While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Does the front office have a solid model for attacking free agency?
Over the last several years, up until the previous year, the Steelers have not been able to be active players in the free agency market, barring re-signing many of their own players. A year ago, that included tagging Jason Worilds for a price tag worth nearly $10.
But they also dipped their toes into the market and came up with Mike Mitchell, Lance Moore, Cam Thomas, LeGarrette Blount, Arthur Moats, Brice McCain, and Adam Podlesh. Of the group, Mitchell was the ‘big’ signing and was a plug and play starter at free safety, though he experienced mixed success.
Blount proved to be a bad apple and had to be released. Thomas and Moore took on greater and lesser roles, respectively, than they were brought in to assume, but both seemed to be equally disappointing. Podlesh had mitigating circumstances that prevented him from ever reporting.
Moats and McCain, on the other hand, proved to be surprisingly productive and accumulated a lot of snaps. Both veteran players were had on one-year, veteran-minimum contracts, and helped keep the Steelers’ ship afloat during tough times, taking on starting roles for long stretches.
Part of a team’s free agency strategy is planning for the future. This year, that will likely include expunging the roster of past failures, with releases likely for Thomas and Moore, which will give them more money for players this year. Both signings were somewhat reactionary, and were ultimately disappointing.
This year, the message comes from the top that the secondary needs to be addressed by adding players. The Steelers did show interest in a couple of cornerbacks last year, and did sign a starting safety, but with Art Rooney II delivering the message, it wouldn’t be surprising if they look to target a possible starter here. With the future uncertain at outside linebacker, that is another option as a free agency target.
While they haven’t had many opportunities to make a splash, the Steelers have learned over the years how to find, every once in a while, a player off the scrap heap that can come in and perform, as they found with Moats and McCain a year ago. And when it comes to more expensive options, I think the experience of last offseason will prove to be a valuable guide in what not to do.