We’re now into March, and that means that the new league year will be upon us shortly, and when that time comes, the floodgates to free agency will open—not that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be major players when it comes to signing outside free agents, as they tend to keep themselves busy in retaining their own players.
But before we get to that period, it’s time to take a look at the Steelers’ offseason roster as it appears to be shaping up as we hit the start of the new league year, at which time the team will have a couple of dozen players hitting the open market.
As with every other team, the Steelers have already made some roster tweaks, signing several players to Reserve/Futures contracts, tenders, and other sorts of contract, while also making some deletions after they waived a handful of players, so here is a position-by-position look at how the team looks heading into free agency.
Total Positional Figure: 2
Roosevelt Nix: Roosevelt Nix sort of came out of nowhere for the Steelers, but gradually became an important contributor to their efforts in his first season in the league—well, as a first-year player. The former college linebacker originally signed as a defensive player with the Falcons in 2014, converted to fullback, but did not make the final 53-man roster.
The Steelers then signed Nix to a Reserve/Future contract following the 2014 season as a linebacker, but they, too, moved him to fullback—a prudent move given the depth that they already had at linebacker—even if they already seemed to have a ‘starter’ at fullback in Will Johnson.
As training camp went on and turned to the preseason, it became apparent that the Steelers were becoming legitimately interested in Nix, giving him plenty of offensive reps at fullback, and he gradually emerged as a special teams standout.
He earned his way onto the roster because of his special teams play, and even had a key forced fumble on a kick return during the regular season, but he could be in line for a bigger offensive role in 2016 after logging about 150 snaps in 2015.
Will Johnson: Will Johnson, however, is a bit more up in the air, although his status was made a bit more stable with the retirement of Heath Miller. Johnson has been transitioning to full-time tight end as it is, of course. He only played about 50 snaps out of the backfield in 2014, and played just two fullback snaps last year after Nix’s injury.
Offseason Strategy: Johnson is entering unrestricted free agency, and it would seem to make sense to re-sign him to a veteran-minimum qualifying contract, assuming he is willing to accept that—which, frankly, he should, given the scarcity of his reps last year.
It goes without saying that fullback isn’t a position that regularly draws much action. It’s a dinosaur position that a lot of teams don’t even use anymore. The Steelers likely wouldn’t have used it much at all last year without having stumbled upon Nix.