Partly due to their organizational philosophy and partly out of necessity, the Pittsburgh Steelers seem content to let another free-agency period come and go without making much of a splash.
Thanks to a payroll swollen by the money paid to the nucleus of a team that reached two Super Bowls in the past five years, the Steelers have had little ability to add new talent during the 2013 free-agency period. So rather than going after high-priced free agents, the team has instead been bidding adieu to established players to clear cap space. The team cut linebacker James Harrison and guard Willie Colon, letting the latter walk to the Jets. As expected, Pittsburgh also allowed safety Ryan Mundy and running back Rashard Mendenhall to join new teams.
The Steelers even stood pat when it came to their two highest-profile free agents. The front office showed little interest in keeping wide receiver Mike Wallace. The five-year, $60-million contract the speedster signed with Miami was considerably more than Pittsburgh was willing to pay. Somewhat surprisingly, the team also balked at pursuing Keenan Lewis. The emerging star cornerback inked a five-year, $25-million contract with the Saints.
Even after all of these departures, the Steelers’ payroll is still barely less than the salary cap. As a result, the team has not pursued many free agents on the open market. The organization added a couple of unexciting pickups—tight end Matt Spaeth and cornerback William Gay. It also re-signed a few of its own veterans—Ramon Foster, Greg Warren, Larry Foote, Plaxico Burress and David Johnson. But given that only Foster and Foote played in more than 150 snaps in 2012, none of those transactions made Twitter explode.
Given the circumstances, it seems unlikely that the team is lying in wait and planning to add a big-name free agent this year. Though Pittsburgh still has numerous needs—a workhorse running back, a third wide receiver, a backup defensive end, an inside linebacker of the future, a backup outside linebacker, a backup cornerback and a future starter at safety—it will probably look to the draft to address them. And that’s probably the right approach for an aging team that needs cheap young talent.
If the franchise were to look to fill the holes mentioned above via free agency, it would obviously have very limited options. Given the Steelers’ budget, the best talent, the players most likely to contribute on the field, would be out of the question. So the team would have to look for unproven young players who have shown a hint of potential or older players who might have one last good season in their tanks.
With that in mind, the following are the best free-agent options available to the Steelers at each position that needs reinforcement heading into the 2013 season. Those players are ranked from the worst to the best bet for the Steelers based on the value propositions presented by their past histories and salaries.