Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agency Tracker: 5 Guys the Steelers Should Target
Pittsburgh was one of the biggest spenders (even if you didn't notice it) during last year's uncapped season and this year, they paid for it.
The Steelers slashed and burned their way through some aging veterans to get under the cap and now they have a few bucks to toss around. Before you say it, NO, they won't be looking at big name guys like former Saints guard Carl Nicks, simply because the money isn't there.
But, there may be a few bargain-bin talents who can help the Steelers in 2012.
Mike Tolbert / RB / San Diego Chargers
RB Mike Tolbert spent 4 seasons with the San Diego Chargers from 2008-2011
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I'll start with this move because it's the most unlikely to happen; it means making a few necessary cuts.
This move has to begin by cutting current running back Rashard Mendenhall. Now, before you go ballistic and stop reading my work, hear me out on this one. Mendenhall was a major disappointment for Pittsburgh fans this season. He failed to top 1,000 yards on the ground, mostly because his running style doesn't fit his abilities. To be fair, the Steelers line gave him little help, but time and time again the nearly-230 pound back could be seen trying to bounce outside and get the edge on a corner.
And each time it was unsuccessful.
The other situation the team has with Mendenhall is the matter of his injury and how long he'll be out. Mendenhall tore his ACL in the Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns and isn't expected to return until around the same time next year. Mendy also carries a $3 million salary into 2012, which is the final year of his contract.
By cutting Mendenhall, the Steelers free up a roster spot and save $3 million they can use toward a back who will actually play next season. That back should be Mike Tolbert.
Tolbert burst onto the NFL scene in 2010 by rushing for over 700 yards and scoring 11 times on the ground. In 2011, Tolbert fell just short of 500 rushing yards while sharing duties with Ryan Mathews, but reeled in 54 receptions and scored 10 total touchdowns.
At 243 pounds, Tolbert is the big back Steeler Nation has been craving since the Bus left town.
Tolbert has the frame to take a leading role, with Isaac Redman spelling him when needed. He's also only 26 years old. Tolbert also add a receiving threat out of the backfield that Pittsburgh hasn't had, well, ever. And with the not-so-impressive offensive line protecting Ben Roethlisberger, he could use a solid dump-off option.
Tolbert's agent has said several teams have shown interest in his client, including the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants and the San Diego Chargers. The biggest problem with signing Tolbert will be the money he commands.
Conservatively speaking, Tolbert could command anywhere from $4-$6 million per year. Still, that's not bad for a starting back.
Chilo Rachal / OG / San Francisco 49ers
Rachal spent 4 seasons with the 49ers from 2008-2011
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After a little fun (but for real, Tolbert would be a great move) it's back to reality for the Steelers front office.
The Pittsburgh offensive line is by far the weakest unit of the entire team and guard might be their weakest position. The team appears to be set at center (Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey) and tackle (Marcus Gilbert and Willie Colon), but the two guard positions are up in the air. The team tendered Ramone Foster and G/C Doug Legursky, but depth (and overall talent for that matter) remains a major concern.
Chilo Rachal was drafted by the 49ers in the second round in 2008 and has started 55 games over that span. But many have questioned Rachal's ability to live up to his potential. Numerous times last season, Rachal was replaced along the offensive line by teammate Adam Snyder.
With that said, Rachal has a ton of talent and an affordable price tag. Rachal is an excellent run blocker, especially in one-on-one situations, but really struggles with his pass pro. Still, Rachal might provide a better option than a utility man like Legursky and could be acquired for around $2 million per year.
Deuce Lutui / OG / Arizona Cardinals
Lutui played 6 years with the Arizona Cardinals from 2006-2011
Kevin Terrell/Getty Images
Deuce is a big guy...and I'm talking BIG. And Lutui's NFL career has been marred by his inability to maintain his size.
It was once reported that Lutui came into camp at a whopping 396 pounds!!! He also failed the Cincinnati Bengals' physical last offseason before returning to Arizona in 2012. With the weight issues, the Cardinals still brought back Lutui, this time as a backup.
Still, Lutui, like Rachal, brings a lot of talent and experience with him. Lutui has started 72 games in his career, including Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers.
Lutui is solid in both the run and pass and was once a very good offensive guard in this league. But again, his weight got the best of him and he appeared in only one game last season.
For Pittsburgh, taking a flier on a guy who could cost next to nothing might not be a bad idea. At worst, they'll get a solid backup, but I think he'll be more than that. Lutui saw his playing time all but terminated last season.
Hopefully, that can slap some sense into him to get himself under control.
Lutui should be able to be had for no more than $1 million per year. That's not a bad option when you really think about how much the Steelers have to spend.
Luis Castillo / DE / San Diego Chargers
Castillo has played 7 seasons for the Chargers from 2005-2011
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
If there's one position the Steelers love to stockpile, it's defensive linemen. But the Burgh lost a legend to the salary cap conundrum in Aaron Smith, and now find themselves a little thin in the depth department.
Luis Castillo was once regarded as on the best five-technique ends in the NFL. But Castillo's best days are behind him, and San Diego released the seven-year vet, claiming his injuries were their biggest concern.
Castillo does have injury concerns. He missed six games in both 2006 and 2007, three combined games between 2008 and 2009 and all but one game last season.
But here's the catch...Castillo won't have to go through all the wear and tear of a starter in Pittsburgh. At age 28, Castillo still should have some good years ahead of him. He would be a very nice piece off the bench for the Steelers and has good enough pass rush skills (19 sacks in 73 career games) to pair inside with Brett Keisel on passing downs.
The biggest question comes in the form of what will the interest be in Castillo? Kansas City has shown high interest in the former first-rounder, which will obviously drive up his price. Guys like Kedric Golston or Jonathan Fanene might be more realistic options monetarily, but if the Steelers have a chance to get their hands on a talent like Castillo for the right price, they should jump at the chance.
Kellen Davis / TE / Chicago Bears
Davis played 4 seasons with the Bears from 2008-2011
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With Heath Miller entrenched up front, a starting tight end is nowhere near a necessity for the Steelers.
But when news broke that rookie stand out Weslye Saunders would be suspended for the first four games of the 2012 season, depth became a major concern for Pittsburgh.
Kellen Davis is enormous, standing at 6'7" and weighing in at nearly 270 pounds. After having just 10 receptions through his first three seasons, Davis got a starting opportunity in 2011 after the team traded Greg Olsen to the Panthers. He posted a career year with 18 catches for 206 yards and five touchdowns.
I'm well aware that Davis' numbers from last year aren't exactly breathtaking, but keep in mind he did play about half the season without Jay Cutler in an offense that doesn't like to use the tight end. Also, for the Steelers purposes, Davis is an excellent run blocker and could do really well as the team's No. 2 tight end.
Plenty of teams recognized what Davis did last season—the 26-year-old has visits set up with the Cowboys, Bengals and Steelers.
Interest in Davis will drive up the price, maybe to the point where the Steelers have to bail out, but if given the opportunity, Pittsburgh should step up and go for a blocking tight end who can set the edge on run plays as well as catch a few balls.