The spending spree that is the NFL free-agent signing period is in full effect. After an initial rush of signings, things have begun to calm down. Some teams opened up their coffers and made it rain on some top free agents.
Even the typically frugal Pittsburgh Steelers went out and made some free-agent additions early on. Granted, they were in reaction to some key losses, but nonetheless there's been activity.
But what's next? In order to know where the Steelers are going next, we must review the highlights of what has happened to this point. Taking into consideration the fact that according to Over The Cap, the Steelers have only around $2.7 million in cap space.
Mike Mitchell, Safety
The Steelers made something of a splash in free agency by adding safety Mike Mitchell. His signing serves two very important purposes. First, he provided something of a seamless transition from Ryan Clark. Second, he injects youth into the defensive secondary.
From a style standpoint, Mitchell is an ideal fit for the Steelers defense. He showed in 2013, when inserted into the starting lineup at Carolina, he can be an exceptional all-around safety.
Fans have become accustomed to big hits in the secondary, and Mitchell will continue the tradition. Not to mention, having defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and defensive backs coach Carnell Lake to work with him, it's reasonable to assume Mitchell can get even better.
Lance Moore, Wide Receiver
After losing both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery to free agency, finding a veteran presence to pair with Antonio Brown was a must. Pittsburgh fell into an exceptional situation in signing Lance Moore. Moore was coming off a down season where he was only able to muster 37 receptions for 457 yards and two touchdowns, only nine catches and 145 yards less than Cotchery had in 2013.
The fundamental difference between Moore and Cotchery is in size. Moore is three inches shorter than Cotchery. In fact, physically, Moore practically mirrors Brown. Both players have games predicated on speed and quickness, and Moore should flourish.
This is not to imply the Steelers won't want to find a taller target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Unless Derek Moye is somehow ready to step into a vastly expanded role, the Steelers will be looking at either the draft or free agency for another weapon in the passing game.
Both of these moves make the team younger and more athletic. Nevertheless, there is still much more to do. What is next? Let's ponder a few positions.
The Steelers made an active move to try to bolster their running game with the addition of Maurice Jones-Drew. Unfortunately, the two sides were unable to come to an agreement, according to Aaron Wilson of Yahoo! Sports, and the Steelers are still without any running back depth.
At this point, the Steelers need to just hold tight as far as free-agent running backs. Perhaps signing LaRod Stephens-Howling as insurance would be prudent, but he does not constitute a long-term answer. No, the Steelers will have to reach out either via the draft or late free agency to fill out the depth chart.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Even after the addition of Moore, this team still lacks that big target it needs. For all the talent Brown and Moore have, in the red zone Roethlisberger would be well served to have a tall target he can rely on. However, with cap space limited and free-agent options slim, this could once again be a matter for the draft.
The other possible option is the Steelers simply stand pat with their current depth chart. Once teams start to trim salary after the draft, there could be some veterans looking for work. They could even opt to add a tight end to pair with Heath Miller rather than look to another wide receiver at all.
With the release of veteran outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers have a two-man rotation at pass-rushing outside linebacker. And yes, two does not necessarily constitute a rotation at all. There's been no activity on the free-agent front as far as veteran linebackers at all. Oh, unless you count some rumors about the return of James Harrison after he said it was a possibility in an NFL Network interview (h/t Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Joe Starkey).
Unless the Steelers are happy with Chris Carter at their third outside linebacker, depth needs to be added. If it's Harrison and it's a fiscally responsible contract, so be it. He would allow second-year player Jarvis Jones another season to hone his craft. However, if they don't reach out to Harrison, there isn't much else to pick from. That means, again, the next step could be to find that player in the draft.
It was to be expected there there would be some turnover here with three players as free agents. And potentially a re-signing or two. Unfortunately, the Steelers let both Al Woods and Ziggy Hood leave, and as of yet haven't offered Brett Keisel a contract. The only addition was Cam Thomas, who looks like a rotational-type of athlete similar to Woods.
However, the Steelers have to decide if players like Brian Arnfelt, Nicholas Williams and Loni Fangupo are ready to step in and contribute. If so, there will likely be no movement whatsoever on this front. These are sound options.
The moral of this story, kids, is don't expect much movement between now and the draft. The Steelers have done as much as they can in terms of releases and restructures. Everyone is likely going to have to wait for the draft and beyond. There are no players currently unsigned who must be addressed immediately.
Moving forward, the franchise must exercise patience. The money isn't there to make any more splash moves. So expect things to quiet down. The Steelers must be assured they can sign their rookies, and possibly shuffle some spots as training camp approaches. This team still has needs, but don't expect any of them to be filled in the next few weeks.
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