The biggest news for the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency will not be about who they signed, but rather who they lost.
Pittsburgh’s biggest outside free-agent splash may have come last week when they signed William Gay to a three-year deal.
But that does not mean the Steelers won't look to improve their roster with outside free agents. Rather than make a major signing on the first day of free agency, they will instead take their time and look for affordable options that slip through the cracks.
Here is a look at the free agents the Steelers are reportedly interested in.
The Steelers will only go as far as Ben Roethlisberger can carry them, and the past two seasons have resulted in disappointing finishes. However, they are also the two seasons in which injuries severely impacted Roethlisberger’s play down the stretch.
Whether they’d admit to it or not, the Steelers will often rush Roethlisberger back to the field because he gives the team the best chance to win. It also doesn’t help that the backup quarterback situation has been on the decline.
Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich once provided quality depth behind Roethlisberger, but not anymore.
Leftwich is injury-prone and as a result, has not been a dependable option. Meanwhile, Batch has been a steady presence when called upon, but he takes a week to get warmed up and teams cannot afford to go in a shell when their backup gets acclimated.
While Batch may be a quality option as a third-string quarterback, the Steelers must do better.
Apparently, the Steelers are taking a look at at least one option, according to Adam Schefter.
Bruce Gradkowski would be the ideal fit for the backup role in Pittsburgh.
The 30-year-old is a Pittsburgh native—yes, that is significant when it comes to the Steelers front office—has experience as a starter and a backup and has had plenty of success over his NFL career.
One of the best games of Gradkowski’s career came in 2009 when he led the Oakland Raiders to a 27-24 upset win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns, which earned him the title of AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Gradkowski only has a 6-14 record as a starter, but has managed six fourth-quarter comebacks over his career.
The Steelers need a tough quarterback who can move around the pocket and implement a short, quick passing attack. Gradkowski can do just that.
Gradkowski is not the most effective quarterback, with only a 52.9 career completion percentage and 21 touchdowns to 24 interceptions. However, he is a tough player who has played well when called upon.
What the Steelers would get with Gradkowski is a younger option with plenty of NFL experience and a quarterback who is very familiar with the AFC North after playing with the Cincinnati Bengals for the past two seasons.
Gradkowski would be an upgrade behind Roethlisberger and would help settle the backup quarterback position for two to three years.
General manager Kevin Colbert made it no secret that the Steelers were disappointed with their running backs in 2012.
While the team did tender restricted free agents Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, they are still looking to upgrade the position with a running back that can carry the load.
According to Jason La Canfora, the Steelers may be looking at a former Arizona Cardinals running back to do just that.
Chris “Beanie” Wells was a first-round selection in the 2009 draft who has been plagued with injuries over his short career.
At only 24 years old, Wells is still very young, and this should make him attractive to the Steelers. However, his lack of production is concerning.
Wells’ best season came in 2011 when he rushed for 1,047 yards on 245 carries and 10 touchdowns. For his career, he only has 2,471 yards in four seasons and 24 touchdowns with an average of 4.0 yards per carry.
This does not exactly scream “upgrade” over what the Steelers already have.
Wells is a between-the-tackles runner who does not have breakaway speed, and the Steelers already have a couple of these guys. They need a player with more versatility.
While Wells should not require a big contract offer, he is not what the Steelers need moving forward.
For a comparable cost, the Steelers could just re-sign Rashard Mendenhall, who at least has the speed to break a big run and is a threat as a receiver.
The Steelers lack depth at inside linebacker by not tendering Stevenson Sylvester and with Sean Spence still recovering from last year’s devastating knee injury.
As it stands now, Larry Foote will start next to Lawrence Timmons in the middle, but the Steelers could use depth behind the starters.
According to Jason La Canfora, the Steelers are considering their options.
Moise Fokou is slightly undersized at 6’1” and 233 pounds, but fits the mold of the direction that the Steelers appear to be moving in at inside linebacker.
Fokou started 22 games in three seasons with the Eagles and one game last year with the Colts. His best season came in 2010 when he started 11 games and finished with 53 tackles and one sack.
At best, Fokou looks to be a fourth linebacker option on the depth chart and special teams player.
ESPN Dallas’ Calvin Watkins reported that Connor will visit the Steelers.
Connor has only started 27 games in his career, but he has experience in the 3-4 defense and should not cost too much after being cut by the Cowboys.
Last season with the Cowboys, Connor started in eight games and had 57 tackles. He may not be as productive as Foote has been, but he is younger and could benefit from a change of scenery.
At the very least, Connor would provide terrific depth at inside linebacker and could start if necessary. The best-case scenario is that he would be a perfect fit for the defense and earn a starting job over Foote.
Not only would bringing in a player like Connor provide depth, but it would also alleviate the need for the Steelers to draft an inside linebacker in the first half of the draft. They could comfortably wait until the later rounds to find a young, developmental player.
Connor could be a great value signing for the Steelers and one that they should definitely consider, even after reaching a deal with Foote.