Projecting Pittsburgh Steelers' NFL Free Agent Targets
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For many NFL teams, free agency is a shopping spree.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, on the other hand, traditionally approach free agency as if they're shopping at the dollar store. They pick up a few role players or under-the-radar starters.
This year shouldn't be any different, especially considering the Steelers' salary-cap restrictions. The 2013 salary cap will be $123 million, according to ESPN.com. The Steelers figure to be right at that number, give or take a couple million.
Before they signed cornerback William Gay, the Steelers' top 51 contracts amounted to $120.3 million, according to Spotrac. Gay's cap hit in 2013 will be $1.16 million, according to Steel City Insider.
If the Steelers can clear a little more cap room before the free-agency signing period begins at 4 p.m. on March 12, there are several bargain free agents they could target.
Lorenzo Alexander, LB
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Current team: Washington Redskins
The Steelers have a history of acquiring special teams personnel in free agency. They grabbed Brandon Johnson last year and Keyaron Fox was instrumental in their 2008 championship.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com says Alexander "can upgrade any special teams unit."
Alexander led the NFL in 2012 with 21 special teams tackles, according to CBSLocal.com. He could be lured to Pittsburgh by Danny Smith, who was his special teams coach with the Redskins before being hired for the same position by the Steelers in January, according to the Washington Post.
Alexander, who will be 30 next season, made his first Pro Bowl in 2012 as the NFC's special teamer.
Ramses Barden, WR
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Current team: New York Giants
The Steelers can forget about keeping Mike Wallace. Some other team will sign him to a contract that will make him rich enough to wash himself in a gold bathtub.
Wallace's exit will leave the Steelers with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery as the only receivers who have made any significant contributions.
The Steelers need depth at the position, and Ben Roethlisberger long ago lobbied for a tall receiver.
Barden has never caught more than 14 passes in a season, but he is 6'6". He's an inch taller and nine years younger than Plaxico Burress, who rejoined the Steelers in 2012 seven-and-a-half years after leaving as a free agent.
If Barden benefits from a change of scenery, he could be a cost-effective red-zone specialist for the Steelers.
The Steelers could try to replace Wallace's speed in the draft, but they won't find Barden's height. NFL Draft Scout lists no 6'6" receivers, and just one 6'5" receiver, among the top 750 prospects.
Steve Breaston, WR
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Previous team: Kansas City Chiefs
Breaston, who was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs, visited the Steelers Feb. 28. The Steelers didn't sign him, but they could later in the offseason according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Teams might be scared away by Breaston's troublesome knee. According to ESPN.com, he considered a special knee treatment in Germany to alleviate inflammation and early signs of arthritis, but decided against it.
Breaston started just four games in 2012 and caught seven passes. His best season came in 2008, when he caught 77 passes for 1,006 yards for the Arizona Cardinals under offensive coordinator Todd Haley. He caught six passes for 71 yards in Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers.
Breaston will be 30 next season and is another guy the Steelers could be looking at to provide depth at wide receiver.
Jonathan Casillas, LB
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Current team: New Orleans Saints
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal says Casillas "has shown flashes as a pass rusher."
The only tangible results of those flashes are three sacks in 2011, but the Steelers could use all the pass-rushing help they can get. They were tied for 15th in the NFL with 37 sacks in 2012.
Casillas also recovered two fumbles in 2012 and has special teams experience. He will be 26 next season.
The Steelers' situation at outside linebacker is a little shaky. James Harrison’s future with the team—and LaMarr Woodley’s weight—are both up in the air.
If Jason Worilds and Chris Carter are competing to replace Harrison as a starter, Casillas could step in and make it a three-way race.
Anthony Fasano, TE
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Current team: Miami Dolphins
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Miller could miss all of training camp, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
To brace themselves for the possibility of being without Miller for the start of 2013, the Steelers could eye a tight end in free agency.
The 6'4", 255-pound Fasano started all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2012 and caught a career-high 41 passes with five touchdowns. The Steelers might not have to break the bank to sign Fasano, and they would get their money's worth.
Fasano has been consistent, catching at least 31 passes every year since joining the Dolphins in 2008. Among NFL tight ends who were targeted at least 30 times, Fasano was the only one who didn't drop a pass in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus.
The sure-handed Fasano also can get his hands dirty and block. Pro Football Focus, via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, ranked Fasano eighth among NFL tight ends in terms of overall skills. In his NFL 1,000 series, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Fasano 34th among NFL tight ends based on his play in 2012.
Until Miller comes back, the 29-year-old Fasano likely would start over David Paulson and Leonard Pope, who combined for 10 catches last season.
Rashad Johnson, S
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Current team: Arizona Cardinals
NFL.com's Chris Weissling mentions Johnson as a "valuable special teams player who could be ready to contribute as a starter."
That's just what the Steelers need at safety. Troy Polamalu will be 32 next season and Ryan Clark will turn 34, but assuming both stay healthy they'll be starting in 2013.
Will Allen did a solid job in Polamalu's place last season, but if the Steelers can't re-sign him, Johnson could be an inexpensive option who at 27 is four years younger than Allen.
Johnson started three games for the Cardinals in 2012 and intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown.
At the very least, Johnson would be an upgrade over Ryan Mundy. The Steelers shouldn't shed any tears over losing Mundy as an unrestricted free agent.
Brad Jones, LB
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Current team: Green Bay Packers
The Steelers were in contract talks with unrestricted free agent Larry Foote, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette.
Even if they do re-sign Foote, there's little behind him and Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker. Stevenson Sylvester hasn't contributed much outside of special teams. Sean Spence, last year's third-round draft pick, might not play again after a severe knee injury in the preseason, reports Sean Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Steelers could use depth or even a possible starter at inside linebacker. Jones played both inside and outside in 2012, starting 10 games with two sacks and four passes defended.
Jones, who will be 27 next season, is solid against both the run and the pass, according to Pro Football Focus.
LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB
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Current team: Arizona Cardinals
With Rashard Mendenhall and his baggage likely gone in free agency, the Steelers are expected to look for a starting running back early in the draft.
After cutting Chris Rainey, they'll also need a dynamic third-down back.
Stephens-Howling, who will be 26 next season, had career-highs in 2012 with 356 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns (the same number as Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman combined) and 17 receptions. He also has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his career.
Who's Not on the List
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Many Steelers fans have been clamoring for three free agents who are not on this list. Here's why the Steelers aren't likely to target these players.
Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans
The Steelers aren't going to get into any bidding wars, and one is already developing for Cook.
According to the Chicago Sun Times' Sean Jensen, the Bears are interested in Cook and the Titans don't want to lose him. Besides, he caught only three more passes than Anthony Fasano in 2012, and Fasano might be in the Steelers' price range.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, cut by New York Giants
Even though he's been injury-prone, Bradshaw's stats will drive his value out of the Steelers' reach. He ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2010 and 2012 and has averaged at least 4.6 yards a carry in five of his six seasons. The only time he averaged less than that was 2011, when he ran at a 3.9-yard-per-carry clip.
Bradshaw also has caught 132 passes for 1,087 yards in his career.
Chris Ivory, RB, New Orleans Saints
Ivory is a restricted free agent. If the Saints place the lowest tender of $1.323 million on him, that eliminates the chance that the Steelers, or any team, could sign him for six figures.
He's been lost in the shuffle in the Saints' crowded backfield, but he's intriguing because of his career average of 5.1 yards per carry. However, he has a history of injuries. The 24-year-old missed three games in December with hamstring problems, so buyer beware.