After starting the 2014 league year off with a bang by signing Carolina Panthers unrestricted free agent safety Mike Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers spent Wednesday re-signing a few of their own restricted free agents. Now that day three of the signing period is here, you have to wonder if any other big splashes will be made by the Steelers in the free agent pool.
While the signing of Mitchell certainly filled a huge need, the Steelers defensive ship is beginning to take on some free agent pool water after they lost backup defensive lineman Al Woods to the Tennessee Titans on Wednesday. That ship stands to take on even more water should defensive end Ziggy Hood sign elsewhere in the coming days, as it would leave the Steelers with only two defensive linemen under contract for next season that have serious playing time logged.
Sure, the Steelers have young defensive ends Nick Williams and Brian Arnfelt under contract for next season, but between the two they have logged two regular season snaps with both belonging to Arnfelt, an undrafted free agent.
The Steelers could just re-sign unrestricted free agent defensive end Brett Keisel at some point, but with him quickly approaching 36 years of age, you have to really wonder if he can make it through a full season injury free, something he’s only managed to do just once over the course of the last six seasons.
If Woods is any indication of the quality of free agent defensive linemen left available, the pickings figure to be slim. At least they won’t cost much if that’s the case.
Defensive end isn’t the only position the Steelers could use help at prior to the draft as the team is currently now down to Le’Veon Bell as the only running back currently under contract for 2014 that has any game experience. Jonathan Dwyer was allowed to run off and sign with the Arizona Cardinals on Wednesday and we still don’t know whether or not fellow unrestricted free agent running back LaRod Stephens-Howling will be asked to return for another season after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year in the season opener.
Prior to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he thought this offseason could be different from the norm when it comes to the teams approach to free agency.
“I think there’s a possibility we could be more active in the free agency market this year than we have in the past,” started Colbert. “Not only from an availability standpoint or from a depth requirement standpoint, but also from a cap situation that we haven’t been able to some types of things in the past, because quite honestly we had more work to do just to get into compliance.
“So it’s a different group finishing this season than it has been in the past. It’s probably a throw back to the early 2000’s when we were trying to put it together. At that point, we were a little more active in free agency with a James Farrior and a Jeff Hartings, and so on, and so forth. So it’s kind of cyclical, but I think we could more active in free agency, but again, the market will dictate that and how much we’re able to get in compliance with the cap, or get under the cap, will dictate how much we’ll be able to add from the outside.”
The Steelers seemed to get into cap compliance pretty effortlessly this year and that’s even with the team unexpectedly placing the transition tender on linebacker Jason Worilds that required nearly $10 million in cap space. Now that they have signed Mitchell and a few of their own unrestricted free agents, they still have enough cap room to make at least one more splash. Is a splash or two still forthcoming, or was the addition of Mitchell the only one we will see this offseason from the outside?