The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of decisions to make this offseason, as they have 19 unrestricted free agents, according to Still Curtain. The Steelers biggest areas of concern are in the defensive backfield and along the offensive line as they combine to account for nine of those free agents – five defensive backs and four offensive linemen.
According to ESPN Insider, the Steelers potential unrestricted free agents were on the field for 6,044 snaps this past season, which is the eighth most in the league.
Pittsburgh has already re-signed long-snapper Greg Warren and several players who were exclusive rights free agents. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN believes that Steelers will likely let most of their other free agents test the open market when free agency begins on March 9.
That doesn’t mean that the Steelers won’t work on signing any of their potential free agents before or after they officially hit the open market. The most likely candidates to stick with the team are DT Steve McLendon, G Ramon Foster, QB Bruce Gradkowski, CB William Gay, CB Brandon Boykin, and OT Kelvin Beachum.
The Washington Observer-Reporter is reporting that the Steelers have come to terms with two free agents on Wednesday. The Steelers have signed former San Diego Charger tight end Ladarius Green to a four-year deal worth a reported $20 million and re-upped with Foster on a three-year pact. Green’s contract includes a $4.75 million signing bonus.
Green had 37 receptions for 429 yards and four touchdowns in 2015. The 6-6, 240-pounder, who has 77 career receptions for 1,087 yards and seven touchdowns, will join veteran Matt Speith along with Jesse James and Xavier Grimble as possible replacements for HeathMiller — Miller retired after the season.
Beachum and Foster are the Steelers most important free agents as they man the left side of the offensive line though Beachum missed most of last season. Beachum, who tore his ACL, appeared in just six games. Pro Football Focus rated Beachum as the 67th best player in the NFL in 2014 and is currently their 25th best free agent. The 26-year-old was also rated as the second-best pass-blocking left tackle in 2014.
Foster, who is four years older than Beechum, had his best season of his career and was rated as the fifth-best guard by PFF. The 30-year-old is not expected to command the money that Beachum will likely and he has spent his entire seven-year career in Pittsburgh. Foster has started every game that he has appeared in the last four years.
Foster may be the best option, as the Steelers don’t have a bunch of salary cap space available. They also have six-foot-nine Alejandro Villanueva, who started the last 11 games for the team this past season for Beachum. Villanueva is still raw as he only has two years of experience despite being 27-years-old.
Beachum refuses to move over to guard, so if Foster leaves, the Steelers could try to convert Villanueva to tackle or turn to 31-year-old Cody Wallace. Wallace was the team’s fourth-best offensive linemen behind David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, and Foster last year.
Doug Legursky and Byron Stingily are Pittsburgh’s other offensive linemen, who will be free agents. Legursky is a veteran capable of playing multiple line positions, while Stingily has yet to play for the Steelers.
Regardless of what the Steelers do with the offensive line, one thing is a definite: the defensive backfield will be revamped. Pittsburgh ranked 30th against the pass last year.
The Steelers are expected to allow safety Will Allen leave via free agency while keeping cornerbacks Gay and Boykin, who said he wouldn’t mind remaining with the team, are distinct possibilities.
Allen recorded 80 tackles, four sacks, and one interception though he is 33-years-old. Gay, Boykin, and Antwon Blake are all on the small side, and as a result, Boykin didn’t see much action – Gay and Blake were starters last year. Gay, 31, had 58 tackles and two interceptions along with seven pass breakups while Blake, 25, recorded 76 tackles and two interceptions. Boykin, who said he would be willing to return to the club, saw action on only 24.7 percent of the snaps last year, which was seventh most on the team. He finished with 25 tackles and one interception for the year. Safety Robert Golden is also an unrestricted free agent.
In addition, the Steelers may decide to cut cornerback Cortez Allen and his $5.5 million salary after June 1, which would save the team roughly $4 million in cap space. The 25-year-old missed 15 games last year with a knee injury.
Pittsburgh’s 2016 adjusted salary cap is $158.2 million, meaning that the Steelers currently have roughly $11.5 million to spend on free agents.
[Photo by Gene J. Puskar/AP]