Devil’s Advocate: Sufficent Draft Prep During Free Agency

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Did the Steelers do enough to address the holes in their roster during free agency in preparation for the draft?

More so than nearly any other team in the league, the Steelers do not utilize free agency to acquire starters from other organizations very frequently. They have done so, or at least attempted to do so, a couple of times within the past few years, but generally, their free-agency signings tend to be modest depth signings.

What this does accomplish is filling holes in the roster that otherwise would be a greater need for the team heading into the draft, which has the potential to force the team’s hand in reaching for a position because they need to improve that area of the team, passing up a better prospect elsewhere on the roster.

This offseason, nobody that they signed—four players—got more than a few million per season. They added depth at wide receiver, running back, cornerback, and defensive line.

Yet they are still looking for help at cornerback, running back, and wide receiver, at a minimum, and a defensive lineman in the late rounds is not an impossibility. So on the surface, no, they didn’t do enough.

The cornerback position in particular would seem to be the greatest deficiency, as they signed a depth player at a position that they may well now have to use a first-round draft pick on. And there’s a more than reasonable scenario in which that free agent doesn’t make the roster.

At running back, however, the Steelers do seem to actually want to draft a young running back rather than rely upon veteran help, and their free agent acquisition is likely to primarily serve as a returner. And their interest in wide receivers is seemingly inexhaustible no matter how many they have.

The big question is not so much depth rather than starting material, and the Steelers failed to find that in any of their biggest holes in the starting lineup, those being cornerback (more likely in the slot), outside linebacker to take over in a year or two, and inside linebacker following a free agency loss.

To expect to be able to fill three holes in the starting lineup in one draft in which you only have a relatively typical allotment of draft picks is overly optimistic, which lends favor to the argument that they should have been more aggressive in filling at least one of these priorities in free agency.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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