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: 8
Mike Mitchell: Entering his third season in Pittsburgh now, Mike Mitchell took a major step forward in 2015, becoming a leader on the defense and an impact player, recording three interceptions and a couple of forced fumbles. He’s not perfect, but he’s more than good enough.
Will Allen: Will Allen was forced into the starting lineup because of Shamarko Thomas’ struggles, but when Robert Golden showed well replacing Allen due to injury, he should have been left out of the lineup. While he was able to use his accumulated knowledge of the game to his advantage, and did play some good ball, and finished with a commendable stat line in spite of missing about a quarter of the season. Reports are the Steelers are not intending to bring him back, but things change, especially late in the going.
Robert Golden: In his fourth season, Robert Golden was finally afforded extensive playing time due to injury, and he showed well in his cameo as a starting safety. He was also a contributor to the dime defense and is a core special teamer. He was just rewarded with a three-year contract.
Shamarko Thomas: This is not simply a do or die season for Shamarko Thomas. It’s possibly a do or die preseason. He fell on his face last year and fell to the bottom rung of the depth chart. If he falls again, he could fall off the roster depending on how else the team addresses safety during the offseason.
Ross Ventrone: Inveterate special teams ace Ross Ventrone has had a rollercoaster relationship with the 53-man roster over the course of his career, including the last two years in Pittsburgh. But if there’s a roster spot open, he’ll get it. He’s that good on special teams even if he has virtually no realistic chance of playing on defense.
Jordan Dangerfield: Former undrafted free agent Jordan Dangerfield has been kicking around for a few years now, spending all of last season most recently on the practice squad. That is a curious fact considering he was released prior to training camp due to depth at safety and a need at tackle. But with injuries mounting in the secondary he was re-signed and ending up passing by many of those whom the Steelers kept in favor of him.
Ray Vinopal: Former Pitt Panther Ray Vinopal was signed to a Reserve/Future contract immediately following the season. Not particularly tall or fast, he is a physical player who spent 2015 with the Cowboys during training camp, but was cut in the first wave.
Jacob Hagen: Jacob Hagen does have one quality going for him, and that is size, listed at 6’2” and 205 pounds. He also showed interception capability in college. The 2015 undrafted free agent didn’t survive final cuts with the Rams last year.
Offseason Strategy: The Steelers, in my estimation, already executed the most important part of their offseason strategy by locking up Golden, who may well find himself in the starting lineup. While they will no doubt kick some tires on the free agent market for a starter, the chances are strong that they will find themselves outbid.
That leaves the possibility that Pittsburgh adds another safety in the draft, which could realistically come as high as the first round. But if the Steelers fail to address the position with an outside free agent or high draft pick, it would not be surprising to see Allen signed in training camp.