We are now more than 48 hours into the 2018 NFL free agent signing period and if you’ve been paying close attention to the deals being inked around the league, you know that the two position markets the Pittsburgh Steelers were speculated as possibly being interested in this offseason, inside linebacker and safety, have gone in total different directions.
Starting with the off-the-ball linebacker free agent market through the first 48 hours of the new league year, it’s practically exhausted right now. In fact, just prior to writing this post it was reported that free agent linebacker Preston Brown has now come to terms with the Cincinnati Bengals. Additionally, free agent linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis is reportedly visiting with the New York Jets and thus could be off the market soon as well.
Already signed to deals after hitting the market Wednesday afternoon are linebackers Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Demario Davis, Todd Davis, Christian Jones, Tahir Whitehead and Zach Brown. All seven of those players, in addition to Preston Brown, were easy to connect to the Steelers as potential free agent inside linebacker targets. However, now that all are signed, Lawrence Timmons might just become a very attractive and very cheap option for the Steelers. In fact, Timmons, Korey Tommer and Pierre-Louis might just be the best available attractive free agent linebackers to the Steelers right now and the latter even has an offseason marijuana possession charge still hanging over his head.
As I previously pondered a few days ago, the Steelers should probably be watching what happens with Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks in the coming days. In fact, trading a late-round draft pick to the Eagles in exchange for Kendricks doesn’t sound like a bad idea heading into the weekend. In short, the off-the-ball free agent market has now reached bottom-of-the-barrel status and perhaps this confirms the thoughts of Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert on the off-the-ball 2018 draft class at the scouting combine as it relates to him saying it doesn’t include many impactful players.
As for the free agent safety market 48 hours into the 2018 league year, it’s been surprisingly extremely slow. At the time of this post being published, unrestricted free agent safeties Tre Boston, Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid, Morgan Burnett, and Tyvon Branch all remain unsigned as does superstar Tyrann Mathieu, who was recently released by the Arizona Cardinals. If Steelers fans should be rooting for any of these available safeties to end of in Pittsburgh in the coming days, it should be for Boston or Mathieu. However, those two figure to be the most expensive of the lot.
The last time the Steelers threw biggish money at a safety in free agency was in 2014 with Mike Mitchell, who was just released this past Wednesday after four seasons with the team. Mitchell was uncharacteristically given a five-year, $25 million contract right at the start of the 2014 free agency signing period. Can any of you see the Steelers giving Boston or Mathieu a multi-year contract that averages more than $6 million per season and especially with it looking like this year’s draft class has a few top free safety-types that should be available to Pittsburgh in the first round?
Should the Steelers fail to land a free agent linebacker or safety by Wednesday of next week, they might leave those two positions be until the draft takes place. Currently, the Steelers have just a little less than $6.5 million in available salary cap space and while that’s not a lot and certainly not enough to cover their remaining offseason business that awaits them, it’s enough to fit a few free agent contracts within, depending of course on the overall structure, guaranteed money and top 51 roster displacement.
Will the team remain inactive in free agency for as long as they were last year? It’s certainly possible and just like a year ago, the team’s first outside unrestricted free agent addition might just end up being a one-year, minimum salary contract.