Best and Worst Moves the Steelers Have Made in Free Agency
As the initial rush of NFL free agency ends, it is time to take a peek at the free-agent moves the Pittsburgh Steelers have made up to this point. It isn't always a case of making headlines that constitute a great free-agency period.
Often times, especially we get caught up in all the names who are changing zip codes, we forget that the best moves are the ones that you don't hear about. Sometimes it is better for the franchise to hold onto the players it has, rather than take a chance on the unknown with new players. And other times, it is the move you don't make, that really matters most.
Overall, Pittsburgh has had a solid, albeit quiet offseason. After clearing some cap space to get themselves compliant fiscally, the Steelers looked to their own roster to see who could be retained.
Once those decisions were made, it was time to consider which outside free agents to bring in and with them, which to sign. In the final analysis, the Steelers have done far more good than bad at this point.
Have a look at some of the best and worst of the Steelers' free-agent moves.
Best: Re-Signing Jason Worilds
A major bright spot of the 2013 Steelers' defense was the emergence of outside linebacker Jason Worilds. Worilds parlayed his first season with significant starts into eight sacks and made himself somewhat indispensable. He found himself very comfortable in that weak-side pass-rushing linebacker role and definitely improved as the season progressed.
The Steelers recognized this and acted quickly to get Worilds under contract before another team could snatch him, slapping him with the transition tag, which he promptly signed. With Jarvis Jones opposite Worilds, the Steelers look to have a rather formidable pass-rushing duo for the foreseeable future.
There was always a chance that the Steelers could have opted to let Worilds leave. This would have meant the Steelers having either to sign a free agent or keep LaMarr Woodley.
Neither of these situations would have been as beneficial to this team as simply paying Worilds.
Worst: Letting Al Woods Go
Defensive end Al Woods and his play constituted one of the real bright spots on the Steelers' defense in 2013. After seeing limited snaps in the first eight games, Woods got significantly more playing time in the second half of the year—a half that saw the Steelers go 6-2 by the way.
Unfortunately, the Steelers were not in a position to get Woods back, and he is now a member of the Tennessee Titans. It is understandable that Woods would want to leave for a 4-3 defense. His potential to be productive could be unlimited. And his opportunity to be compensated improves as well.
From the Steelers' perspective, letting Woods walk means there are now far more questions than answers on the defensive line. Having Woods back in the fold would have gone a long way toward creating stability there. If defensive lineman Cam Thomas can't be at least as good as Woods, the decision not to retain the latter could really sting.
Best: Signing Lance Moore
After failing to retain either of their own free-agent wide receivers, Pittsburgh was compelled to seek out a veteran to add experience to the group. What they found was nine-year pro Lance Moore. The news broke on Twitter and was confirmed by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Mark Kaboly among others.
Moore is a terrific signing because he gives the Steelers offense another speedy wide receiver who can win in the slot. Signing Moore doesn't mean the Steelers are done bolstering their skill-position players, but he helps. Last season was a struggle for Moore, but he's a much better player than what we saw in 2013.
Before Landing Moore, the Steelers had very little experience beyond Antonio Brown. Even if they have aspirations of drafting a wide receiver early, adding Moore and his production was vital. Pairing up him up with Brown on the outside will force safeties deep and offer tight ends and the running game more space.
Worst: Failing to Sign Jerricho Cotchery
Even with the addition of Moore, Jerricho Cotchery would have been a valuable asset to the Steelers' passing offense in 2014. Last year, when Sanders struggled, Cotchery stepped up. He also became quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target in the red zone.
However, as first reported by Goal Line Football's Everett Levy, Cotchery chose to head to Charlotte and join quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. On the surface, it might seem that he was leaving in order to find a team on which he could secure more playing time. On the surface that makes sense, but it was almost assured that Cotchery would have started for the Steelers as well.
The Panthers got a real bargain in Cotchery. His five-year contract is worth just north of $8 million. It's unfortunate that the Steelers didn't place a higher value on the veteran receiver than that. Pittsburgh fans need to hope that second-year receiver Markus Wheaton is ready to fulfill all that potential.
Best: Signing Mike Mitchell
With the pending loss of safety Ryan Clark, the future is now for the Steelers and their defensive secondary. Once the Steelers had freed up the requisite amount of cap space needed to be a buyer in free agency, safety became a top priority.
There was little chance the Steelers would be able to get into a bidding war for a player like Jairus Byrd, but they didn't need to. Safety Mike Mitchell was coming off his best season as a pro and parlayed it into a new contract. Mitchell himself took to Twitter to break the news.
It is impossible to state with certainty that he will further ascend as a player. Nevertheless, in the capable hands of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and secondary coach Carnell Lake, Mitchell is in the best position to succeed.
Worst: Failing to Add a Cornerback
The 2014 free-agent market consisted of a very good group of cornerbacks. Unfortunately, the Steelers felt no sense of obligation to sign any of them. This is quite unfortunate for a couple of reasons.
First, this team is thin at cornerback. As of now, their top three CBs are Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay. Essentially the same group that got picked apart far too often in 2013. Bringing in a talented veteran could have pushed Taylor to nickel, where he could really end his career on a good note.
Second, failure to add a veteran cornerback means the position is still a top priority in the draft. Granted, this cornerback class is very deep and talented. Nonetheless, with the value of that first-round pick, signing a veteran cornerback could have removed them from their big board that early on.
At this point, the free-agent cornerback market is pretty picked over. If the Steelers still want to get a veteran, they could wait until after the draft when teams start to dump salary.
Nevertheless, they dropped the ball by not securing a corner early.