There had been no veiling of the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers were entering this offseason with the full intention of replenishing and improving their secondary. It was an edict sent down from the top of the food chain, president Art Rooney II, and the front office followed through by drafting a cornerback and safety in the first two rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft.
But General Manager Kevin Colbert has also previously talked about potentially looking at the free agent market after the draft, and in his post-draft press conference alluded to the opportunity to “judge some of the available free agents [compared] to guys on our roster already, and maybe sign some guys and make some changes”.
Today is May 12, in addition. On this day of the NFL league year calendar, veteran free agents can now be signed without having any bearing on the 2017 compensatory pick formula. Colbert also alluded to their belief that they would get two or three compensatory picks next year, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest it was on his mind.
While the Steelers are on the lower end of the list when it comes to teams with salary cap space remaining, that does not preclude them from making a modest post-draft signing or two. And there are still some interesting names on the free agent cornerback market that could potentially be worth pursuing, especially now that they will come with no penalty toward the compensatory pick formula.
Given that they have remained unsigned for this long, of course, that also suggests that they will not command too high a price tag, and most should be able to be had on a one-year, veteran-minimum qualifying contract.
Such players that might be brought in now could be utilized as experienced depth, which is something that the Steelers currently lack, dramatically. They only have one cornerback on the roster that has actually accrued more than a full season’s worth of playing experience in their careers. Three of their top five cornerbacks, essentially, have never played before.
Consider some of the potential names that are still on the market—including even a name or two that we might have floated out early in the free agent process as a potential low-end signing that the Steelers could make in order to bolster their rosters, which is especially important after they lost three cornerbacks in the offseason.
Jerraud Powers of the Cardinals remains available. Veteran Cortland Finnegan, while certainly past his prime, could function as a depth option. Leon Hall from the Bengals has an injury history, but can still be a contributing player. Tarrell Brown, Trumaine McBride, Cary Williams, and Cassius Vaughn are just a few more names to toss out into the ether.
Most, perhaps any of these cornerbacks can be had on a one-year deal with minimal risk if they fail to make the 53-man roster. It would make sense to at least attempt to add to the competition, because as the roster is currently formulated, the upside right now seems to lean toward carrying five cornerbacks. If one of them gets injured, where do they turn? Do they look for another trade, as they did last year, to address the shortfall? Better to buffer against such a potentiality now, if it is feasible.