Uncharacteristic of the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, the organization spent over $45 million on three players in free agency. Also uncharacteristic: they had the salary cap space to spend it. Thanks to Le’Veon Bell, who will hopefully also afford them a third-round compensatory draft pick in 2020. But I digress.
The Steelers acquired three players who could be starters for them this season in cornerback Steven Nelson, linebacker Mark Barron, and wide receiver Donte Moncrief. Nelson, given a three-year, $25.5 million deal, is pretty much guaranteed to start no matter what happens, though the other two are less certain.
There is a very good chance that Barron will start for the team at linebacker, and at the very least he will play a very significant role on his two-year, $12 million deal. But in the event that the team is able to draft an inside linebacker in the first round, his spot will be challenged.
As for Moncrief, on his two-year, $9 million deal, he will be in competition with second-year James Washington, who is coming off a disappointing rookie season in which he failed to make the sort of impact the team was expecting.
“There are certain expectations because we’re doing business with them via free agency, but I don’t want to put them in a box”, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said of their acquisitions in free agency. “I don’t want to place limits on them in terms of what they’re capable of doing from a contribution standpoint”.
“Moncrief has been a guy that’s been big-play-capable since he’s been in the league”, he said of the sixth-year wide receiver, a former third-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. “It’s reasonable for us to expect him to bring those capabilities to the table”.
As for Nelson, Tomlin said that he “has been a capable starter both inside and out within playoff-caliber defenses. It’s reasonable for him to display that versatility”. As I wrote yesterday, Tomlin emphasized his versality when he talked with local reporters during the annual league meeting.
“It’s been awesome to watch the maturation in terms of the position transition for Mark Barron over the course of his career”, he said of the 8th-year former first-round draft pick. “He came into the league as a top-10 safety and really has evolved into an all-situations linebacker. And so to see that growth and development from afar has been exciting, so we’re excited about potentially benefitting from that maturation process”.
Of the group, Nelson surely figures to have the most ‘upside’, being the youngest, least experienced, and newest to his role. He has only been a full-time outside cornerbacks since last season, and he went through the growing pains of being heavily tested as a result.