For a team who signs as few free agents as the Pittsburgh Steelers do, this exercise was surely not as difficult for them as it was for many other teams. ESPN recently published an article in which the beat writer for each team was asked to pick which were the best and worst free agent signings by the organization since 2015.
I’m willing to bet that virtually everybody reading this would have come up with the same answers as those provided by Brooke Pryor if they were asked this without the benefit of the article, because the answers are, frankly, obvious.
The best free agent signing the team has made over the course of the past five years has clearly been Joe Haden, who his now entering his fourth year with the team and coming off of a Pro Bowl year beyond the age of 30 in which he recorded five interceptions and a forced fumble. Pryor writes:
The Steelers aren’t known for splashy free-agent acquisitions, but this one has helped in a big way. Signing with the Steelers in 2017, the corner found new life after a seven-year career in Cleveland. Last year, he put together a Pro Bowl season with one forced fumble and five interceptions. He’s a leader in the locker room and in the position group meetings. Prior to the 2019 season, the Steelers extended Haden, locking him up with a two-year, $22 million extension that included a $16.8 million signing bonus to keep him with the team through 2021.
We will see in a couple years’ time if that remains true or if fellow cornerback Steven Nelson can give him a run for his money. Nelson is younger, and arguably was the more consistent player between the two on a snap-by-snap basis, but obviously failed to create the splash, finishing the year with one interception and one fumble recovery.
As for the worst free agent signing, it would have to be Ladarius Green, who completed just one year of a four-year, $20 million contract. This was a bad signing only due to injury, however. In the brief time that he was actually on the field, he did have an impact. Pryor writes:
The Steelers are better known for their free-agency busts, and with a four-year, $20 million contract and just six games, 18 catches, 304 yards and a touchdown to show for it, Green edges out the likes of wide receiver Donte Moncrief and running back LeGarrette Blount. Green was signed in 2016 to replace the retired Heath Miller, but injuries and concussion history kept him from truly making an impact. He earned $6 million of his contract by the time he was cut in May 2017 and cost the Steelers $3.5 million in dead money.
Pryor mentions Donte Moncrief and LeGarrette Blount, but the runner up with have to be Morgan Burnett for me, who signed a three-year contract and then asked for his release after he ended up losing his starting job almost before he even had it because he couldn’t stay on the field.