We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 15 primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed a number of them, those being Ramon Foster, Tyson Alualu, Anthony Chickillo, Daniel McCullers, and Jordan Berry. Significant unrestricted free agents who signed elsewhere were Le’Veon Bell, Jesse James, and L.J. Fort. They re-signed seven exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler, and Xavier Grimble, as they await Mike Hilton’s signing.
Also of note were the release of Morgan Burnett, the trades of Antonio Brown and Marcus Gilbert, and three significant signings in free agency, adding starters at cornerback, inside linebacker, and potentially wide receiver in Steven Nelson, Mark Barron, and Donte Moncrief, respectively. Maurkice Pouncey also received a two-year contract extension.
Total Positional Figure: 10
Offseason Additions: 4
Offseason Deletions: 1
Joe Haden: In his first full year with the Steelers, Haden was easily one of the team’s best defenders, even if he had a couple of down moments throughout the season. He is now 30, however, and entering the final year of his contract.
Mike Hilton: A solid slot defender, for the most part, though Hilton took a bit of a step back last year in coverage. The team covets him for his complete game. Though an exclusive rights free agent, he is hoping to work out a new contract.
Cameron Sutton: Entering his third season, Sutton is still stuck as a backup, and may compete for time in six-defensive-back looks this year. He could be the top backup at all three positions this year depending on how the offseason goes.
Artie Burns: From starter to benched is the start of Burns’ 2018 season. Whatever happens in 2019 is up to him, but it’s possible that he ends up being released or traded if he doesn’t bounce back in a significant way—and a good showing in training camp and the preseason is not necessarily enough, since he’s done that before.
Brian Allen: Another third-year player, Allen has been a special teams player up to this point in his career and even got sent down to the practice squad at the start of last season. Can this project finally make a contribution defensively?
Herb Waters: Waters was signed to the practice squad last year after Allen was promoted to the 53-man roster, and he remained there for the rest of the season, re-signed to a futures deal in January. The same path Hilton took.
Steven Nelson: Nelson’s three-year, $25.5 million contract was the big move of the offseason for the Steelers, giving them a viable number two cornerback, a position they haven’t had secured for half a decade or more.
Marcelis Branch: Though with a history at safety, the 5’11”, 180-pounder is listed at cornerback for the Steelers after he was signed to a futures contract in January. He previously spent time with the Falcons in the past two years, including on the practice squad in 2017.
Jack Tocho: a veteran of the AAF who played for the Steelers’ affiliate Iron, Tocho figures to be capable of playing both positions but is listed at cornerback, which is where he played for most of his time with Birmingham.
Kameron Kelly: Kelly is another refugee, playing his ball with the Fleet. He is best known for a game in which he intercepted three passes, earning him defensive player of the week honors.
Coty Sensabaugh: It’s rare that you see a player who started most of the previous season not even being re-signed to a veteran-minimum deal, but that’s the case for Sensabaugh, who remains a free agent. Perhaps he will receive interest after the draft, but it probably won’t be from the Steelers at this point.
Notes And Draft Outlook: Outside of linebacker, cornerback is still being viewed by many as the top area of interest—and that could include the Steelers, given that they have brought in players such as Byron Murphy for pre-draft visits. The fact of the matter is that it’s very difficult to have too many good cornerbacks in the NFL, and Pittsburgh has had a hard enough time having more than one at once.