Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves in much better shape cap-wise than they have been in a few years, and they used that space to fill out the roster with some targeted free agent signings to create depth.
Many of those players, however, emerged in the starting lineup as some point or another, and wound up playing a critical role.
Brice McCain at cornerback, for example, and outside linebacker Arthur Moats, each started for much of, if not the majority of the season due to injuries and struggles from the players ahead of them on the depth chart.
Many of those players were not envisioned in those roles when they were signed. They were brought in hoping that they could provide some depth at vulnerable positions. As a result, they were typically signed to one-year veteran qualifying contracts with reduced cap hits, making them free agents now.
But there were some players that the Steelers signed to longer-term deals in the offseason, including their ‘prized’ signing of free safety Mike Mitchell, who was a plug and play starter from day one. He was signed to a five-year contract and is certainly not going to be going anywhere, much to the chagrin, no doubt, of many.
That doesn’t mean that some of the other free agent signings who received multiple-year deals, however, are safe. In fact, one of them—running back LeGarrette Blount—failed to even finish his first season with the team before being released in the middle of the year.
Lance Moore, for example, was signed fairly early on to a two-year contract in order to soften the blow that the Steelers were dealt with a double defection near the top of their wide receiver depth chart via free agency. When the games started, however, he rarely found that there was room for him to get much playing time, let alone targets, though he did catch two touchdowns.
With his elevated salary and the fact that he would, at best, be fourth on the depth chart, however, he is at a very real risk of not seeing the second year of his contract. That could also be the case for defensive lineman Cam Thomas, who was a starter for the majority of the season.
Thomas, though, was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Stephon Tuitt, and as the Steelers place more trust in Daniel McCullers at nose tackle, Thomas’ value continues to diminish. There may be cheaper options available who can provide what he did this past season.
Lest we forget, Brett Keisel was also a free agent when the Steelers signed him in August. He was given a two-year deal, but he suffered a season-ending injury three quarters of the way through the year.
Whether or not he is able to see that second season, or if the Steelers have room for him, remain to be seen. In the meantime, the team should focus its attention on re-signing some of those free agents that they acquired on one-year deals.