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: 1
Offseason additions: 0
Offseason losses: 1
Roosevelt Nix: Roosevelt Nix is the Steelers’ starting fullback—insofar, of course, as the Steelers actually have a starting fullback, and that is a point that can very much be debated for an offense that employs a three-receiver personnel grouping approximate three quarters of the time that they are on the field.
Nix came a bit out of nowhere, originally signed to a Reserve/Future contract as a linebacker, but converted to fullback during the spring in order to give him a better shot of making the roster, though even then it seemed like a longshot.
But he made his mark on special teams, which was punctuated by a blocked punt during the preseason to cement his spot on the 53-man roster, and the team more or less just continued to use him as a fullback on offense during the year as they had done during their exhibition period. He logged almost a couple hundred snaps, and improved the run game, which leads one to wonder if he might not be used more in his second season after being retained as an exclusive-rights free agent.
Players Lost/Not Retained:
Will Johnson: Will Johnson was a player much like Roosevelt Nix, but perhaps had even longer odds, initially. As a rookie in 2011, he not only went undrafted but unsigned, which, during the lockout season, was impossible for undrafted players. The Steelers saw him work out at his alma mater the following year, however, and signed him.
He made the roster and won the starting fullback job by default due to injury, but he served in that role for roughly three years, though he transitioned mostly to tight end in his third season. Last year, he was largely phased out on offense, which prompted him to look for a bigger role and opportunity with the Giants, signing a two-year contract, despite reported interest from Pittsburgh to keep him.
Notes and Draft Outlook: Draft outlook…realistically, I can’t imagine the Steelers drafting a fullback any time in the near future. Certainly not with a franchise quarterback and quality receivers still around. If they should ever have to revert back primarily to a running team again, perhaps then…
But that doesn’t mean that they can’t potentially look for a fullback-capable body, as Johnson was, because they really don’t have anybody else. Consider the fact that all of their tight ends are at least 6’6”, which is not ideal to lining up in a three-point stance in the backfield. Some sort of h-back player might find a way to sneak onto the roster…or perhaps a lineman can fill the role of backup fullback.