Pittsburgh is coming off of its second straight .500 season and its second straight out of the postseason. That’s not something this franchise is used to. The team is a little too old on defense and a little too new on offense. Simply put, they need to make some moves.
Whether that be in re-signing their own or bringing in some fresh blood, Pittsburgh has to do something to better this team. Let’s take a look at the chances the Steelers bring in their top free-agent targets.
Chances he’s back: 50 percent
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds had a breakout season for the Steelers in 2013. On a defense that struggled to rush the passer, Worilds led the team with eight sacks in just 11 starts.
The Steelers would love to bring Worilds back, especially after it looks like he’s finally made the transition after the team made him a second-round pick in 2010. But he’s made it clear to ESPN.com's Scott Brown that he’ll only return if he’s going to be a starter, and that could be a problem for Pittsburgh.
If the Steelers were to give Worilds the starting job, it would most likely mean the end of LaMarr Woodley, and that brings new problems. Cutting Woodley would result in around $14 million in dead money according to Sportrac. With the cap situation Pittsburgh already finds itself in, it’s going to be hard to led Woodley go.
I do think that the Steelers will make their best effort to bring Worilds back. But if another team offers a big deal, it may be too much for Pittsburgh pay. Right now, it’s pretty up in the air.
Chances he’s back: 10 percent
It’s pretty doubtful that Emmanuel Sanders will return to Pittsburgh. Of course, that’s what I thought when the New England Patriots picked up his restricted free agent offer sheet last season.
Sanders was expected to take flight in 2013 after being handed the reigns as the team’s No. 2 receiver. Although Sanders did record career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns, he struggled with drops and fell well short of where he should have been.
Despite that, teams have already begun showing interest in the young talent. And with Antonio Brown as the clear-cut No. 1 and former third-rounder Markus Wheaton waiting in the wings, it seems unlikely the Steelers could match what other teams will be offering.
But, we’ve been wrong before.
Chances he’s back: 25 percent
Defensive end Brett Keisel has not only been a great player for the Steelers over the last 11 seasons, he’s been a fan favorite as well. But Keisel is 35 and missed most of the 2013 campaign due to nagging injuries.
If this were the old days, Keisel would be out and the Steelers would be moving on with a younger replacement. It’s not being mean, it’s just how Pittsburgh used to do business and it worked. But recently, they’ve held onto their older players for too long and haven’t replaced them with the youth they need to.
The cap situation will be everything this offseason and, frankly, Keisel may just be a cap casualty. It’s nothing personal, but with the emergence of Cameron Heyward, Al Woods and a possible return of a younger Ziggy Hood, there may not be room (or money) for Keisel.
Chances he’s signed: 5 percent
Jairus Byrd is a fantastic safety and the Steelers could really use some help in the secondary. But let’s be realistic people, he’s most likely not going to be wearing black and gold in 2014.
Byrd is not only the top safety and defensive back on the market, he’s also one of the top five free agents in the entire 2014 class. In other words, he’s going to command some big dollars this offseason. Those are big dollars the Steelers probably won’t have.
Pittsburgh will most likely put in a call to Byrd’s agent and test the waters, but it’s highly unlikely the team will be able to make any real impact on that front.
Chances he’s signed: 25 percent
The Steelers don’t really ever make much of a splash in the free-agent market, but that hasn’t always been the case. At various points, Pittsburgh added players like Kevin Greene and James Farrior that helped lead the team to Super Bowls.
With the team’s recent lack of success, it may turn back to free agents to help aid them in their quest to return to the postseason.
One relatively affordable option should be former Dolphins nose tackle Paul Soliai.
At age 30, Soliai is certainly no spring chicken, but he’s still one of the better nose tackles in the game. Soliai is fantastic at the point of attack and can eat up blockers. That’s something the team missed this season after letting Casey Hampton walk.
Again, the Steelers, like most seasons, probably won’t be strong players in the free-agent market. But if the Dolphins let Soliai test the waters, I expect the Steelers would have some serious interest.