As free agency draws near, citizens of Steelers Nation wax theoretical about the chances of various players coming to Pittsburgh. Some of the conjecture borders on the absurd, while other speculations are practical if not sublime.
The Steelers rarely sign any free agents, particularly of the sexy, make-a-splash variety. Furthermore, the Steelers are roughly $10 million over the salary cap.
Therefore, deciding on which current Steelers will be in Pittsburgh next year is difficult enough, let alone trying to determine which free agents the team will sign.
However, considering that the Steelers have some significant holes to fill, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that they will dip into the free-agent market this offseason after clearing some cap space.
Here is a look at a handful of free agents according to need and the chances that they will be wearing black and gold next year.
Thinking that the Steelers will sign Ed Reed is utter nonsense.
The grizzled Baltimore Ravens safety will be 35 years old in September. With free agent Ryan Clark quickly approaching 34, the last thing the Steelers need at safety is to get older at the position.
Despite his age, Reed has star power and will probably command a large contract from some hapless team. It just won't be the Steelers.
Odds: -1000 percent
Another absurd notion floating around the chat boards of Steelers fandom is the notion of Wes Welker coming to Pittsburgh.
Aside from the fact that Welker would command a highly overvalued contract, he would be just another small slot receiver in a stable full of slot receivers in Pittsburgh.
Stop the madness!
Odds: -500 percent (Slightly more likely than Ed Reed, but ridiculously improbable, nonetheless)
If he's available, it might be worthwhile for the Steelers to look at Brian Hartline.
He has good size (6'2", 200 lbs), which would contrast well with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, as well as finally giving Ben Roethlisberger the tall wide receiver he's been begging for.
Hartline produced good number last year (74 receptions, 1083 yards) despite having a rookie quarterback throwing him the ball.
He only has six career touchdowns, but that could be a by-product of who has been throwing him the ball.
At 26, Hartline is on the good side of 30 and has seen his production increase over the years. His asking price ($6 million per year) is a little steep, but his lack of touchdowns might bring down his value.
Odds: 15 percent
A more viable option at safety might be Kenny Phillips. He missed nine games last season due to a knee injury, which might lower his stock value and asking price.
Moreover, his replacement, Stevie Brown, played well enough that the New York Giants may be willing to let Phillips walk.
At 26 years old, Phillips would add youth to the Geritol squad in Pittsburgh.
Odds: 25 percent
Larry Grant is the type of free agent the Steelers sign.
Grant was mainly a special teams player last year, but his production in 2011 is the reason to give him a look as someone to add depth to the inside linebacker position.
Grant started for an injured Patrick Willis for three games in '11 and finished the season with 39 tackles, two sacks and five pass defended.
Signing Grant won't make big headlines anywhere, but it's a practical move that helps out an area of need.
Odds: 50 percent
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac reported that the hiring of Jack Bicknell, Jr. as offensive line coach could mean that the Steelers are moving to a zone-blocking scheme. Such a scheme makes players like lumbering (and oft-injured) Willie Colon and talent-strapped Ramon Foster obsolete.
The team will try Kelvin Beachum at guard, hopefully solidifying its starting offensive line. However, the line will still need depth and that's where Donald Thomas fits in.
Thomas is athletic and versatile, spot starting for the Patriots at both guard positions and playing fullback in goal-line situations. He also has zone-blocking experience from his time with the Pats.
Thomas is not a complete unknown to the Steelers, either. He had a workout for them back in '10.
Odds: 50 percent
Terrance Knighton could be a bargain for the Steelers, bringing in much-needed depth at the nose tackle position.
Knighton was a starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars before being benched in favor of C.J. Mosley last season. He still saw significant playing time, registering 45 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
Unfortunately, Knighton has some baggage. He suffered an eye injury during an altercation at a nightclub, which affected his vision. He also used Rashard Mendenhall-like judgement on Twitter.
Although the Rooneys' threshold for players with character issues is low right now, Knighton appears to be a guy guilty of bad judgement, not necessarily bad character.
Odds: 60 percent
As the saying goes, everything old is new again.
Lately, the Steelers have had a soft spot for bringing back former players for a final farewell tour (e.g. Larry Foote, Antwaan Randle El, Plaxico Burress).
Mewelde Moore may be their next reclamation project. Granted, Moore would be just a marginal player at best, but he would add some experience and depth to a depleted backfield.
Ironically, Moore was let go because the aforementioned backfield was too crowded. Now, it's looking rather spare.
Signing him to a one-year, veteran's minimum contract has no downside.
Odds: 90 percent