The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with 12 players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency, and another three players who would be restricted free agents. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents in addition to tendering all three of their restricted free agents.
Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at running back, but suffered two free agency losses, one to another team and the other to retirement. The Steelers also released two players, while five of their unrestricted free agents remain unsigned.
The organization has been clear throughout recent weeks that the organization has essentially wrapped up all meaningful free agent activities. Perhaps there may be a modest addition or re-signing or two in the secondary between now and the draft, but now is a good time to take a look back and see where each position started at the beginning of the process and where it is now leading up to the draft.
Total Positional Figure: 7
Offseason additions: 1 (1 Reserve/Future Signing)
Offseason losses: 0
Cameron Heyward: If 3-4 defensive ends had an easier path to the Pro Bowl, then Cameron Heyward may have already been in one. He may get there yet, some day. Entering his fifth season, Heyward has already established himself as well above average in terms of rushing the passer, notching 12.5 sacks over the past two years. He can still get even better.
Stephon Tuitt: Stephon Tuitt has the talent and physical makeup to be even better than Heyward, but that’s a tough prediction to make. The fact that he was starting by the end of his rookie year is obviously an encouraging start. A big leap in his second year would do wonders to this defense overall.
Cam Thomas: Most seem to be surprised that Cam Thomas is still on the roster. Truth be told, he was not good in a starting role last season. If he’s still on the roster in 2015, however, he will be a rotational player, which will hopefully allow him to play better.
Clifton Geathers: What does Clifton Geathers offer? Evidently not much that a team wanted to see for more than a season very often. He’s already been through about a quarter of the league. Signed late in the year as an injury replacement, Geathers was never active for a game. He’s no roster lock.
Ethan Hemer (Reserve/Future): Ethan Hemer was one of the three young defensive ends to show promise during the preseason. But he was third in the pecking order. After those two were scooped up off the practice squad, Hemer was given the spot. Still, I wouldn’t count on him developing into a rotational player. He’s on the practice squad to help the team practice.
Joe Kruger (Reserve/Future): Joe Kruger is even lower in the pecking order than is Hemer. We’ll see if he has anything to offer.
Players Not Retained:
Brett Keisel: This space is not enough to offer much in the way of a proper expression of appreciation, but suffice it to say that Brett Keisel has meant a great deal to this organization. With his torn muscle, however, the Steelers are obviously concerned about his durability going forward, which has already been an issue for several seasons.
Matt Conrath (Reserve/Future): Matt Conrath is 6’7” and is a former undrafted free agent. He has spent the past three seasons with the Rams, who have one of the best, and deepest, defensive lines, meaning he couldn’t get much playing time. He spent most of last season on the practice squad. He doesn’t play with leverage or technique, which are concerns that he will have to work on if he wants to make this team.
Notes: Despite the numbers, the Steelers aren’t very deep at defensive end. It may be a stretch to say that they even have two known quantities, considering how young Tuitt still is in his career. Thomas and Geathers are not very encouraging in terms of depth, but it could be worse.