Such that anybody gives a damn, apparently beat writers are starting to hand out grades for teams in free agency, and in case you were wondering, Jeremy Fowler for ESPN gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a B+ for their work in free agency, which including signing two modestly-priced defensive players and allowing one valuable backup to sign a large contract with another team while re-signing their key players that needed to be re-signed.
“The Steelers entered free agency with minimal cap space and still got two starters to fill defensive needs, each for less than $7 million per year — a classic navigation of free agency’s second wave”, Fowler began to summarize.
“They also released three veteran defensive backs to signal improvements are coming. But staying away from the top inside linebackers could hurt the defense if the Steelers don’t get the right player in the draft”.
Those defensive backs would be William Gay, Mike Mitchell, and Robert Golden, who were by far the three longest-tenured members of the secondary on the team. Gay spent 10 of his 11 seasons here, while Golden was here for six seasons. Mitchell, a nine-year veteran, spent the past four seasons as the starting free safety.
The Steelers signed two players, as mentioned, those being veteran starting safety Morgan Burnett and journeyman inside linebacker Jon Bostic, both of whom could easily project as starters heading into the 2018 season, though the draft could change that.
Fowler singled out Burnett as the more significant signing, saying that he “brings polish and versatility to a secondary that needs it”. Noting that he “was one of the biggest free-agent signings in a sagging safety market”, he said that “Burnett can cover in the slot, play either safety position or line up at linebacker if needed”.
While there wasn’t much of a choice, he highlighted Chris Hubbard as the team’s biggest loss. He is the only Steelers free agent that has signed elsewhere so far, but he agreed to a five-year, $36.5 million deal with the Cleveland Browns.
Fowler believes that the Steelers should have gone after Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, calling him a “splash playmaker”. In noting that the safety market has sagged (Tre Boston remains unsigned), he pointed to the value that they got in Burnett and added, “why not go all the way and get one of the most dynamic players at the position?”.
Mathieu signed a one-year deal for $7 million. The Steelers would not have any cap space if they signed him to that deal rather than Burnett, who has a 2018 cap hit of just over $2.4 million.
Unsurprisingly, Fowler doesn’t see big things on the horizon, but notes that the team seems optimistic about re-signing Eli Rogers when he is further along in his recovery from an ACL tear. He mentions that one or two more small additions could still come.