When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 free agent class, Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis will garner all of the attention—and for good reason.
Wallace is one of the best wide receivers on the open market and may be the top deep threat in the entire league. He is sure to receive a lot of interest in free agency, albeit not from the Steelers.
The same can’t be said for Lewis, who will most certainly be the top priority for the Steelers as he has developed into a very good No. 2 cornerback.
But what about the rest of the unrestricted free agents?
Players such as Max Starks, Casey Hampton and Rashard Mendenhall have all played key roles as starters for the Steelers in years past, but none may return. Whether it is from lack of production or younger options, the Steelers need to move on from all three of these players.
However, the same cannot be said for some of the unheralded free agents.
While the star players are the names that everyone recognizes, they cannot do it all on their own. The Steelers have several unrestricted free agents who do not necessarily get the attention of the big names, but play important roles for the team and should be re-signed.
For two years Will Allen was a complete non-factor for the Steelers. He only had 21 tackles and seldom played on the defensive side of the ball, playing primarily on special teams.
However, that all changed in 2012 when Allen surpassed Ryan Mundy on the depth chart and played a key role backing up Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.
Allen started seven games for the injured Polamalu and finished the season with 34 tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble. Not bad for a safety who was fourth on the depth chart to start the season.
Though Allen will never be the player that Polamalu or Clark is, he did provide a steady presence in the defensive backfield when called upon and did not make any major mistakes. That is exactly the type of player that the Steelers need from their backup safeties.
There is no question that the Steelers must find future replacements for Polamalu and Clark, but until then, Allen will provide an affordable veteran option at safety who the team can depend on to not necessarily make the big plays, but instead just make the necessary plays.
When it comes to Pittsburgh’s offensive line, all of the talk is centered on high draft picks Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. It is for good reason too as these players are the future of the offensive line.
But one name missing from that group that should be included is Ramon Foster.
Foster is not the strongest, most athletic lineman that the Steelers have and while he is not great at anything, he is very good at a lot of things. Because of this, Foster will be a tough signing for the Steelers.
Unless they decide to part ways with Willie Colon, Foster is almost certain to leave and this will be a tough loss.
Foster has plenty of starting experience at guard, starting 42 regular season games in four years including 30 over the past two seasons.
Besides his experience at guard, Foster is also capable of sliding out to tackle making him a valuable asset for any team.
Though the team is unlikely to sign Foster, if they happen to release Colon, Foster then becomes a player that they must sign as he can step in as the starter at left guard.
There is no doubt that the Steelers need to upgrade at inside linebacker.
Larry Foote has been a serviceable player, but he is limited athletically and he struggles to match up against the faster backs in the league and has problems dropping into coverage.
But even with his limitations, Foote is a smart linebacker who knows Dick LeBeau’s defense very well and had a surprising productive season last year.
Foote had 113 tackles (75 solo) last season, four sacks, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. These represented some of the best statistics that he has had in his entire 11-year career.
While playing linebacker is more than just statistics, Foote would likely be the best option for the Steelers in 2013 given their lack of depth at the position.
Stevenson Sylvester is a restricted free agent, but has yet to show any potential at inside linebacker and Sean Spence may not be ready as he is still recovering from a major knee injury he suffered in the preseason.
Given all of the uncertainty at the position, Foote would be the safest option for the Steelers in 2013, but it would have to come at a discounted rate, which Foote is open to.
“Depends on what kind of discount. Depends what kind of offers I got from other teams,” Foote told KDKA Pittsburgh. “But yes, absolutely.”
As of Tuesday, Foote appeared to be the first unrestricted free agent that the Steelers were negotiating with.
This is a good sign.
By retaining Foote, the Steelers will have a reliable veteran in the middle of their defense alongside Lawrence Timmons. But more importantly, this will ease the pressure of finding an inside linebacker early in the draft.
Foote is a savvy veteran who can still help this defense and is definitely a player worth keeping.