Unless the Pittsburgh Steelers plan on starting a second-year undrafted player (or one drafted in the seventh round), then they are currently without a starting defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward.
The only free agent defensive end that they have expressed interest in up until this point—Alex Carrington—signed with the St. Louis Rams yesterday, which certainly chips away at the available options at this point.
A week or so back, I wrote that if the Steelers didn’t sign Carrington, then the next best option for 2014 would be to re-sign Brett Keisel, who will be 36 this season and has had a recent history of injuries. That still appears to be the logical alternative.
Keisel was one of three free agents that the Steelers had at the position. In addition to Keisel—a longtime starter—Ziggy Hood and Al Woods also hit the market. Unlike Keisel, they’ve found new homes with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans, respectively.
General manager Kevin Colbert spoke recently about some of the team’s move thus far during free agency, including the acquisition of defensive lineman Cam Thomas. Thomas came from the San Diego Chargers and spent most of the season as the starting nose tackle before being benched, after which he also played defensive end.
The assumption was that Thomas was brought in to primarily provide depth at nose tackle, given his size, but according to Colbert, the Steelers looked at him primarily as a defensive end. Still, he is better suited to replace Woods on the bench rather than as a starter. That’s where Keisel comes in.
Assuming that he does rejoin the team, however, chances are it won’t be for a while yet, especially given his supposed preference to retire rather than play for a cap-friendly veteran-minimum contract.
The Steelers have a history of signing players late in the process, and this year should be no different, especially since they have about $8 million in cap space becoming available after June 1 due to the release of LaMarr Woodley.
The Steelers right now only have about $1 million in cap space following the signings of Lance Moore and Arthur Moats, so they don’t have much room to maneuver between now and June without making further moves, such as restructuring Lawrence Timmons’ contract, which they would prefer not to do if it can be avoided.
Therefore, it seems reasonable that if the Steelers do wind up reuniting with Keisel for one more reason, it will in all likelihood come following June 1. That would give the team plenty of time between now and then to take stock of their roster situation following the draft and into the offseason program.