Another season in the books and another round of free agency starts for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of the championship team, many names have been re-signed and others released.
While few would question the Rooneys' decision-making process during free agency, it still begs the question of who will be missed the most. With the offensive line still much maligned, the team recently began focusing on the cornerback situation. To figure out what is needed, let's first recap where the team is lacking.
Giving the 102 million-dollar man, Ben Roethlisberger, some protection seems critical if coach Mike Tomlin expects him to play a full season.
Guard Kendall Simmons, a former first-round draft pick in 2002, was let go after spending much of the season on injured reserve. Though he was a talented member of the o-line, injury and age affected his game late in his career.
Since Alan Faneca left, the guard position has not been addressed as a high priority in the draft. Look for a possible second-round pick to fill the need.
Now, if there was any desire to re-sign wide receiver Plaxico Burress back, the coaches and owners would be unwilling and now unable. Roethlisberger has Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward as primary targets.
The loss of WR Nate Washington to the Tennessee Titans might not affect passing as much as some analysts think. Limas Sweed is a more than capable player whose biggest fault is psyching himself out of games. The Steelers may look to free agency to sign another receiver, but will use a high draft pick on one.
Pittsburgh's questions about the secondary should not be a cause for concern, just caution.
Freeing up cap space and shedding locker room problems describes the consensus for releasing free safety Anthony Smith. The Syracuse product made headlines for excessive hits in practice and making an infamous "guarantee" against the undefeated New England Patriots in 2007.
With little productivity. Ryan Clark got the starting job at the position last season and remained there all the way up to the Super Bowl. Regardless of negative fan support for Smith, the Steelers made the right decision in cutting him.
If change at the free safety position was painless the, loss of cornerback Bryant McFadden was quite the opposite.
McFadden hit the ground running in his first season in 2005. Most notably in that same season he filled in for Deshea Townsend in a divisional playoff game against the Colts, breaking up two last-minute touchdown passes to WR Reggie Wayne. His actions helped subsequently upset Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh would go on to win Super Bowl XL.
McFadden recently signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an unrestricted free agent. With his loss and an aging unit, the Steelers will most likely draft a corner in the first or second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Skill positions are decidedly set for the Steelers entering the 2009 season, but don't expect major needs to be met until late April. The team will be quietly shopping the market until that time.
Experience has helped the offensive line for the time being, but new talent will be necessary if Pittsburgh expects reestablish their ground attack with Mewelde Moore and a healthy Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall returning after injury-prone seasons.