Free Agents Steelers Should Pursue After 2023 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IMay 8, 2023

Free Agents Steelers Should Pursue After 2023 NFL Draft

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    Edge Yannick Ngakoue
    Edge Yannick NgakoueJustin Casterline/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers had their transition year in 2022. Quarterback Kenny Pickett got acclimated to being Pittsburgh's quarterback of the future, the defense got into a rhythm under new coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Steelers finished with a 9-8 record.

    The 2023 offseason has been about getting Pittsburgh back into playoff contention. Players like cornerback Patrick Peterson, wideout Allen Robinson II and rookie first-round pick Broderick Jones can help the Steelers do exactly that.

    However, Pittsburgh is still navigating a talented AFC North that sent both the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals to the postseason in 2022—and a conference that features the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. If the Steelers hope to be serious playoff contenders, they need to continue strengthening the roster ahead of training camp.

    Fortunately, Pittsburgh still has $7.6 million in cap space with which to work. Taking a chance on a free agent or two is well within reason.

    With this in mind, let's examine three remaining veteran free agents Pittsburgh should target and why.

CB Marcus Peters

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    BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Marcus Peters #24 of the Baltimore Ravens in action before the game against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    Adding Peterson and rookie second-round pick Joey Porter Jr. will tremendously help a pass defense that ranked 25th in yards per attempt allowed (6.5) last season. However, a team with playoff aspirations can never have too much depth at the cornerback position.

    If the Steelers are open to bringing in another veteran, they should strongly consider Marcus Peters. The former Baltimore Ravens starter missed 2021 with a torn ACL and had a down year in 2022, but he's still a starting-caliber perimeter corner.

    As a bonus, Peters has experience playing against AFC North receivers like Ja'Marr Chase and Amari Cooper. He might also add a little insight into what Baltimore might try to do defensively during their bi-annual matchups with Pittsburgh.

    As an even bigger bonus, signing Peters would ensure that he doesn't make his way back to the Ravens—something to which the team is open.

    "You don't close the door on good players and good people, you just see how it goes," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, per's Bobby Kownack.

    Peters started 13 games and had only one interception this past season, but in 2020, he tallied four picks and nine passes defended in 14 starts.

LB Kyle Van Noy

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 26: Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy (8) waits for play to resume during the NFL football game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Indianapolis Colts on December 26, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Steelers have done a nice job of reloading their linebacker corps this offseason. Players like Devin Bush, Robert Spillane and Myles Jack are out, but Pittsburgh brought in Elandon Roberts, Cole Holcomb and rookie Nick Herbig.

    It wouldn't hurt to continue adding talent to the second level of the defense, though, and 32-year-old vet Kyle Van Noy would be a great choice to put at outside linebacker.

    Pittsburgh tends to rush the passer with outside linebackers like T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Van Noy, who had 22.5 sacks over his past four seasons, could serve as another edge-rushing option in the rotation.

    However, Van Noy is also a do-it-all linebacker who can contribute in other ways as well. Over the past two seasons with the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers, Van Noy also accumulated 112 tackles, 72 solo stops, 13 passes defended, three fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and an interception.

    Van Noy could serve as a utility player in Austin's defense, filling in on any down and helping to ensure players like Watt and Highsmith are fresh late in games.

Edge Yannick Ngakoue

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 20: Indianapolis Colts Defensive End Yannick Ngakoue (91) reacts after tackling Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) during the NFL football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts on November 20, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    If the Steelers would prefer more of a traditional edge-rusher in their rotation, Yannick Ngakoue is the most enticing free agent available—he's younger than Leonard Floyd and more consistent than Jadeveon Clowney.

    The 28-year-old had his 2022 campaign cut short following throat surgery but still had a fine 15-game season with the Indianapolis Colts. He logged 29 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 27 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Reference.

    Ngakoue isn't the best in run support, but he's tallied at least eight sacks in every single one of his seven seasons. He wouldn't fill that utility role like Van Noy could, but as a pass-rush specialist, he could add a little more potency to Pittsburgh's defensive front.

    Is that a major need for the Steelers? Perhaps not. Pittsburgh managed to produce 40 sacks last season despite not having Watt for seven games due to a partially torn pectoral. However, adding consistency to the pass rush would help coverage on the back end, and it's not as if having too many sack artists is a bad thing.

    With quarterbacks Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson in the division, Pittsburgh should look to get after opposing signal-callers early, often and for all four quarters. Ngakoue could help do that.

    *Cap information via Spotrac.