This offseason more than most for the Pittsburgh Steelers finds the earliest portions of voluntary activity to be more important than it would normally be, for multiple reasons. Aside from the fact that they are coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in six years; aside from the fact that they have had a tumultuous offseason, making negative headlines; they also have some significant new blood that they are eager to get to know.
The Steelers signed only three outside free agents this offseason, but all of them came at a significant price, at least by Pittsburgh’s standards, and all three of them will have a very legitimate chance to start, if not a virtual guarantee to do so.
The biggest signing, which was reported even before free agency had officially begun, was former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson, who signed a three-year, $25.5 million deal. “I am happy to be here”, he told the team’s website about joining his new teammates in Phase One.
“I am happy to be around the guys, get that camaraderie going”, he went on. “This is a time to see the guys. For me, it’s something new. It’s a new atmosphere for me. I think it’s really important to be here.” Nelson also went out of his way to call up Mike Tomlin to have breakfast during the annual league meeting earlier this offseason.
Joining him on the defensive side of the ball on a two-year, $12 million contract is inside linebacker Mark Barron. “For me it’s more about meeting everybody, building that chemistry and camaraderie”, he said. “Getting a feel for the team. This is my first interaction with the team as a hole. It’s more so about that, initially anyway”.
Wide receiver Donte Moncrief was also brought in, agreeing to a two-year deal worth $9 million, but in his case, he will have to compete with second-year former second-round pick James Washington for that role. Of course, three receivers usually play at a time, so chances are more often than not they will both be on the field.
“It is huge for me to be here, be around the guys, and get back to the program”, the veteran said in joining what figures to be a young group. “It was very important. I knew I couldn’t miss this. This is getting back to it. I am a new guy, so this is to give the guys a chance to know who I am, how I work, showing the guys I am ready to go”.
The Steelers have a mixed history in such players coming in and developing a foundation. James Farrior did it with flying colors. Mike Mitchell also became a locker room leader to a lesser extent. Others—most recently Morgan Burnett—came and left in a year. This latest group of free agents is looking to sow the seeds of a long-term harvest early. Let’s hope the crop is bountiful this time, especially considering the investment.