5 Avaliable Free Agents Still Within the Pittsburgh Steelers' Reach
With less than a month to the NFL draft, free-agent activity has slowed to a crawl. However, that is not intended to mean that it is over. It's quite the contrary. Between now and the draft, very little will happen. But, once June 1 gets here and the draft is over, the second season of free agency will begin.
This is the time when teams purge salary and players in reaction to the athletes they drafted. This is also the time when those free agents left from before the draft will suddenly find themselves employed again.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently in a position where they have very little salary cap, some significant needs and nine draft picks. It would make sense that, moving forward, those remaining needs would be handled via the draft.
Nonetheless, if we have learned anything about the NFL, it is that nothing is certain. The Steelers are going to load up on players as they move forward toward offseason camps and into training camp.
2014 is a pivotal year for the Steelers. After back-to-back 8-8 seasons, they have to find a way to regain control of the AFC North and return to prominence. This could mean that the Steelers will opt more toward finding veterans to fill key spots as opposed to rookies. If that is the case, look for the Steelers to try to trade up for a splash pick or two, rather than go for a volume of young prospects.
However, what happens if they Steelers aren't satisfied with the lot of rookies they bring in? Perhaps they feel a sense of urgency and use the cap space they will have after June 1 to add a piece or two of the puzzle from the available free agents. If so, here are five guys at strategic positions the Steelers could bring in to help fill in those last few spots.
Brett Keisel, Defensive End
It is obvious that the Steelers are trying to upgrade along their defensive line. After letting Al Woods, Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel leave, the message was sent that there was a changing of the guard on the front. However, at this point, there hasn't been much done to replace any of these players. This means that Pittsburgh could make both defensive end and nose tackle areas of emphasis in the draft.
However, should they miss out on any of their targets in the draft, can they just count on the youngsters on the roster to be prepared to go? If the answer is no, then bringing the veteran Keisel back into the fold would make lots of sense.
Yes, Keisel is 35 years old and his best years are behind him. However, there's no better mentor for the young linemen on the roster, and age or not, the beard can still play. He would come cheap, and he already knows the system inside and out.
LaRod Stephens-Howling, Running Back
Following the theme that everything old is new again, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling could find himself back on the Steelers after June 1. Keeping four running backs, dressing three for games is pretty typical for Pittsburgh. With Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount as the blunt instruments of the run game, Stephens-Howling could be the sharp edge.
Obviously, how viable Stephens-Howling is as a potential signing is related to his health. Once Stephens-Howling checks out medically, his speed and quickness will be in higher demand. It would behoove Pittsburgh to try to bring a healthy Stephens-Howling back, for familiarity as much as anything. All things being equal, having a veteran back that already understands the offense would be a big plus.
Isaac Sopoaga, Defensive Tackle
One of the criticisms of the Steelers defense last season centered on age. There is a fine line between wanting to have youth on a squad and bringing in talent to help win. Pittsburgh has some interesting youth on the roster, but when it comes to nose tackle, talent comes first.
That’s not to say Steve McLendon can’t come back in 2014 and have another decent season. He almost certainly can. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be great if McLendon could slide to the outside and a real deal nose tackle was manning the middle?
If the Steelers don’t draft a true nose tackle, signing Isaac Sopoaga would be a nice consolation prize. Sopoaga is entering his 10th season and has a great deal of experience at both end and tackle in a 3-4 defense. He might not be an ideal answer for the long haul, but he would give the Steelers a talented player who could in a season make a big difference.
James Harrison, Outside Linebacker
Honestly, I’m a little surprised that linebacker James Harrison isn’t already on the roster. When the Steelers signed Arthur Moats, that squashed any hopes of Harrison joining the team pre-draft. The exact role Moats will fill is still up in the air but don’t be shocked if he isn’t seeing considerable reps inside next to Lawrence Timmons.
This means Pittsburgh is still going to need to add a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Again, there is always a chance they draft one, but even if they do, adding Harrison is a sound strategy. There would be no pressure on him to start, and he could come in and spell Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds in passing situations. Harrison, even as a 35-year-old player could be a terror with fresh legs.
Harrison will never be the player he was in his prime in Pittsburgh, but again, this is about bringing in players who can contribute quickly. It wouldn’t take Harrison long at all to be right back at home in a Dick LeBeau-coached defense.
Jermichael Finley, Tight End
The Steelers need to face the reality that the tight end position isn’t where it should be. For as good as Heath Miller has been, this team needs to think about the future. Guys like Matt Spaeth, David Paulson and Michael Palmer don’t exactly inspire confidence.
The potential signing of Jermichael Finley is of course contingent on Finley’s health. So far this offseason, Finley has been unable to sign with any team because he continues to fail his physical. It is difficult to tell when Finley will be cleared to practice. However, once he is, it won’t take long for a team to get him under contract. It might as well be the Steelers.
A healthy Finley is easily the second most talented tight end on the roster and would give the Steelers many more options in the passing game. Finely and Miller on the field at the same time would give opposing defenses fits.