Pittsburgh Steelers' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been moderately active to this point in the offseason, but the additions of Plaxico Burress, Larry Foote and Bruce Gradkowski, among others, will not move the needle when it comes to being a contender in 2013.
Pittsburgh still has several holes to fill and several priorities to address before the team takes the field for training camp let alone the regular season opener.
Here's a look at the remaining priorities that must be addressed this offseason.
Adding Running Backs
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They've also tendered contracts to restricted free-agents Jonathan Dwyer (who signed) and Isaac Redman to try and retain some of their backs from last season.
The fact that they put low tender offers on each man is telling. It says that Pittsburgh has no qualms about replacing either player if the opportunity presents itself. After finishing 26th in rushing last season, that should surprise no one.
Bradshaw and Wells are coming off of injuries. Bradshaw would be a nice addition when he's healthy, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that he was not offered a contract on this visit and was asked to return for another look at his injured foot in the coming weeks.
Regardless of what Pittsburgh does in free agency at the position, they absolutely must add a running back in the draft. Le'Veon Bell or Montee Ball would be the best fits because they're dynamic playmakers that can be feature backs at the NFL level.
Replacing James Harrison
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The Pittsburgh Steelers seemingly slammed the door on the possibility of a James Harrison return earlier this week after the linebacker hinted that he would consider returning to Pittsburgh. The Steelers kindly informed him his services weren't required.
That's a healthy precedent to set for the future. NFL contracts are hotly contested when parties can't agree on what a player is worth. Pittsburgh has never shied away from letting older players walk if they are too expensive.
They sent the message to the next round of players who will need to slash their price to remain on the team that the offer given is final and won't be offered again once the player realizes that they misjudged their market value.
Still, the Steelers need to replace Harrison with something more compelling than Jason Worilds or Chris Carter. Worilds is tantalizing, but he's a health risk without much resume to back him up. Carter couldn't cut it as a starter and is likely on the way out himself.
Pittsburgh will need to address this spot early in the draft with a player like Texas A&M's Damontre Moore or Georgia's Jarvis Jones. They depend too much on successful linebacker pressure for defensive success. Creating that pressure in 2013 will be the difference between first place and last in a division that figures to be a four-horse race for the first time ever.
Replacing Mike Wallace
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When the Pittsburgh Steelers let receiver Mike Wallace walk away in free agency, the team lost one of the best deep threats in the NFL. Wallace's effort and commitment were questionable in 2012 and his contract holdout last summer irked many inside and outside the organization, but the fact remains that Wallace's speed was a great weapon.
Now the Steelers are faced with the question of who will replace that ability. It won't be recently re-signed Plaxico Burress, who is tall and has good hands but doesn't have the speed to take the top off of a defense.
It also won't be Emmanuel Sanders, who is long on potential but doesn't have the kind of speed that Wallace does.
The draft in April is the only place to find this kind of talent. Two players from relatively close by could be of interest.
Pittsburgh has a more pressing need at the linebacker spot, but a first-round selection of Tavon Austin from West Virginia would be well spent.
If the Steelers feel they must wait on a receiver, Austin's teammate Stedman Bailey would be an excellent mid-round selection.
Both players have top-end speed and great hands. Both will be excellent threats in NFL offenses. Pittsburgh must pull the trigger on a player like them in this year's draft or risk another offensive regression.
Sorting out the Safety Position
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Pittsburgh is set as far as starters go at the safety position. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are back for another go-around. Hopefully this one will be healthier for Polamalu, who missed a large chunk of 2012 due to injuries.
The fact remains that neither Polamalu nor Clark (who is two years older) is getting any younger. Pittsburgh lost both backup safeties in free agency when Will Allen signed with Dallas and Ryan Mundy signed with the New York Giants.
Sanders would only be a temporary fix anyway. Pittsburgh needs to get serious and realistic about the guy who plays behind Polamalu.
In short, the next Polamalu needs to be found sooner rather than later.
Matt Elam from Florida could be that player. He hits like Clark but has the roving ability of Polamalu. With a year or two of learning from the best safety of this generation, he could be special too.
Regardless, the backup safeties are as important on defense as the backup quarterbacks are on offense because of the injury history of the starters. Pittsburgh needs to make sure that the depth is there in case one or both stars can't make it to the finish line.
Accumulate Draft Picks
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Right now, the Pittsburgh Steelers have eight selections in the 2013 draft.
With needs such as outside linebacker, inside linebacker, running back, wide receiver, defensive tackle, safety, cornerback and along the offensive line, eight picks is probably not enough to fill all of their needs with decent talent.
The Steelers do have a weapon in their arsenal in the 17th overall pick. In a draft that is deep in talent at the positions where they are looking, moving closer to the end of the round might be a smart play.
It would also allow the team to get an extra pick or two in the process. If a good deal for the pick comes in on draft day, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert would be foolish to pass on it.
The priority is to fill as many holes as possible with young talent. Not all of it will stick, but some of it will. That is the start of the reloading that must be done over the next couple of years to set this team up for another period of dominance like they enjoyed almost continuously from 2001 until 2011.
It starts this year with this draft. Now is the time for Colbert to prove once again that he's one of the best general managers in sports.