The Pittsburgh Steelers made it clear this week that wide receiver Antonio Brown will likely be traded in the coming weeks and months and that running back Le’Veon Bell will be allowed to shop his services to the highest bidder beginning roughly four weeks from now. Thanks to Bell not being given the transition or franchise tag this offseason, the Steelers should have plenty of salary cap space to go free agent shopping with in the middle of March. In fact, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert hinted on Wednesday that the we could potentially see a busier than normal Steelers free agent signing period this year due to all of the needs the team currently has and combined with Bell not getting tagged this offseason.
“Le’Veon is still a great player,” said Colbert, “but we cannot afford to use a tag with the other needs that we have. And I did use the word ‘need.’ So Le’Veon will be an unrestricted free agent at the beginning of the new league year (on March 13). Will he still be in our thinking? Sure. We’ll always continue to monitor everybody out there, because we don’t know where his market will be, or where our market will be.”
In short, Bell will be allowed to shop his services around the league come the start of the free agent signing period and barring some sort of a minor miracle, he won’t be re-signing with the Steelers. As I previously posted nearly one full month ago, with the Steelers not having to dedicate 2019 salary cap money to Bell in the form of a franchise tag and combined with a soon-to-be announced contract extension for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, in addition to the possible forthcoming release of safety Morgan Burnett, the team could enter the 2019 new league year with close to $30 million in available salary cap space.
Obviously, that $30 million under the cap number isn’t a realistic available amount as some of that space needs to be earmarked for re-signings, free agent tenders and such. Even so, when you project ahead to the expected salary cap dollar allocation for the team’s 2019 draft class, re-signings, a few contract extensions, workout bonuses, in season emergency fund, practice squad and final two roster spots, the team still should have a fair amount of available salary cap space to go shopping with.
Colbert hinting that some of the team’s 2019 offseason needs will likely be filled via free agency has to be music to the ears of most Steelers fans. In fact, we could see the Steelers have a free agent signing period this offseason that rivals the one that we saw in 2014 when safety Mike Mitchell, defensive tackle Cam Thomas, outside linebacker Arthur Moats, running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Lance Moore, cornerback Brice McCain and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey were all signed as outside unrestricted free agents within the first two weeks of the new league year.
The Steelers needs this offseason are plenty, as not only might an experienced wide receiver be required to help replace an outgoing Brown, but nearly every position on the defensive side of the football could use some sort of attention during free agency if at all possible. Obviously, not all of those positions will be addressed in free agency, but if possible, another starter-capable cornerback needs to be signed in addition to a position flexible player who can play in dime sub packages. Some better depth on the defensive line along with a higher quality backup outside linebacker should be added via free agency if at all possible.
Colbert obviously wouldn’t say on Wednesday what the team’s free agent plan will ultimately be come four weeks from now, but with the start of the annual scouting combine now right around the corner, the team’s personnel department is now likely close to putting the final touches on a possible strategy to pursue at the start of the new league year.
“What we can do (in free agency) unfolds as we go through (the process), from a salary cap standpoint,” said Colbert. “Who is available, who gets signed and taken off the market, who may end up on the market as a result of that.”
The Steelers, under Colbert’s supervision, are usually picky bargain shoppers during free agency. This year, however, we might see them uncharacteristically go after a high-priced free agent defensive player or two. If that happens, it certainly won’t hurt the feelings of many in the fan base.