Pittsburgh Steelers: Buying or Selling Latest Buzz on the Free-Agency Rumor Mill

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IMarch 10, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers: Buying or Selling Latest Buzz on the Free-Agency Rumor Mill

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    Tuesday marks the beginning of the NFL free-agency period. Every NFL franchise handles this time differently, based on a combination of philosophy and fiscal responsibility.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that has always played it close to the vest in terms of free agents. When the headlines start pouring in about splash signings, the Steelers won’t be part of that group.

    It’s never been in their nature to reach out to premier free agents, instead opting to pour all of their salary cap into their own players.

    In most cases, this way of thinking has been successful. However, the past two seasons have been something of a disappointment for the franchise and the fanbase. According to Spotrac, the Steelers have done enough in terms of salary moves to find themselves $12.46 million under the cap with no big contracts to negotiate with current players. 

    Could this be the year that the Steelers break from the formula and go after some impact players early in free agency? First, let’s take a look at a few of the rumors going around about the Steelers.

Emmanuel Sanders Drawing Interest from the New York Jets

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    Last Friday, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News published a report that the New York Jets were interested in Steelers free-agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

    On the surface, a report like this seems entirely plausible. The Jets have a talented young quarterback in place with Geno Smith. They also have very little in terms of skill position players around him. With a limited number of draft picks and many holes to fill, finding a wide receiver via free agency makes perfect sense.

    Sanders underwhelmed in 2013. The opportunity was there for him to ascend to elite level in the Steelers offense. But, inconsistent play hamstrung his development and made the Steelers’ decision to let him walk easier.

    Sanders would immediately become the best wide receiver on the Jets roster, should they choose to sign him. But are we buying that the Jets are serious about adding Sanders?


    Buy or Sell: Buy. The sources in this report are reputable, and the fit is ideal. Sanders would give the Jets an element of speed and explosion that they have been lacking. In college, Smith used a short passing game with quick wide receivers to put up staggering numbers. The fit between Smith and Sanders feels very natural here.

Sanders Also on the Radar of the Detroit Lions

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    Detroit Lions senior writer Tim Twentyman sent out this tweet on Friday indicating that Sanders would be an excellent fit for the Lions. From strictly a football standpoint, this is absolutely true. The Lions already have Calvin Johnson, but they have never given him an adequate pairing at wide receiver.

    Sanders excels in the short and underneath routes, which would pull defenses in and allow Johnson a bit more freedom downfield. If the Lions did sign Sanders, it would allow them to focus their first-round pick on help in the defensive secondary.

    If the Lions can add a playmaker in the secondary and at wide receiver this offseason, they will be very competitive in the NFC in 2014. But, is this just smoke without any fire?


    Buy or Sell: Sell. With Twitter, the definition of a report has become somewhat muddled. What reads like one writer’s opinion about options has been made into something more than that. Yes, Sanders is a very good fit for the Lions. And yes, the Lions may make a push to sign him.

    However, based on the facts that are out there, this feels more like just one guy’s opinion than any sort of corroborated report.

Steelers Looking at Jermichael Finley

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    According to this tweet sent out by Boston Globe writer Ben Volin, the Steelers are one of the teams interested in free-agent tight end Jermichael Finley. Finley hasn’t been medically cleared to play for the 2014 season but is still very talented.

    From a Steelers perspective, Finley is a fascinating prospect. When healthy, he can be a productive tight end. However, because there is no promise of him being healthy, his price should be fairly low.

    Obviously, it is a calculated risk to consider Finley at this point. Salary-cap space is limited, but the Steelers are making moves. Should they feel confident in Finley’s health, the 26-year-old tight end could be in the mix for what cap space they have to work with.


    Buy or Sell: Buy. This one is easy to believe. However, buying that they are interested isn’t buying that they will really be bidding on Finley’s services. Taking a shot on Finely only to have him not be healthy would be a real blow to this franchise. This isn’t a franchise that takes big risks, so unless Finley’s price is low and odds of playing high, the Steelers would likely pass.

Steelers Looking at Alterraun Verner

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    Mark this rumor down in the category of “splash moves." Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean tweeted that the Steelers were part of a short list of teams interested in cornerback Alterraun Verner. This has to come as a shock to Steelers fans, as Verner is the top free-agent cornerback on the market and would constitute the biggest free-agent signing by this franchise in many seasons.

    Verner would also be expensive. Hard to say for certain how much Verner will get on the open market, but it's going to be a lot. Like four or five years and better than $10 million per lot. The Steelers haven't shown any fear about making cuts in order to get under the salary cap; however, signing Verner would likely mean cornerback Ike Taylor would have to be released outright.

    From a purely football standpoint, Verner is ideal. He is incredibly talented and young enough that he is still ascending in terms of skill. The Steelers have had some great cornerbacks in their history, and Verner would definitely be among them. Is Verner the move the Steelers sell the farm for?


    Buy or Sell: Buy. Cornerback is easily one of the top two or three needs for the Steelers. Steelers fans have grown accustomed to a conservative approach, but this type of signing would make this team more competitive in a hurry. There's no draft pick who can help this team as quickly or completely as Verner could, and if it takes a release of a veteran like Taylor, so be it. Verner is eight years younger and a far better football player.