The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with nearly a couple dozen players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents, but did not tender their one restricted free agent, who signed elsewhere.
Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at tight end, tackle, linebacker, and the defensive line, but suffered several free agency losses, chiefly at cornerback and linebacker, and suffered yet another key retirement in the process. There were no significant player releases, and no contracts were restructured. They still have six unrestricted free agents who remain unsigned.
The organization has been clear throughout recent weeks that they have essentially wrapped up all meaningful free agent activities, with the focus turning to the draft, so 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: 2
Offseason losses: 3
William Gay: Though on the wrong side of 30, William Gay has continued to be a valuable part of the Steelers’ defense, and has been the team’s top cornerback for the bulk of the past three seasons. That is why he was re-signed on a three-year deal. But how much longer can they count on him being their top performer?
Ross Cockrell: A last-minute acquisition on cut down day, Ross Cockrell ended up playing over 60 percent of the team’s snaps. If he can progress and build on the experiences of his second season, he could be a key piece of the defense.
Senquez Golson: The Steelers are counting on Senquez Golson being a key piece of the defense, however, after the second-round pick missed his entire rookie season. The highest-drafted cornerback in a decade, there is a lot of pressure on him panning out.
Doran Grant: Also entering his second season, Doran Grant spent half his rookie year on the practice squad. While many have been disappointed in his evident lack of progress, he will have the opportunity to make a leap forward in 2016.
Al-Hajj Shabazz (Reserve/Future): Al-Hajj Shabazz was an undrafted rookie who is listed at 6’2” and an even 200 pounds. He kicked around a couple teams during the offseason but was not on a roster or practice squad.
Montell Garner (Reserve/Future): Montell Garner was an undrafted rookie last year with decent size, but a 4.6 40. He spent some time with the Rams and was brought in for a workout for the Steelers back in October.
Isaiah Frey: A former 2012 sixth-round draft pick, Isaiah Frey is a third-year player who actually started six games his rookie season. He bounced around in his second year, however, and failed to make the roster in 2015. He was eventually signed to the Steelers’ practice squad in the middle of the season.
Players Lost/Not Retained:
Antwon Blake: Antwon Blake’s may be the Steelers’ most celebrated free agent loss in recent memory, even if he didn’t command much on the market. While he had his lapses in coverage, it was his struggles to tackle through injury that drew the most ire. But now the search is on for the next whipping boy.
Brandon Boykin: After trading for Brandon Boykin, it was not until a break glass in case of emergency sort of situation that he began to see consistent playing time. He only signed a veteran-minimum contract in free agency, which surprised many.
Notes and Draft Outlook: Yes, there are many who believe that cornerback is the Steelers’ biggest need, and for valid reasons. But that doesn’t mean one will be drafted in the first round. Doesn’t mean that they won’t draft one in the first round, either. It is possible that they end up drafting two more this year after doing so last year as well. But the biggest change will have to come from Golson.