The 2014 season saw the Pittsburgh Steelers on the rise, finishing with an 11-5 record and a division title following two straight seasons of missing the playoffs with 8-8 records. They finished off the regular season with four straight victories, but suffered a disappointing Wildcard round loss against the Ravens without their star running back.
Nobody is saying that the Steelers, however, are a finished product. Not even the Super Bowl champion is a finished product after a season concludes, because every team undergoes a series of changes throughout the offseason via free agency, retirement, and the draft, in addition to a myriad of other factors.
Pittsburgh is certainly no different, of course, and they are expected to see a number of new faces in the starting lineup for the third straight season. One of the common tasks that every front office faces at this time of the year is digging through the trash heaps of other teams and deciphering if there’s a diamond to be found in the rough.
The Steelers don’t typically delve into the street free agent pile—but, of course, they don’t typically sign many free agents from outside of their own pool to begin with. That has begun to change in recent seasons, on both accounts.
Last year, the Steelers signed a few free agents from other teams with some notable contracts, most prominently Mike Mitchell and his five-year, $25 million deal. But they also targeted a couple of street free agents in Lance Moore and Brice McCain, who had been released by their former teams.
The former never quite worked out as planned, but McCain turned out to be quite a nice find, as he ended up starting for about half the season and contributed three interceptions, including a pick six, which is unquestionably fine production coming off a veteran minimum contract.
The culling around the league has already begun. Yesterday, in fact, was a pretty significant day, with the street free agent market seeing a surge in wide receivers, running backs, and defensive linemen.
The Steelers, obviously, are in the market for at least one running back, and will likely be searching for another defensive lineman if they part with a couple of the reserves that are currently on the roster. If Moore leaves, they may even look to replace him with another veteran player.
There are some obvious advantages in dealing with street free agents. The most obvious, and most immediate, is that you can talk to them now, and sign them immediately, without having to wait until the free agency period starts with the new league year.
The other main advantage is that street players don’t factor into the compensatory draft pick process. Some teams, such as the Ravens, skillfully navigate this market to preserve their extra picks, and that could be relevant this year for the Steelers in the event that they end up losing pending free agent outside linebacker Jason Worilds.