10 Best Free-Agent Acquisitions in Pittsburgh Steelers History
Traditionally, the Steelers don't use free agency to build their team. Most of the free agents they've signed in recent seasons have been role players. However, they have had some impact free agents. There still might be just four Lombardi Trophies in Pittsburgh if it weren't for players picked up in free agency.
This list only includes players signed since unrestricted free agency in its current form began in 1993. Jerome Bettis was acquired in a draft-day trade in 1996, so he was not a free agent. Tommy Maddox doesn't qualify for this list because he was out of football for six years before he came to the Steelers in 2001. The Steelers didn't get him through the free-agency system that was instituted in 1993.
As with any Steelers best-of list, Super Bowl rings carry a lot of weight. We look at overall productivity, but players who helped the Steelers win championships get the nod where there's a debate. Longevity is also a factor.
With the 2014 free-agency period just around the corner, here's a look back the 10 best free-agent acquisitions in Steelers history.
Pro Football Reference is used for statistics unless otherwise noted.
Honorable Mention: Erric Pegram
Erric Pegram deserves a mention because he was the leading rusher for a Steelers team that made the Super Bowl.
Signed from the Atlanta Falcons in 1995, Pegram ran for 813 yards and five touchdowns for the Steelers that year. He ran for two touchdowns and caught a touchdown in the Steelers' dramatic 37-34 overtime victory at Chicago. It was the second of eight straight wins for the Steelers after a 3-4 start and helped spark their run to Super Bowl XXX.
Pegram doesn't make the top 10, however, because he fumbled nine times in 1995. That's right. Nine times, as Ed Rooney would say.
The principal in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" was not related to the Steelers' ownership family.
No. 10: Mewelde Moore
Mewelde Moore gets on this list for his role in the Steelers' sixth championship and for his ability to hang on to the football. Moore fumbled the ball four times in four years as a Steeler. That's less than half of Pegram's nine fumbles in 1995.
The running back signed from the Vikings started four games in place of an injured Willie Parker in 2008. He finished the season with 588 rushing yards for 4.2 yards per carry and five touchdowns. He also caught 40 passes, one for a touchdown.
Moore helped the Steelers get to another Super Bowl in 2010 and averaged 4.2 yards per carry in his time with the Steelers.
No. 9: John L. Williams
Even though he was a running back, John L. Williams was the leading pass-catcher for a 12-4 Steelers team in 1994.
Williams led the Steelers with 51 receptions that year, including two for touchdowns, and also ran for 317 yards at 4.7 yards per carry with a touchdown.
Williams is the highest-ranked running back on this list because he also produced in the playoffs. He ran for a 26-yard touchdown in the Steelers' 29-9 win over the Cleveland Browns in the 1994 AFC divisional playoffs. The following week, he caught a 16-yard touchdown pass and hauled in seven passes for 45 yards in the Steelers' 17-13 loss to the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game.
Williams played a role in the Steelers' Super Bowl run the following year with a rushing touchdown in a 40-21 divisional-playoff win over the Buffalo Bills.
After spending eight years in Seattle, Williams played the final two years of his career with the Steelers.
No. 8: Brent Alexander
Brent Alexander's finest hour as a Steeler came when he intercepted two passes in the Steelers' 27-10 divisional-playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens in 2001. During the Steelers' 13-3 regular season that year, Alexander had four interceptions, 10 pass breakups and two sacks.
The Steelers signed Alexander when the Carolina Panthers released him after the 1999 season, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The free safety started every game in his four years as a Steeler.
No. 7: Dewayne Washington
After being drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings and playing four years there, Dewayne Washington signed with the Steelers after the 1997 season and made an immediate impact.
The cornerback tied his career high with five interceptions in 1998 and returned two of them for touchdowns in a 30-15 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He also recovered two fumbles that year.
Washington broke up 18 passes and added a sack and an interception for a 13-3 Steelers team that made the AFC Championship Game in 2001. He started every game for five straight years and is tied for 15th on the all-time list with 19 interceptions as a Steeler.
Washington ranks ahead of Alexander on this list because he was with the Steelers a little longer and compiled better numbers.
Had Washington helped the Steelers get to a Super Bowl, he might have been ranked higher. At least he has the distinction of being the best free-agent acquisition in Pittsburgh Steelers history to never play in a Super Bowl.
No. 6: Ray Seals
Ray Seals played for the Steelers for only two years, and that keeps him out of the top five. However, the Steelers probably wouldn't have reached the AFC Championship Game in 1994 and Super Bowl XXX in 1995 without him.
The defensive end came from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had seven sacks and two fumble recoveries in 1994. Then he was second on the team with 8.5 sacks in 1995. He sacked Troy Aikman in a losing effort in Super Bowl XXX. Seals also intercepted a pass, forced two fumbles and recovered one in 1995.
Seals never even played college football. He excelled in high school but never had the grades to get into college, according to Sean Kirst of the Syracuse Post-Standard. He worked various odd jobs until finally getting his chance.
No. 5: Kimo Von Oelhoffen
Kimo von Oelhoffen will forever be remembered for tearing up Carson Palmer's knee in the Steelers' AFC wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals in 2005.
That's not exactly fair considering everything else von Oelhoffen did in a Steelers uniform. His Super Bowl XL ring is a big reason he's in the top five on this list.
The Steelers beat the Bengals and went on to win the Super Bowl after Palmer's injury, but no one talks about the 3.5 sacks, four defended passes and 11 quarterback hurries, as reported by Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that von Oelhoffen contributed during the 2005 season or his effort as a defensive end on the Steelers' third-ranked run defense (according to NFL.com) that year.
"You can't move him out of his gap," teammate Larry Foote told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during the 2005 playoffs.
After spending the first six years of his career with Cincinnati, von Oelhoffen played for the Steelers from 2000 to 2005. He had four sacks and recovered two fumbles for the Steelers as they reached the AFC Championship Game in 2001. He led the team with eight sacks in 2003 and is 20th on the Steelers' all-time list with 20.5 sacks, although three more sacks by Jason Worilds will knock him out of the top 20.
No. 4: Jeff Hartings
Thanks to Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson, the Steelers never had to worry about the center position between 1964 and 2000.
Thanks to free agency, they didn't have to worry about it from 2001 to 2006 either.
The Steelers signed Jeff Hartings from the Detroit Lions after the 2000 season. He started every game in 2001 as the Steelers reached the AFC Championship Game. He also started every game from 2003 to 2005.
Hartings made the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2005 and was a first-team All-Pro in 2004. His decorated resume moves him ahead of von Oelhoffen in the countdown. With Hartings snapping the ball to Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers went 15-1 and made it to the AFC Championship Game in 2004 and won Super Bowl XL in 2005.
No. 3: Kevin Greene
The Steelers might have a reputation for going bargain basement in free agency these days, but they were big players in the inaugural free-agency period in 1993.
Kevin Greene already had 72.5 career sacks in eight years with the Los Angeles Rams. Then he added 12.5 sacks for the Steelers in 1993, a league-leading 14 sacks in 1994 and nine sacks in 1995. Greene is eighth in team history with 35.5 sacks despite playing for the Steelers for just three years.
Greene was a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro outside linebacker in 1994 and a Pro Bowler again in 1995 when the Steelers reached Super Bowl XXX. He started all 48 regular-season games and six postseason games in his three years as a Steeler and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-1990s Team.
That ability to dominate his era makes Greene one of the three best free agents the Steelers have ever signed.
But he never won a Super Bowl.
No. 2: Ryan Clark
Ryan Clark might not be a Hall of Fame candidate like Greene, but he gave the Steelers more than Greene because he was with them a lot longer.
The Steelers defense has led the NFL in fewest yards allowed, fewest points allowed or both in five of Clark's eight seasons with the team.
The free safety has patrolled the back end of two Super Bowl defenses since he was signed from the Washington Redskins after the 2005 season.
Clark is seventh on the Steelers' all-time list with 44 passes defended and 10th with 445 tackles. He made the Pro Bowl in 2011, leading the team with 100 tackles, according to NFL.com. It was the first of three straight seasons of at least 100 tackles for Clark.
Since then, Clark has missed just four games, and two of them were at Denver. He was named a team captain last season, which likely will be his last with the Steelers.
No. 1: James Farrior
Sure, this is no surprise. But wasn't the trip down memory lane worth it?
Signed from the New York Jets after the 2001 season, James Farrior earned Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII rings and also helped lead the Steelers to Super Bowl XLV.
The inside linebacker is the Steelers' all-time leader with 742 tackles and led the team in that category every year between 2003 and 2009.
In 2004, Farrior took home Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors. He also was NFL Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, after posting career highs with 12 passes defended, four interceptions and three forced fumbles. Farrior's breakout year helped the Steelers finish 15-1 and reach the AFC Championship Game.
The following year, Farrior had 2.5 sacks in the Steelers' epic 21-18 playoff upset at Indianapolis on the way to their Super Bowl XL victory.
Farrior made his second Pro Bowl as the Steelers won their sixth championship in 2008. Two years later, he had six sacks (a half-sack short of his career high) to help the Steelers get back to the Super Bowl.
Not only is Farrior the best free-agent signing in Steelers history, according to NFL.com he's also among the top-20 free-agent signings in NFL history.