Predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers' Free-Agent Signings
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not usually an active team in the free-agent market. They prefer instead to build through the draft while signing only a few free agents each season.
With a roster that currently has them over the league's salary cap for next season, expect that to continue to be the case in 2013. A handful of players could be signed as part-time pieces or backups, but don't expect a star to be brought in from outside.
Here's a look at five players, internal and external, the the Steelers will probably sign.
Steve Breaston, WR
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Steve Breaston has met with members of the Pittsburgh brass but hasn't inked a deal yet. There are rumors that he will undergo knee surgery to help deal with inflammation in his knee, but nothing has been confirmed.
Pittsburgh may sign him before or after such a procedure to a one-year deal that boosts its wide receiver corps with a veteran. That would allow the Steelers to focus their draft efforts this season on other positions.
Breaston is a good option out of the slot and has the possession skills and speed to make a difference in Todd Haley's short-passing system.
It won't take a huge contract to sign him. Especially with this knee injury business, he will take a one-year contract for low money and try to re-establish his value.
Contract: One year, $1.6 million
Keenan Lewis, CB
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The lone internal free agent worth retaining in this year's class that started in 2012, Keenan Lewis could be a key cog in the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense for years to come. He could also very easily end up on the open market and land a big deal somewhere else.
The factors working in Lewis' favor are that he had a stellar 2012 campaign and showed that he can be a big-time corner in the NFL. At times, he overshadowed Ike Taylor's efforts, and overall, he was the best corner on the roster last year.
Working against him is a deep class of free agents that could get larger as teams struggle to comply with the salary cap. Lewis may get buried under names like Nnamdi Asomugha and Brent Grimes even though he is better overall than both.
Lewis possibly hinted at a deal last week, but nothing is certain and excited Pittsburgh fans may be reading too much in the tea leaves.
He won't return for peanuts, so Pittsburgh will have to get creative with a long-term contract for a player they really need. Assuming they can give him a larger signing bonus and keep the base salary down, a five-year pact doesn't seem unreasonable.
Contract: Five years, $38 million
Steve McLendon, NT
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Steve McLendon was one of the brightest spots on the team in 2012 during the preseason. He looked every bit the replacement for longtime nose tackle Casey Hampton. In fact, many thought he would supplant the veteran during the 2012 season.
Instead, Hampton played solid and improved his play each week to set himself up for one final good payday on the open market. McLendon sat on the bench, played sparingly and set himself up for questions.
Gerry Dulac of the the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette commented that McLendon may need to move to defensive end in a new defensive alignment while last year's starter there, Ziggy Hood, moves to the nose.
It's an interesting concept, but McLendon is a better player than Hood, who is heralded as a strong player but doesn't have the power to bust into the line or the skill to take on multiple blockers and free up linebackers.
Pittsburgh will likely tender McLendon with a second-round tender to make it hard for a team to pry him loose while keeping the contract in a team-friendly area.
Contract: One year, $2.023 million (second-round tender)
Drew Stanton, QB
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Drew Stanton has been a career backup who's performed well in action when asked to step into a game. With that said, he may be the perfect option for a team that had a rough three weeks when its starting quarterback went down injured.
Ben Roethlisberger's injury and the lack of depth behind him cost the Pittsburgh Steelers a shot at the postseason and exposed the team as fragile without their top passer.
Fixing the quarterback depth in 2013 is one of the key tasks this offseason.
While Charlie Batch reportedly wants one more year with the Steelers, the team would be wise to bring in a younger backup as well through free agency or the draft. The draft route could lead to Miami (Ohio) prospect Zac Dysert.
The free-agency route could lead to Stanton, who fits the offensive system well and has been solid on the injury front in recent years. He won't be particularly expensive on a two- or three-year pact, either.
Contract: Two years, $3.25 million
Rey Maualuga, ILB
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This may be bold, but Rey Maualuga might end up being an affordable free agent when the carousel stops spinning for free agency.
His reputation and name are stronger than his play. Teams look at the tape and make decisions based on production. That will drive down his price somewhat and make him an alternative for a team that doesn't have a ton of money to spend.
The free-agent class around him is also ridiculously good. Similar to what might happen to Keenan Lewis, he simply may be lost in the shuffle for a while.
That could mean coming to Pittsburgh. There's history here if you know where to look.
James Farrior was a disappointment with the New York Jets and hadn't lived up to his draft stock. The Steelers signed Farrior because they believed they could fix him. The rest is history.
Maualuga has conditioning issues. Mike Tomlin won that same battle with Casey Hampton years ago. He might be a better fit in a 3-4 scheme because he won't be alone in the middle. This seems like a good match.
If Pittsburgh can make the dollars work, the should forget about Larry Foote and bring this guy in.
Contract: Three years, 6.5 million (build in some incentive bonuses too for an overall potential value of $8 or 9 million)