If yesterday did not absolutely epitomize the Pittsburgh Steelers’ general approach to free agency, then I don’t know what does. Not only did the team that prides itself in building through the draft not make any signings on the opening day of the new league year, their name was not even seriously connected to a single free agent.
I can see the tumbleweeds bouncing across the plain as I type this.
You might have seen a recent Tweet from our fearless leader, Dave Bryan, in which he somewhat jokingly created a checklist for prospective free agent signings, but there is a lot of truth in it. You can just look over their history under Kevin Colbert as general manager and piece it together yourself.
Overwhelmingly, when they look at signing players in free agency, they stick to young up-and-coming talents coming off their first contract. Rarely do they even express passing interest in players who are near their 30s.
While last year was something of an aberration in their offering Dont’a Hightower a pretty substantial deal, to date, the Steeler have never committed to an outside free agent beyond the initial signing period for more than $5 million per season, and that is a distinction jointly owned by Mike Mitchell and Ladarius Green.
Now Joe Haden proved to be an exception late last year when he was a surprise August release, and the Steelers swooped in the same day he was let go, signing him to a three-year deal that works out to an average of $9 million per season, though with a (relatively) low year-one cap hit.
While it’s certainly always a possibility that the team bucks its long-standing trends and makes a comparative free agent ‘splash’, the opening day of free agency has given us no indications of such a deviation from the norm.
Will they look into Tyrann Mathieu or Tre Boston? You can’t say no, but that has not typically been in their price range, and they don’t have as much cap space entering this period as they did a year ago. And perhaps I should remind you of whom they walked away with in 2017.
It started with the blockbuster signing of wide receiver Justin Hunter to a one-year veteran-minimum deal. Knile Davis, a running back, got the same deal and failed to make the team—just the second outside free agent signed during the initial period to achieve that under Colbert. While the signings of cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and defensive lineman Tyson Alualu were a bit bigger, they were a far cry from even Mitchell’s 2014 contract.
Steelers fans should be used to this approach by now, since it’s, essentially, what they have always done for the past five decades, shy, I suppose, of Kevin Greene in the advent of the free agency era. Many will beg to differ, but their track record under Colbert shows that it’s a fine approach to take. You don’t win the Super Bowl in March. You win it in February.