As we dive into the lulling portion of the NFL year known as the offseason, all eyes are looking forward to the upcoming NFL Combine, followed by free agency then the draft. It’s the time of the year for NFL fans to hope their team somehow, someway is able to lure that star player to their team, whether it be via free agency or the draft. Recently, NFL.com compiled this list of it’s top 25 ranked free agents.
For a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who is never much of a big player in free agency, you can count just about 90 percent of this list off already. Instead of focusing on names like Ndamukong Suh or Justin Houston, I will focus on a couple names on the list who may fit the bill for Pittsburgh, and who may actually be able to be had, for the right price. As mentioned earlier, a slew of these players will not even make it into free agency, due to being tagged or already reaching a long-term deal with their respective teams.
Salary cap-wise, the Steelers are once again up against it, so a flurry of extensions, cuts, etc. will be made in order to comply. Suh, Houston, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Jason Pierre-Paul, Julius Thomas, Mike Iupati, Randall Cobb, Devin McCourty and DeMarco Murray round out the top 10. Although highly unlikely, adding tight end Julius Thomas would seem to put this offense over the top, adding another down-the-field threat for Ben Roethlisberger, and also filling a long-term need for the aging Heath Miller. Can you imagine double-tight sets with Miller and “Orange Julius?”
Iupati would be an interesting addition, as the team was speculated to be highly interested in him coming out of Idaho in the draft. A road-grading guard with a mean streak, he would add form arguably the most dominating interior trio of offensive linemen in the league with Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. Again though, highly unlikely. At number eleven is an interesting player, Jerry Hughes of the Buffalo Bills. Coming off back-to-back 10 sack seasons as part of the most dominating defensive line in the league, the 6-foot-2, 254-pounder is poised for payday, but his asking price may be out of the Steelers’ range. Still only 26, his best football may be in front of him, although it’s fair to question if his production was a byproduct of his super-talented defensive line-mates? Questioned as a bust early in his career, he was placed of a 4-3 defensive front with Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Pick your double-team wisely.
Our very own Jason Worilds ranks number twelve and it’s fair to question whether the team even wants him back. He’s yet to clear 10 sacks in a season, leading the team last year with 7.5, along with Cameron Heyward. He wants elite money, for average production, but with no other outside linebacker than Jarvis Jones signed for 2015, the team is in a predicament. The solution may very well lie with the number fourteen ranked Pernell McPhee of Baltimore. He would be a “big enchilada” signing, capable of playing anywhere along the front seven, reminding many of former Ravens star Adalius Thomas. Picking him up would bode well for Keith Butler’s hinting of more of a hybrid or amoeba look from their 3-4 base. The 6-foot-3, 280-pounder racked up 7.5 sacks last season, despite only playing a situational role behind Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. Luring him from a hated division rival would be a major caveat.
The 17th-ranked Brandon Graham of Philadelphia has been linked to Pittsburgh by many since the 2014 season ended. Coincidentally enough, last offseason Worilds was said to have drawn some interest from the Eagles as well. Could this be the offseason a “swap” of sorts takes place? Although speculated to be more comfortable in a 4-3 defense, Graham flourished this season in a situational role, garnering 5.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles-for-loss and tying for second in the league with four forced fumbles.
At number 20, and number 23, Byron Maxwell and Brandon Flowers, respectively would each add an infusion of immediate talent to a secondary that is severely lacking it. Maxwell was oftentimes the overlooked player in Seattle’s Legion of Boom defensive secondary, but he more than held his own. Seattle has already mentioned him as being a priority to resign, but with extensions in the works for stars, running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson, it’s questionable to wonder if he’ll chase a bigger payday elsewhere.
Coming off a one-year “prove-it” deal with the Chargers, Flowers will be looking for greener pastures, beginning preferably with the one with the most 0’s. An excellent corner in an off-coverage scheme, he’s a good fit for the style of defense Pittsburgh likes to play, as he’s not afraid to stick his nose in the pile, with his physical, aggressive style of play.
Sandwiched between the two corners is a potential diamond-in-the-rough in running back C.J. Spiller. In the playoff loss to Baltimore, it became blatantly apparent that the team needs a quality option in the event Le’Veon Bell goes down injured (or gets suspended more than one game). Spiller is an absolutely electric runner, one who could form a great thunder and lightning 1-2 combination with Bell. He can take it the distance from anywhere on the field and could also serve as a nice option in the return game, thus relinquishing All-Pro Antonio Brown of his return duties, and lowering the risk of his injury.
While rarely a big spender in free agency, Pittsburgh showed last offseason it wasn’t opposed to opening up the checkbook. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of fans would rather see whatever money Pittsburgh is able to come up with, being spent on a quality player like McPhee or Maxwell, who would fill an immediate need, instead of shopping for bargain basement cast-offs like Cam Thomas or LeGarrette Blount.