The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with well over a dozen players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents, and also tendered their two restricted free agents.
Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at wide receiver, defensive line, running back, and cornerback, but suffered several free agency losses, chiefly at wide receiver and linebacker, and suffered yet another retirement in the process. There was one significant player release, and no contracts were restructured. One franchise tag and one major extension also transpired. They still have four 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: 10
Offseason additions: 5
Offseason losses: 1
Ross Cockrell: Cockrell is still the team’s top cornerback until he isn’t, as much as a large number of people don’t want to hear that. While he didn’t pull down any interceptions last year, he did get his hands on 14 balls and generally showed good coverage skills, limiting opponents over the top.
Artie Burns: Burns is the player the Steelers are looking to emerge as their top cornerback. With size, speed, and man coverage abilities, they are hoping that he comes into his own in year two after a solid, if uneven, rookie season as a former top pick.
William Gay: The savvy veteran is still kicking around, and while the team finally got him out of the outside, Gay remains their slot defender. There are options for competition, but it’s far from a given that anybody manages to take his place, even if that might be the goal.
Al-Hajj Shabazz: A former undrafted free agent, Shabazz is a cornerback with decent size who played well in the preseason but earned a chance for his special teams work. He bounced from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and even got claimed at one point before finding his way back. He is a depth player who will be fighting for a roster spot.
Senquez Golson: This is the year for Golson. It has to be, right? The former second-round pick has spent his first two seasons either on injured reserve or on the inactive list due to injury. He is coming off a foot injury and the team isn’t counting on him to contribute right now.
Coty Sensabaugh: The Steelers were hoping to land a more exciting cornerback than Sensabaugh, but he is not to be dismissed either. While obviously a depth signing, he has starting experience and time spent in both the slot and on the outside, versatility that most of their cornerbacks lack.
Greg Ducre: Ducre spent time with Washington and San Diego in 2014 and 2015, managing to record an interception. He was out of the league last year and played in the CFL. He was signed to a futures deal in Feburary.
Brandon Dixon: Like Ducre, Dixon came into the league in 2014 and kicked around different teams, recording one interception. Unlike Ducre, he spent some time on the practice squad in 2016.
Mike Hilton: Hilton also spent some time on the practice squad a year ago. While height-deficient, he is versatile and has some skills.
Devonte Johnson: Academically ineligible for two years going back to college, Johnson is under 5’11” but has some athletic skills. He was unsigned last year but picked up by the Falcons and spent some time on their practice squad.
Players Lost/Not Retained:
Justin Gilbert: The Steelers traded their 2018 sixth-round pick for Gilbert after Golson’s injury when depth became necessary, but the former first-round pick was scarcely used. The team released him early in the offseason due to his first-round contract but left the door open to re-sign him. I find that unlikely at this point.
Notes and Draft Outlook: It’s no secret that cornerback is one of the Steelers’ biggest priorities. There was even a report that their intention is to draft the best available defensive back in the first round. They hadn’t taken a cornerback in the first round in many years but they could go back-to-back in the past two as they look to be able to incorporate more man-coverage principles into their secondary.