Picking the Ideal Free Agent to Fill Each of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Needs
The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t known to be big players in free agency. But they also aren’t known for having to win in Week 17 just to secure a .500 season.
If the team is to get back to the contender status it's grown accustomed to, then the roster is in need of a shake-up.
Of course, with the cap situation less than ideal, the Steelers will need to be bargain hunters in free agency. And that’s almost assuredly what they will be.
But there’s no harm in dreaming, right? After all, it’s not impossible that they acquire some of the more prized free agents. It’s just unlikely.
Read on to see which pending free agents would best fill the Steelers’ biggest needs.
Now, let’s be clear. The odds that the Steelers can pony up the kind of cash Byrd is worth are extraordinarily low.
But if, by some miracle, they came up with the necessary currency, they’d be set at the free safety spot for the foreseeable future. Byrd’s always a threat to pull down an errant or ill-advised throw, as evidenced by his 22 career interceptions in five seasons.
That ability would be highly coveted by a Steelers team who tied for the NFL’s worst mark with just 10 interceptions.
Signing Byrd would also benefit the other Steelers at the safety spot. For one, Shamarko Thomas would likely be afforded at least one more season to learn the ins and outs of the professional game.
If paired with Byrd, Troy Polamalu would be allowed to roam all over the field as he once did with abandon. Polamalu played in the box more than ever a season ago.
Of course, he’d still see some time up close to the line of scrimmage. But if paired with a reliable presence like Byrd, rather than an inexperienced one like Thomas, Polamalu would be able to once again rely on his instincts to make plays.
Some fans were probably quick to forget about Danario Alexander after he missed the 2013 season with a torn ACL.
However, Steelers fans should remember him well.
As a member of the San Diego Chargers, Alexander torched the Steelers to the tune of 88 yards and two touchdowns in a 2012 win over Pittsburgh. But the Steelers weren’t the only team in 2012 to give up a big day to the Missouri product.
In fact, Alexander finished that season with 658 yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers are made all the more impressive by the fact that Alexander didn’t join the Chargers until around midseason and didn’t catch a pass until Week 9.
Projected over a full season, Alexander would’ve managed over 1,000 yards and double-digit scores. Of course, with Antonio Brown in town, the Steelers wouldn’t need that kind of production. Although they certainly wouldn’t oppose it.
At 6’5”, Alexander would provide the big target for which Ben Roethlisberger’s long been clamoring. And, at just 25, the big wideout still has got great upside.
With Ike Taylor’s best days clearly behind him, many anticipate the Steelers will look to improve the cornerback position this offseason.
If so, they could do much worse than Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
At 6’2”, Rodgers-Cromartie’s got the long limbs NFL teams covet in a cornerback. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s got 4.3 speed.
Rodgers-Cromartie’s 2013 wasn’t as celebrated as, say, Richard Sherman’s, but it was arguably his best individual campaign. He finished in the top five of Pro Football Focus’ cornerback rankings for his efforts.
Rodgers-Cromartie had three interceptions in ’13, the fifth time he’s pulled down at least three picks in six seasons. Rodgers-Cromartie has also proven he’s dangerous when he manages to pilfer an opponent’s pass. He’s taken five of his 19 career interceptions the distance.
As mentioned in the Jairus Byrd slide, adding a player with legitimate playmaking ability in the secondary would greatly benefit a Steelers defense which was woeful at taking the ball away in ’13.
If the Steelers decide to let the 2013 season be Brett Keisel’s last in Pittsburgh then the defensive line suddenly becomes a very young unit.
In fact, barring Keisel, no member of the Steelers’ D-line came into the league earlier than 2009. There’s nothing wrong with going younger, but it never hurts to have a veteran presence in the mix either.
Enter Antonio Smith.
Smith’s played the majority of his career alongside the likes of Darnell Dockett, Mario Williams and J.J. Watt. He’s never been the star of the show but always a valued and reliable contributor.
In other words, he’s exactly the type of savvy free-agent signing the Steelers are known for.
At 32, Smith should have a few solid years left in the tank. With at least five sacks in each of the past three seasons, Smith’s greatest asset is getting after the quarterback. Uncoincidentally, that’s an area in which the Steelers have struggled over the past few seasons.
As I mentioned in a story earlier this week, the Steelers run defense suffered dramatically in the season following Casey Hampton’s retirement.
Now the blame for that can’t be placed solely on Hampton's replacement Steve McLendon. But it’s tough to dispute that he didn’t command several linemen the way Hampton did.
One player who’s set to be available in free agency and has shown that kind of ability is Paul Soliai.
In three of his four seasons in Miami as a starter, Soliai helped transform the Dolphins into one of the league's better run defenses, which included a third-place ranking in 2011.
At 340 pounds, Soliai’s definitely got the girth to work opposing linemen. And since he’s only been a consistent starter for the past four seasons, the 2011 Pro Bowler is a relatively fresh 30 years old.
The presence of a space-eater like Soliai on Pittsburgh's defensive front would almost certainly make life easier on his fellow defenders.