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: 3
Offseason losses: 1
Mike Mitchell: Two years into a five-year deal, Mike Mitchell, one of the team’s bigger free agent ‘splashes’, has turned out to be a very solid player, and one of the bedrocks of the defense. After a shaky first year, he settled down last year and began turning over the ball. Now he just has to stay healthy and clean up his tackling a bit more.
Robert Golden: The de facto starting strong safety next season, Robert Golden has come some way from his days as a young undrafted free agent. He proved that he can start during a four-game stretch when Will Allen was out with an injury, and then continued to play as a dime contributor.
Shamarko Thomas: The should-have-been starter at strong safety last year, Shamarko Thomas disappointed in his efforts to adjust mentally to the role in the preseason, and he was out of the job by the start of the regular season. Still a very valuable special teams contributor, he may have lost out on his last best chance to be a defensive player.
Ross Ventrone: Ross Ventrone has been around the block. He knows the drill. The Steelers know what he can offer on special teams, and what he can’t on defense. Will there be a roster spot for him? That will be one of the final decisions to be made.
Jordan Dangerfield (Reserve/Future): Jordan Dangerfield has been around for a few years now too, the last two years with the Steelers. He spent all season on the practice squad last year, but with the above names and an impending draft pick, you have to think he likely doesn’t make the roster.
Ray Vinopal (Reserve/Future): 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 (Reserve/Future: 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.
Players Lost/Not Retained:
Will Allen: This looks to be the season where Will Allen might be at the end of the road, unless the Steelers fail to draft the safety position significantly in the draft. Allen started most of last season when healthy, and while he had his moments, his tackling suffered, and he gave up several touchdowns in coverage. But his value doesn’t have to be at a 16-game starter.
Notes and Draft Outlook: With Golden under contract for three years, the Steelers at least have options, but safety is very much on the table in the first round, and in every subsequent round until one is acquired. No matter who is drafted, however, he likely won’t start on opening day, but rather serve as a sub-package player initially, if he plays on defense at all.