2011 NFL Free Agency: 5 Free Agents the Pittsburgh Steelers Must Target
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have reached the Super Bowl last season, but they have definite needs both in the defensive backfield and along the offensive line that absolutely must be addressed before they can entertain any hope of returning to the league's title game.
Currently, the NFL is in a state of flux because of the lack of success with CBA talks. Free agency cannot begin and trades cannot happen until the league and its players come to an agreement. Once they do, however, there will be a mad rush to land the available free agents.
Here's a look at five players the Pittsburgh Steelers must target in free agency. Pittsburgh usually isn't a big spender in this department, but it'd be wise to make a run at these players who could make a huge difference in its chances for 2011.
Tyson Clabo, OL (Atlanta Falcons)
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Position: Offensive Tackle
Would Replace: Willie Colon, RT
Pittsburgh's offensive line was a trauma unit last year with none of the five starters playing in all 19 games. The steadiest of the linemen was rookie Maurkice Pouncey, who started all but the Super Bowl at center and quickly emerged as one of the league's top centers.
Willie Colon, the team's regular right tackle, missed all of last year due to an Achilles tear. He's also a free agent and could choose to leave for another team. If he does, Clabo would be a great replacement.
He's a fierce run-blocking tackle, which is something that Pittsburgh needs if it is to continue its re-commitment to the rushing attack. He's also an adept and sturdy pass blocker who's been key in keeping Matt Ryan upright in Atlanta.
Plus, let's not forget that Colon, when healthy, is a major offender on what can only be called unnecessary penalties (false starts at home, obvious holding calls, etc.). Clabo is not nearly as mistake-prone.
The Biggest Issue
Money. Pittsburgh doesn't spend big often in free agency, so it's not likely it'll pay top dollar for a lineman, but it may be time to open up the coffers to shore up one of the team's consistent weak spots.
Carlos Rogers, CB (Washington)
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Would Replace: Bryant McFadden or Ike Taylor (depending on Taylor's free agency exploits)
Pittsburgh needs better players in its secondary. Troy Polamalu has been excellent over his career, but he's largely doing it alone. Ryan Clark, the team's other starting safety, is a good player, but he's not a Pro Bowler.
The team's corner play over the last decade or more has been awful. Ike Taylor has been the lone consistent factor, but he is a free agent and could look for a bigger payday somewhere else. The latest indications are that he wants to retire a Steeler, but even if that becomes the case, the team has needed a second corner for many, many years.
Rogers would solve a lot of those problems for Pittsburgh. He's not in the top tier of corners, but he's an adept cover corner who doesn't make many mistakes. His biggest weakness is his lack of good hands. Pittsburgh will likely draft a corner high, but it'll need someone to play opposite Taylor (if he stays) for a few years while the rookie learns the system.
The Biggest Issue
Can the Steelers afford both Taylor and Rogers, as well as a high draft pick? They need to invest at the position, so I'd say that it's possible. If Taylor leaves, pursuing Rogers (since he compares so favorably with Taylor) becomes even more essential.
Harvey Dahl, OL (Atlanta)
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Position: Offensive Guard
Would Replace: Ramon Foster/Trai Essex
Again, Pittsburgh's offensive line is among the team's greatest weaknesses. Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked more often in the past few years than virtually any other quarterback. Unbelievably, the Steelers have been able to win a title with this suspect play along the line.
Last year, both Ramon Foster and Trai Essex (along with some time by Doug Legursky) manned the right guard spot. Foster was acceptable and could be a long-term answer at the position, but the Steelers would be wise to attempt to upgrade at least one spot along the line. If they can grab Clabo and draft a guard, that would be ideal. But if not, they could choose to flip things and sign Dahl and draft a new tackle.
Dahl is a nasty blocker, and his fierce, aggressive play makes him one of the top available linemen in this free agent pool. He's not going to get beat very often and can get to the second level and take on linebackers with alacrity. He'd be an excellent sign.
The Biggest Issue
Again, the money. How much will Pittsburgh be willing to commit to a free agent? The Steelers scored big with the aging Flozell Adams last year, so maybe they'll try to strike again with Dahl. They probably will only sign one lineman in free agency.
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (Oakland)
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Would Replace: Ike Taylor
One of the top players available at any position in this year's free agent pool is Asomugha, a shutdown corner that could draw favorable comparisons to greats like Rod Woodson. Should Pittsburgh choose to make a big splash and a big upgrade, this would be the player to target.
Asomugha would have to replace Ike Taylor. The Steelers couldn't likely afford both players and would be more apt to draft a corner to play opposite the stellar Asomugha.
He's an aggressive, smart corner who can make plays virtually anywhere. Paired with Troy Polamalu, he'd be one of the most deadly players in the league. He'd instantly upgrade the Pittsburgh secondary from questionable to elite.
The Biggest Issue
Obviously, the biggest issue is how much Pittsburgh will be willing to sink into one player. Signing Asomugha is a big commitment and could hamstring other efforts down the road, but it might be worth it to get an upgrade like this at a key position.
Tiki Barber, RB (Retired)
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Position: Running Back
Would Replace: Mewelde Moore
Pittsburgh has gotten about as much as could be hoped from Mewelde Moore. He's been steady in the backfield as a third-down option and as a pass catcher, but he's a free agent and is not a lock to be brought back. Should he depart, giving Barber an opportunity may not be as insane as it seems.
Barber should know that, after being retired since 2006, he's not likely to get a large, guaranteed contract or any promise of being a starter. He should, and probably will, settle for a shot to win a title as a contributor (think LaDainian Tomlinson).
He'd replace what Moore did in Pittsburgh and, if he can regain his old form, carve out quite a role for himself in this offense. He was an electrifying player in his day and seems to be in shape and ready for another run. Giving him an incentive-laden deal might be a good move for the Steelers.
The Biggest Issue
Age and questions about his effectiveness after such a long layoff. I don't think Barber is looking for a big payday. I think he's looking for a ring. The biggest question is whether he can still contribute at his age.