Bargain Free-Agents Steelers Must Target

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IAugust 7, 2023

Bargain Free-Agents Steelers Must Target

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    RB J.D. McKissic
    RB J.D. McKissicAP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr

    As the Pittsburgh Steelers draw closer to their August 11 preseason opener, they should be followed by optimism.

    Pittsburgh is coming off a nine-win campaign, expects quarterback Kenny Pickett to improve in Year 2 and doesn't have many glaring holes following a strong foray into free agency and the draft.

    Thanks to the additions of players like Patrick Peterson, Allen Robinson II, Isaac Seumalo, rookie tackle Broderick Jones and rookie corner Joey Porter Jr., the Steelers should have the most complete roster they've had in years.

    However, this doesn't mean that Pittsburgh shouldn't consider adding a free agent or two before the preseason gets underway. The team has $9.4 million in cap space available, and there are unsigned veterans who could help make the roster even stronger.

    Let's dive into three bargain free agents the Steelers would be wise to target now.

Edge Carlos Dunlap

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    Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Carlos Dunlap answers a question during an NFL football Super Bowl media availability in Scottsdale, Ariz., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. The Chiefs will play against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 57 on Sunday. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

    The Steelers have a very good pass-rushing duo in T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Watt was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2021, and when he missed time with a torn pectoral in 2022, Highsmith exploded with a 14.5-sack season.

    However, the Steelers should be eyeing the playoffs this year, and a playoff team cannot have too many pass-rushers. Bringing in a veteran like Carlos Dunlap would only make Pittsburgh's defense that much more formidable.

    While Dunlap is 34 years old, he's still productive and just finished the 2022 season with four sacks and 20 quarterback pressures. He's coming off a championship season with the Kansas City Chiefs and is looking to contend again this season.

    "I can help another team get one of their own or help the Chiefs again," Dunlap said, per Jeff Fedotin of Forbes.

    While the Steelers might not widely be viewed as a Super Bowl team, they're one of the most stable organizations in football and can never be counted out. That may be enough to pique Dunlap's interest.

RB J.D. McKissic

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    ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 2: J.D. McKissic #23 of the Washington Commanders runs the ball during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on October 2, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys defeated the Commanders 25-10.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    While Pittsburgh's offensive focus this season will likely be on developing Pickett and the passing game, the Steelers could stand to add a little more backfield depth. Najee Harris has shown his ability to handle a heavy workload, but he's not shaping up to be an elite ball carrier.

    Harris has amassed 2,930 scrimmage yards in two seasons, but he's averaged only 3.9 yards per carry and 4.2 yards per touch. Lightening his workload could be the key to maximizing the 25-year-old's efficiency.

    Second-year back Jaylen Warren can help, but the Steelers should consider adding a veteran to the mix as well. They can bypass big names like Ezekiel Elliott and Kareem Hunt and go for a bargain back like J.D. McKissic.

    McKissic was limited to eight games in 2022 and ultimately landed on injured reserve with a neck injury. However, he's long been a capable receiving back—he's caught 150 passes over the last three seasons—and a serviceable runner (4.4 yards per carry).

    Adding McKissic could help preserve Harris, while his experience and receiving ability could help aid the development of Pickett. It would be a win-win for the Steelers offense, and McKissic can likely be had for a bargain.

S Duron Harmon

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 01: Safety Duron Harmon #30 of the Las Vegas Raiders prepares for a play during the first half of a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)
    Chris Unger/Getty Images

    The Steelers have one safety spot settled with All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, the other safety spot isn't as secure, with Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal likely to compete for the starting job.

    Former starter Terrell Edmunds departed for the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency.

    Adding seasoned vet Duron Harmon would give Pittsburgh a starting-caliber safety and some positional versatility on the back end. Harmon, who last suited up for the Las Vegas Raiders, has played both free and strong safety in his career.

    Harmon, who can also contribute on special teams, has appeared in 161 games and started 78 of them.

    Though Harmon is 32, he's still quite capable of starting if needed. He started 16 games for Las Vegas in 2022 and started all 17 for the Atlanta Falcons the previous season. His ball skills—he's logged at least two interceptions in six straight seasons—would fit in nicely with the Steelers' aggressive brand of pass defense (20 INTs in 2022).

    Considering Harmon's last one-year deal was for just $1.3 million, Pittsburgh should have little trouble landing him on a budget-conscious contract.

    *Cap information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.