Last off-season there was mild surprise for most of us when the Steelers went out and grabbed safety Mike Mitchell early in free agency.
For the Steelers, that’s about as high profile as it gets when it comes to their free agents. They followed that up with some of their typical mid-level guys like Cam Thomas, Lance Moore, and LaGarette Blount.
Looking back, I’d say every one of those signings was a failure. However, I liked the strategy of not breaking the bank, but recognizing the team needed some guys that can hopefully step in quickly.
Personally, I’m hoping the Steelers take a similar approach this off-season to re-stock the defensive side of the ball.
Obviously, many of the top guys will probably re-sign with their current teams, but this free agent class has a lot of pass rush talent available.
Before you dismiss this because of cap room… the Steelers could makes some pretty simple moves to create space.
- Extending Ben Roethlisberger would likely reduce his 18+ million dollar cap hit
- If Troy Polamalu decides to retire, about half of his 8 million dollars comes off the books
- If Jason Worilds leaves, that’s 9.7 million gone that was against the cap last season
- Cut Cam Thomas, Lance Moore, and Brett Keisel they would save another 6 million
- Various simple re-structures
I think the Steelers will try to work out a long term deal with Jason Worilds first, but I predict that he hits the open market.
The deep class could also benefit the Steelers though, because Worilds may find that he’s not in high demand.
Here’s a few of the potential OLB’s for the Steelers with their age in parenthesis…
- Jason Pierre-Paul (26)
- Justin Houston (26)
- Jason Worilds (27)
- Brian Orakpo (28)
- Brandon Graham (27)
- Greg Hardy (27)
- Pernell McPhee (26)
- Jabaal Sheard (26)
- Brooks Reed (28)
- Akeem Ayers (26)
Now, obviously the Steelers aren’t going to go out and sign Justin Houston even if Kansas City lets him hit the market, but when those types sign, it means that team isn’t a competitor for OLB services anymore.
My personal favorite of the group is Ravens OLB Pernell McPhee. McPhee played situationally behind Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumerville, and Courtney Upshaw… and STILL matched Jason Worilds’ 7.5 sacks this season.
I think McPhee has superstar potential, and would guess the Ravens can’t keep him given how much money they have invested in the position. If he could be had for 5-6 million per year I’d jump on that.
While he may be too high profile for the Steelers, Brian Orakpo could be an interesting option. Orakpo would be considered a top player at his position, but he can’t ever stay healthy.
He’ll probably want a long term deal, but if nobody is willing to give him that given his injury history, the Steelers could offer a 1 or 2 year deal, and groom a 2015 high draft pick behind him.
I don’t see the cornerback position being as deep as linebacker, but there are some mid-level type of guys the Steelers typically take a look at.
Brice McCain and Antwon Blake are both free agents, so if they aren’t retained here are some of the names available.
- Darrelle Revis (29)
- Kareem Jackson (26)
- Brandon Flowers (28)
- Buster Skrine (25)
- Byron Maxwell (26)
- Antonio Cromartie (30)
- Tramon Williams (31)
- Walter Thurmond (27)
This group doesn’t get me as excited. I’m really hoping that both McCain and Blake return. I would definitely kick the tires on Byron Maxwell though.
Maxwell isn’t well known to the average fan because he gets over shadowed by the star power in the “Legion of Boom” but he’s a good player. I worry that NFL people know him better than fans though.
It’s possible last season’s group of duds scares the Steelers away from going back to free agency, but this defense severely lacks talent at these two positions.
Signing just one guy gives the Steelers much more position flexibility in the draft.
The first step is signing Ben Roethlisberger to an extension, but once that’s finished the Steelers will have options.