NFL Free Agents 2011: Top 10 Free Agents for Pittsburgh Steelers To Target

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IJuly 25, 2011

NFL Free Agents 2011: Top 10 Free Agents for Pittsburgh Steelers To Target

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    The NFL lockout is down to its last few painful hours so we'll soon have a flurry of free-agent signings—every team figures to be active in some manner or another.

    But one of the most curious clubs out there has to be the Steelers

    Pittsburgh reached the Super Bowl last year despite some very shaky play from two critical spots on the field: cornerback and offensive line. Ironically enough, those are two of the same positions where the Steelers are vulnerable to free-agent losses; corner Ike Taylor and offensive tackle Willie Colon are both free to look elsewhere. 

    Regardless of whether or not they are able to retain Taylor and Colon, they will show interest in the rest of the crop of free agents out there.  

    Here are 10 players who I think Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and the rest of the Steelers brain trust should consider. 

No. 10: Darren Sharper, FS

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    Mike Tomlin would love this move for obvious reasons; they were college teammates at William & Mary and Tomlin later coached him in Minnesota

    Steelers fans and the team's capologist might now, however. 

    At 35, Sharper is no spring chicken and is only a year removed from the microfracture surgery that cost him a large chunk of the 2011 season.

    Worse yet, since he still made the All-Pro team last year, he's going to ask for a ton of money.

    But maybe he's willing to take less for a reunion with Tomlin and even with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, the Steelers could use him.

    By far the most vulnerable part of the Steelers defense has been the deep middle—see Super Bowl XLV. Dick LeBeau might be able to find a specific package with Polamalu, Clark and Sharper that cures that. 

    Likelihood of Signing: Very Low

No. 9: Jerious Norwood, RB

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    Bringing in a player who has developed a reputation as someone who can't stay healthy isn't exactly an idea that will win over Steelers fans, but I think Norwood can make a real impact (obviously) provided he can stay healthy.

    The Steelers need another third-down back since it's almost a given that they aren't going to bring back Mewelde Moore. And while Isaac Redman had a nice campaign in 2010, catching passes out of the backfield and being a short-yardage ball-carrier, Norwood has blazing speed...or at least he did before the two knee injuries that have cost him 20 games the past two seasons. 

    For the record, Norwood's agent Bus Cook believes “He’s ready to go play...Somebody is going to get him real quick. I’m sure there are other teams that will want him on their team.”

    Still, the most appealing thing about Norwood, aside from his speed, is the fact that the Steelers should be able to get him fairly cheap. 

    Likelihood of Signing: Good

No. 8: Steve Breaston, WR

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    On paper, wide receiver is not a major need position for the Steelers, but a closer look suggests that's not the case.

    Yes, Mike Wallace has awesome speed and really blossomed as a star last season. But last year Hines Ward had his lowest reception total in a decade and he is now 35 years old. That doesn't even include any fallout from his DUI last month.

    And while Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders had good rookie seasons, it's a bit premature to say they're ready to step in and be big-time factors. Breaston—who is from the greater Pittsburgh area—can.

    Still, it's a long shot, considering the Steelers more pressing needs.  

    Likelihood of Signing: Low

No. 7: Harvey Dahl, G

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    Granted this move wouldn't be earth-shattering, but Dahl can fill a major void for the Steelers.

    As good as Maurkice Pouncey and Chris Kemoeatu were at times last year, they still need a major upgrade at the right guard position, the same spot Dahl has started the last three seasons on three very good offenses. 

    Ramon Foster deserves a shot at retaining the job, but since they will probably lose Trai Essex to free agency it probably makes more sense to look at Foster as Plan B. 

    Of course, that might change, depending on what Dahl's asking price is.  

    Likelihood of Signing: Medium

No. 6: Antonio Cromartie, CB

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    Don't get me wrong: The Steelers could absolutely use Cromartie, either as the bookend to Ike Taylor or the replacement for Taylor.

    But I can't imagine he is that high on their wish list. He's had a knack for drawing negative attention to himself lately, something that doesn't seem to mesh with the Steelers' trade-Santonio-Holmes-and-nearly-trade-or-cut-Ben-Roethlisberger approach.

    Still, it's worth noting that the Steelers do have his cousin, safety, Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith on their roster. And at 27, he's still extremely talented.  

    Likelihood of Signing: Low

No. 5: Ray Edwards, DE

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    The fact that Edwards is a 4-3 defensive end and the Steelers run a 3-4 does make this problematic...although not nearly as problematic as the asking price Edwards is going to command. 

    But Mike Tomlin was the defensive coordinator in Minnesota when the Vikings drafted Edwards in 2006, so he probably likes him. 

    And even though Ziggy Hood blossomed at the end of 2010 and the Steelers selected Cameron Heyward with their first-round choice, they can never have enough defensive ends in that rotation system, especially if Aaron Smith is unable to return to form after yet another injury. In fact, you have to wonder if they might be able to afford Edwards after unloading Smith's $4.5 million salary. 

    Likelihood of Signing: Low

No. 4: Johnathan Joseph, CB

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    If the Steelers do bring in a veteran corner to replace Ike Taylor or simply play opposite him, I think this is the most likely candidate. 

    He will command a good payday—a former first-round pick with nine interceptions over the lat two years—but with Taylor, Antonio Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha on the market, he won't get top dollar. 

    Joseph doesn't have great size but he certainly knows how to play in the tough, hard-nosed AFC North, which is something the Steelers will place a premium on. 

    Likelihood of Signing: Good

No. 3: Doug Free, OT

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    The Steelers really don't want to spend a ton of money on a free-agent tackle, but considering the pounding that Ben Roethlisberger has taken week in and week out, they may have not a choice. 

    Aside from Chris Kemoeatu and Maurkice Pouncey, the makeup of their offensive line is anyone's guess: Willie Colon is a free agent and might be offered far more than he's worth; Jonathan Scott's contract is also up; Flozell Adams is 36 years old; plus Max Starks is coming off a serious neck injury and is already due a ton of money for the next two seasons.

    Free may not exactly be Orlando Pace or Anthony Munoz, but he is a very capable blind-side protector for Roethlisberger and since he's played both right and left tackle, he has the type of versatility that the Steelers could really use.

    Likelihood of Signing: Good

No. 2: Tyson Clabo, OT

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    Clabo doesn't offer the same type of right-left versatility as Doug Free, but he is coming off a Pro Bowl season and was a part of a far more balanced offensive attack the last few years. For all of Roddy White and Matt Ryan's stats, the Falcons' ground game is one of the best in the NFL, unlike the Cowboys.

    He might fit the Steelers' style a bit better.

    Signing him would require a bit of retooling since they have right tackles already in Max Starks and Flozell Adams; they would probably need to re-sign Willie Colon or move someone over. But to lock down a key spot with a guy still in his 20s who has a great work ethic (former undrafted free agent and practice-squad player) would be a real boost to the Pittsburgh offense. 

    Likelihood of Signing: Good

No. 1: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB

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    Obviously you can put this in the "pipe dream" column because given the bidding war that will take place with clubs like the Jets, the Eagles, the Redskins, the Cowboys and so on, the Steelers aren't going to be able to afford the top prize of this year's free-agent class.

    Nevertheless, he's still the top man to target. 

    Asomugha is one of the best corners in the game and the Steelers' only weakness on defense is the corner position. 

    Now, as unlikely as it is that they sign Asomugha, it's even more unlikely that they sign Asogmugha and re-sign Taylor, so this would be a move meant as an upgrade and it would be. 

    Taylor is a very good corner; Asomugha is a great corner. 

    Don't undersell the impact that slight improvement can make to a defense that was already tops in the NFL last year in virtually every category...except, of course, pass defense (12th).