10 Free Agents the Injury-Plagued Steelers Should Give a Look
You probably won't find a Steeler fan who will tell you they're OK with how the first five games of the 2012 season has gone. This team has been dubbed too old to play, losing its heart and simply just not that good.
But two of the major problems the Steelers have faced this year have been injuries at key positions and their inability to find quality replacements on their own depth chart.
With guys like Troy Polamalu, Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert expected to miss significant time, it's imperative that the Steelers find a way to hold the pieces together until their stars can return to action. At this juncture in the season, free agency could be a good way to do this.
Considering the bye week has already come and gone, it would be hard for any player (who hasn't served some time under one of the coaches) to acclimate himself to the environment, but if the injuries are here to stay, they could be crucial for a stretch run in December and January.
Let's take a look at 10 free agents the Steelers could and should keep their eyes on.
Luis Castillo / DE
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I actually advocated the signing of Luis Castillo in the offseason to no avail. But then again, I really have no pull in the Steelers front office.
It also didn't help my case that Castillo had agreed to re-sign with the San Diego Chargers in early April.
But by the middle of July, Castillo was out on the streets again and looking for a job.
I always thought Castillo would be a good fit as a 5-technique end in the Steelers defense, and this year was the perfect time to grab him. The Steelers ends have been paltry to say the least and haven't given the team much to talk about.
Castillo is still only 29 years old, and although he may not be the same player he was in his earlier days, he'd still be a great depth guy with major upside. His price tag wouldn't be too high either.
Jonathan Fanene / DE
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Here's another situation where a guy is in camp with a team and ends up a free agent once again.
In early August, Jonathan Fanene looked like a lock to make the Patriots roster with all the issues they were having on the defensive front. By the end of August, he was off the team.
One of the problems is that Fanene has never really been able to stay healthy, but when he does, he's been a very underrated player. In the three seasons he's appeared in all 16 games, he's totaled 12.5 sacks, including a year where he didn't record any.
In 2011, Fanene brought down the quarterback 6.5 times while starting just two games for the Bengals.
Fanene provides the Steelers with something they haven't had from their ends; a pass rush. Brett Keisel is as good as anyone against the run, and Cam Heyward and Ziggy Hood are still developing. Fanene is by no means a starter in the NFL, but he'd do well in a rotation here.
Brian Price / DT
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The 2012 offseason is one that Brian Price will never forget.
Price, a former second-round pick by the Tampa Bay Bucs, was shipped off to Chicago for a seventh-rounder. Following the tragic death of his sister, the Bears parted ways with the young defensive lineman, and he's shied away from football ever since.
There's no question that Price underachieved in Tampa, forcing the team to deal him for next to nothing. But maybe it was because Price was in the wrong type of system.
Price has good size (6'1", 303) and quickness to play defensive end in the Steelers 3-4. He's still just 23 years old and has the capability to learn a new system.
Price probably isn't a guy who can help the Steelers win right now, but he could be a piece going forward. Ziggy Hood hasn't lived up to his expectations, and who knows what the future holds for Cam Heyward? There's no reason the team couldn't give him a look.
Brodney Pool / S
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If you've watched the Steelers this year, then you know that outside of Ryan Clark, Pittsburgh's safety play has been wretched.
A lot of this has to do with the absence of a healthy Troy Polamalu, but it's become pretty unclear if we'll ever see that again.
The depth the Steelers have accumulated at safety isn't really even worth talking about. Ryan Mundy has given up some big plays in crucial situations, and Will Allen isn't a quality starter or even backup in this league.
I'm not say that Brodney Pool is going to come in and be a Pro Bowler, but he's a much better option in the secondary than anyone the Steelers have right now.
Pool is only 28, and despite never really being a full-time starter, he's been quietly productive. He's averaged 52 tackles a year since coming into the league in 2005 and has 5.5 sacks and 13 interceptions over the same span.
If there's one defensive position the Steelers need help at, it's safety. Pool could be a helpful stop-gap until Polamalu can return to action for the team...if Polamalu can return to action.
Jaiquawn Jarrett / S
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To be fair, there's no reason the Philadelphia Eagles should have drafted Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round of any draft. But that doesn't mean the guy doesn't have talent.
Jarrett never really got a fair shot in Philly. The team had recently lost icon Brian Dawkins and was desperately looking for his replacement. Unfortunately for Jarrett, he wasn't given the proper time to develop.
Having graduated from Temple University in 2012, I had a lot of chances to watch Jarrett play on Saturdays, and he was one of the most explosive hitters I've ever seen from the safety position. With that said, it's his coverage skills that will get him in trouble.
By signing Jarrett, the Steelers could add some youth and talent into a safety corps that's getting pretty aged. At this point, it's unclear how much time Troy Polamalu has left, but Jarrett should be given the proper time to learn the system without the pressure he had in Philly.
Leigh Bodden / CB
For years now, the Steelers have had a pressing need at cornerback that hasn't been addressed. The presence of Ike Taylor helped cover up some glaring holes, but he's been one of the worst corners in the league in 2012, and Pittsburgh is getting beat.
The Steelers have tried to approach the cornerback position with an influx of young talent. Guys like Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown have been drafted to be the future. But besides Taylor, there's really no veteran presence at the position.
Leigh Bodden has been somewhat of a journeyman throughout his career, playing for the Patriots, Browns and Lions in his eight-year career. In that span, Bodden has accumulated 18 interceptions and 362 tackles.
Bodden has the size (6'1", 193) that the Steelers look for in their cornerbacks and has been around the block enough times to pick up the system pretty quick. He doesn't have to come in and start, but he'd add better depth and some veteran leadership on a defense that's missing just that.
Travis LaBoy / OLB
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As injured as the safeties have been, no unit has suffered more ailments in 2012 than the outside linebackers. James Harrison missed the team's first three games with a lingering knee injury, while LaMarr Woodley was ruled out of the loss in Tennessee with a hamstring.
Even worse than the injuries has been the lackluster play the Steelers have received from their outside linebackers. Backup Jason Worilds leads the team with three sacks, while Woodley and Harrison have combined for as many.
The Steelers linebackers can't play every defensive snap anymore. Harrison has gotten too old and Woodley looks a little out of shape this year despite being their best pass-rusher this year. With Chris Carter injured and seemingly out of the rotation, Pittsburgh could use a new face.
Travis LaBoy has been around the block. The 31-year-old has played for four teams in seven years and has been solid off the bench for each squad.
LaBoy has 29.5 career sacks to his name, with his best season coming in 2005 with the Titans. He's not going to be a star by any means, but he's a veteran and would be good depth for the Steelers.
Jake Scott / G
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If there's one guy on this list that should have a starting job in the NFL, it's Jake Scott.
Scott had started every game at guard for the Colts and Titans from 2005 to 2011 before being released by Tennessee this offseason after it signed Steve Hutchinson.
Scott drew interest from several teams in the offseason, but didn't sign with any prompting questions about hidden injuries or other factors.
To me, the Steelers should at least bring Scott in for a workout. They are completely depleted across the offensive line and aren't getting much out of guards Willie Colon and Ramon Foster. At 31 years old, Scott isn't out of his prime yet and could become much more than just a rotational guy for the team down the road.
With the way this offensive line has underperformed, there's definite room for a player of Scott's quality. He's best suited as a run-blocker and has proven to be one of the most durable linemen in football over the last few years, two things the Steelers could desperately use.
Brandon Keith / OL
Brandon Keith is an interesting case for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although he hasn't been a great offensive lineman in the NFL, he's been a solid player and pretty versatile.
Keith has some great size (6'5", 335) and has experience in Todd Haley's system, playing for the Cardinals since 2008.
The reason I'd like the Steelers to take a look at Keith is because he's the kind of guy that can play both tackle and guard. And with the injuries across the offensive line that have plagued this team for years, Keith could be a valuable asset.
I doubt that Keith would be a starter for this team, but he'd be a welcomed member of the rotation up front. His versatility is what makes him a good addition.
Chris Williams / OT
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Chris Williams is a bit of a shot in the dark here, but the fact that he is a former first-round pick and is still only 27 years old makes him a little intriguing.
The Chicago Bears drafted Williams in the first round in 2008, and it was never a really good match. Chicago never really gave him a chance to develop and kind of just threw him in on an offensive line that didn't have any talent around him.
The positives about Williams are that he's hard-working, smart and pretty talented. Add in the age, and the Steelers should be giving this guy a workout.
With Max Starks entrenched at left tackle and Mike Adams projected as his heir, Williams could see the time to develop that he never had with the Bears. He'd be a nice fit behind Marcus Gilbert on the right side and could even develop into a starter.
A low-risk, high-reward move like this might just be something the Steelers desperately need.