6 Free Agents Pittsburgh Steelers Must Target

Mike BatistaContributor IJanuary 3, 2013

6 Free Agents Pittsburgh Steelers Must Target

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers traditionally don't make a big splash signing free agents, and that's not likely to change in 2013.

    It's not the Steelers' philosophy to spend big on marquee free agents. Even if it was, the Steelers are limited in what they can do because they're about $12 million over the salary cap, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    Look for the Steelers to try to address some of their weaknesses with bargain free agents.

    The free-agency period begins March 12, according to Rotoworld. Read on to see six players the Steelers should target.

Brian Hoyer, QB

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    Current team: Cardinals

    The Steelers obviously aren't looking for a quarterback to challenge Ben Roethlisberger as the starter, but they learned the importance of the backup role this season.

    Brian Hoyer is familiar with the Steelers offense after spending three weeks with them this season when Roethlisberger was hurt.

    In Week 17, Hoyer completed 19-of-34 passes for 225 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his first career start, a 27-13 loss at San Francisco.

    The Steelers have no quarterbacks younger than 30 on their roster. If Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich aren't around next season, the Steelers could get younger at the position by signing the 27-year-old Hoyer.

    ESPN analyst and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski said Hoyer is capable of starting in the NFL.

    If the Steelers do sign Hoyer, perhaps this time he'll be able to unpack his suitcase during his stay in Pittsburgh.

Jerome Simpson, WR

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    Current team: Vikings

    Jerome Simpson caught just 26 passes for 274 yards in 12 games with the Vikings this season.

    Simpson's best season came in 2011, when he caught 50 passes for 725 yards (14.5 yards per catch) for the Bengals.

    Rotoword refers to Simpson as a "straight-line speedster," so if the Steelers lose Mike Wallace, perhaps they could get Simpson on the cheap and at least replace Wallace's speed if not his skill set.

    The 26-year-old Simpson earned $800,000 this season, according to Rotoworld, plus a $250,000 roster bonus. Tom Pelissero of ESPN 1500 Twin Cities, via Rotoworld, says it's unlikely the Vikings bring back Simpson in 2013.

Ben Watson, TE

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    Current team: Browns

    The Steelers got a good look at Ben Watson Sunday. The 6'3", 255-pounder led the Browns with seven catches for 64 yards in the Steelers' 24-10 win.

    The Steelers might want to grab a tight end in free agency in case Heath Miller hasn't recovered from his knee injury in time for the start of the 2013 season.

    Rookie David Paulson had no catches Sunday in his first game as the Steelers' top tight end. He might not be ready to spell Miller.

    Watson, 32, caught 49 passes for 501 yards this season. He posted career highs in receptions (68) and receiving yards (763) in 2010. He made $2.88 million this season, according to Rotoworld.

Mike DeVito, DE

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    Current team: Jets

    Defensive linemen in the Steelers' scheme don't need to put up gaudy statistics. Much of their work goes unnoticed. Still, former first-round draft picks Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward could use some competition to keep their jobs next season.

    Heyward gave himself something to build on in Sunday's season finale with a career-high four combined tackles and a shared sack. He's currently Brett Keisel's backup at right defensive end. Keisel won't be around forever. He'll be 35 next season. Heyward needs to do more than just inherit Keisel's job. He needs to earn it.

    On the other side of the line, Hood hasn't been terrible, but first-round draft picks need to be more than just adequate heading into their fifth season.

    DeVito, who will be 29 next season, had 52 combined tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles for the Jets in 2012. His base salary in 2012 was $700,000, according to Rotoworld.

    The Steelers could lose Casey Hampton to free agency during the offseason. While DeVito isn't a nose tackle, Hampton's absence could have a domino effect on the defensive line, so it's a positional unit that needs attention during the offseason.

Ernie Sims, ILB

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    Current team: Cowboys

    With Larry Foote possibly on the way out, the Steelers could be in the market for an inside linebacker who can run the defense.

    Foote, who will be 33 next season, was in charge of the defensive play-calling in 2012, taking over that role from James Farrior.

    Ernie Sims, 28, has experience quarterbacking the defense. On Dec. 16 against the Steelers, he wore the helmet that allows communication with the coaches on the sideline, according to the Dallas Morning News, but was injured early in the game.

    Sims told the Dallas Morning News that he also called the defensive plays when he was with the Lions and Colts.

    In 10 games this season with six starts, Sims had 43 combined tackles.

    The Steelers drafted inside linebacker Sean Spence in the third round last year, but he'll essentially be a rookie in 2013 because he missed 2012 with an injury. Stevenson Sylvester has contributed on special teams, but he'll be entering his fourth season and is running out of chances to show that he can play inside linebacker.

    Sims could bring some experience in Foote's absence until a younger player develops.

Donnie Jones, P

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    Current team: Houston Texans

    The Steelers could use a better punter. Drew Butler seemed to be at his worst when the Steelers were deep in their own end, especially during their late-season collapse.

    Butler was 28th out of 35 NFL punters this season with an average of 43.8 yards per punt, according to NFL.com. Donnie Jones was 11th with a 47.2 average.

    The 32-year-old Jones made $825,000 in 2012, according to Rotoworld. He could be a relatively inexpensive upgrade at a position that can provide some hidden yardage.