An Early Steelers Free Agent Wishlist

Wipe away those tears?

Fix that hole in the television?

Good. Because though we’ll spend this week reviewing the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Baltimore Ravens, it’s time to start turning our attention to the offseason.

I’ll throw out a list of possible free agents the Steelers could conceivably look at. I want to make it clear I need to watch all of these players more closely and the list could change as we get closer to the start of the new year. Plus, this list will be whittled down as some re-sign with their current teams. But like everyone else, lying in bed Saturday night, I couldn’t help but do some early speculation.

Obviously, don’t anticipate any “big” names on here – that isn’t the Steelers’ mantra nor will the cap likely allow it – but I have tucked a “prize” name at the bottom for some wishful thinking.

In no particular order, ten players below.

  • Jabaal Sheard – OLB Cleveland BrownsJason Worilds didn’t become the pass rusher the team probably hoped he would be. The door isn’t shut on him coming back but the team may end up letting him test free agency.Sheard is a similar size to Worilds, brings size to the position at 264 pounds. That’s always a benefit facing runs against the strong side of the offense. His productivity was scant in 2014 – just two sacks in over 600 snaps – but that’ll keep his price low on the market. Still just 26 by the time the 2015 season begins, he’s a player that could rebound. In his first two seasons, he led the Browns with 15.5 sacks. A nice buy-low prospect.The Steelers are familiar with Sheard. Not just in facing him twice a year over the last four seasons but as a local kid from Pittsburgh, they brought him in for a pre-draft visit before in 2011.Although the Browns have used Barkevious Mingo in more of a coverage role, they may not be willing to spend heavily to keep Sheard. Two years ago, some media reports suggested the team was interested in dealing him.Sheard began his career as a defensive end before making the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker and is capable of playing both outside linebacker spots. He spent 2013 working under defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the former Steelers’ defensive backs coach whose exotic schemes stemmed from Dick LeBeau.
  • Kroy Biermann – OLB Atlanta Falcons – Biermann has never posted substantial sack totals but pops more on tape than he does in the box score. Maybe it was the Falcons’ horrid 2014 defense that made him look better but he’s a quality athlete.The Falcons were comfortable enough in the 29 year old to use him in a variety of ways. He was asked to cover the entire field, including the deep middle at times, highly unusual for his position.The lack of gaudy production and his 30th birthday in September should keep his price tag low.
  • Cedric Peerman – RB Cincinnati Bengals – Not a sexy addition but Steelers’ acquisitions rarely are. It was unusual not to have a backup running back that could contribute on special teams. The only special team work the Steelers got this year were failed kick returns by Dri Archer and LeGarrette Blount and some upback work from Blount and Josh Harris. In all, they received a meager 135 special teams snaps from the position.By comparison, Peerman played more than double that amount. His 294 special teams snaps ranked third in the league by a running back. He was a four-phase player: the upback on kicks and punts, a blocker on punt returns, and L1 on kick coverage.His offensive playing time have been hampered by the team using a high draft pick on the position the last two years. But he did average over seven yards per carry in 2012. I caution it was over just 36 rushes, making the sample size small, but it’s more than what Harris or Archer have.It’s going to be tough to convince a free agent with an accomplished background to sit behind Le’Veon Bell. Choosing a player of Peerman’s caliber is a sensible fit. A role as the top backup and a few snaps per game to spell Bell is a relatively enticing offer for a player who has never had much of a shot.A Peerman signing would add some comfort to the running back depth while providing ample special teams snaps each game. No more “wasting” a spot by someone who plays 3-5 snaps per game, as was the case at times this year with Blount, Archer, and Harris.
  • Eric Weems – WR Atlanta Falcons – Another core special teamer. His 280 snaps ranked a close fifth of any wide receiver in the league. And his 13 tackles would have rivaled the mark set by the Steelers’ core special teamers – Vince Williams and Terence Garvin. He wasn’t just a third-phase player either, logging nearly another 200 snaps on offense. Granted, he only caught ten passes but found the end zone twice.After being cut by the Chicago Bears towards the end of the 2014 preseason, he signed a contract for the veteran minimum with the Falcons. Perhaps Weems has earned a bump in pay for an improved season but it won’t be by much. Obviously, there’s a lot of parallels to the signing of Darrius Heyward-Bey last year, but you can never have enough special teamers and if the team lets DHB walk, it’s a logical swap.
  • Rob Housler – TE Arizona Cardinals – When I’m not dreaming of moving out of mom’s basement, it’s about athletic tight ends. Even before the regular season, I recognized Heath Miller’sdecline. No love lost for 83 but old age is rarely kind to tight ends. I’ll admit Housler has been all bark and no bite in his NFL career, but over the last two years, he’s been stuck in a Bruce Arians’ offense, one centered around its tight ends blocking before catching.While that’s also to an extent true in the Steelers’ offense, I’d love to see a low-cost infusion of a different breed of tight end.After middling 2012 and 2013 seasons, he hit a low in 2014 grabbing nine passes without finding the end zone. That’ll make a cheap, flier option for the Steelers.Probably won’t happen but hey, I can dream.
  • Leonard Johnson – CB Tampa Bay Buccaneers – I dug up the scouting report I had on him coming out of Iowa State in 2012. It wasn’t an extensive write up but I noted his fluid pedal, ability to close, and physicality.His market won’t be fierce due to his short arms (under 30 inches) and the fact he isn’t a ball hawk, two interceptions in as many seasons. Those aren’t prerequisites for Pittsburgh cornerbacks though.But he’s shown that penchant for big hits that would make him a good fit. He was one of three cornerbacks in 2014 to force at least three fumbles. At 5’10, 202 pounds, he’s got the size to mix it up in the run game and avoid getting bullied by bigger receivers.
  • Chris Owens – CB Kansas City Chiefs – Just reading the tea leaves. By Mike Tomlin’sown admission, the team showed interest in him last offseason.He had a quiet season in Kansas City but logged nearly 500 snaps on defense and another 150 on special teams, seeing most of his time in the nickel. Given that Brice McCain is set to be a free agent, though I’m hopeful he can be kept, and William Gay will likely return as a starter, the Steelers really only have one slot corner. Owens would be a low-key signing and no lock to make the team but a budget-friendly option.
  • Alex Carrington – DE St. Louis Rams – A player the Steelers attempted to sign last year. Carrington headed out to St. Louis instead. He didn’t get what he hoped for though, playing in eight games and registering a grand total of one tackle.For a guy who has played 11 games over the last two years, he should come cheap. Obviously, he’s more of a question mark this year but when healthy and active in previous years, graded out as one of the better run defenders in the league. The Steelers need that third rotational end in their defense. The possibility of playing 250-300 snaps should be enticing enough to have him consider Pittsburgh again. A one year deal with little guaranteed will suffice.
  • George Wilson – SS Tennessee Titans – Another veteran and one who provides the “right” amount of a challenge to Shamarko Thomas, assuming Troy Polamaludoes not return. Someone who is capable of winning the job but still puts Thomas as the favorite.If the team is able to re-sign Will Allen, there’s a lot of comfort of having two backup safeties that have played a combined 287 games. He also spent time in Horton’s scheme, easing his transition. Like the Arthur Moats signing a year ago, Wilson appears to bring a great deal of character to the table. His S.A.F.E.T.Y program aimed at educating youth has been highly successful. He twice won the Buffalo Bills’ Walter Payton Man of the Year award, and in 2008, was the recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award. The Bills may not win but they sure do churn out some great people.
  • Pernell McPhee – OLB Baltimore Ravens – This is my “prize” free agent if the Steelers could somehow be able to afford it. I don’t know what the level of interest the Ravens have in re-signing him, but with Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Courtney Upshaw, McPhee may want to try and step out of their shadows.At 280 pounds, he’ll be tough to move in run game. 2014 was a breakout year as a pass rusher with 7.5 sacks. That’s despite playing fewer than half the team’s total snaps. Just turning 26 last month, he’s the perfect player for a long-term, four year deal. I came away impressed watching him when I scouted the Ravens prior to Saturday’s playoff game. Not just with him as a pass rusher but his effort to run to the ball. For his size, he possesses an explosive first step. Think he’ll only grow with a full starting snaps and natural progression of his career.A day one starter at LOLB that would improve a Steelers’ pass rush that was anemic for a majority of 2014.
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