just simply not how the team operates. General Manager Kevin Colbert is on record saying the team builds through the draft and supplements the roster through free agency. The past few seasons has been peculiar for incoming free agents. The free agents come in with high hopes to fill immediate spots on the roster with hopes to stay for the entirety of their contract and perhaps further.
In 2018, the Steelers signed linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Morgan Burnett. Both of these players are no longer on the roster. Bostic, due to no fault of his own, was playing out of position at the ‘mack’ linebacker spot. That spot’s responsibilities require a certain skill-set that Bostic flat out does not possess. He was released following the 2019 NFL Draft, where the Steelers drafted two, maybe three (Sutton Smith?) linebackers. Bostic fulfilled one out of his two years of his contract. Morgan Burnett came in with the starting strong safety spot in his pocket. The Steelers had Burnett playing the dime-backer spot more often than the safety position due to injury and drafting Terrell Edmunds in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. After one year of his three year contract, Burnett asked for his release.
In 2019, the Steelers have had one of their more active free agencies, signing three starter-caliber players. Steven Nelson looks to have the starting cornerback position on lock. The Steelers still drafted Justin Layne, a cornerback, high in the 2019 NFL Draft. As fans, let us hope that is for Joe Haden’s insurance and future spot. Donte Moncrief was signed to lessen the statistical ache of Antonio Brown’s departure. The Steelers still elected to select Diontae Johnson, a wide receiver, high in this year’s draft. Prior to the NFL Draft, the linebacker position had a gaping hole, therefore, the Steelers signed recently released linebacker Mark Barron. As you know, the Steelers then traded up to select Devin Bush, and then later selected one (maybe two?) linebackers as well. It seems Nelson will be here long(er) term. How about Moncrief or Barron? Will they start, play meaningful snaps or be out of Pittsburgh in 2020? Only time will tell.
If you haven’t noticed yet, there is a bit of a trend. Contrary to Kevin Colbert’s words of “the team builds through the draft and supplements the roster through free agency“, it seems that the Steelers still add those exact positions in the draft as they do free agency. How should this make incoming free agent’s feel? Obviously destinations with holes in the position of their own are attractive, but the position group becomes crowded after the draft. Competition at positions is a good way to get the best out of your players, but when are free agents going to catch on that the trend is if players come to Pittsburgh as a free agent to fill a certain spot, the team doesn’t see it as filled with their addition?
One would think if the Steelers really kept to the ‘supplement through the draft’ mantra. a tight end would have been taken instead of a wide receiver, or perhaps a safety? I am not downplaying the selection or the player, but how should Moncrief feel? I assume a bit slighted. I want the Steelers to be active in free agency and stick to the words of Colbert, but to me, the evidence is quite the opposite. I hope this does not scare off future potential free agents from wanting to come to Pittsburgh.