The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will sign at least one starter for the 2021 season via outside free agency.
Explanation: While many may not agree with how they got there, the Steelers have put themselves in a position over the past few days in which they have some breathing room with the salary cap following the release of Steven Nelson and the restructuring of Eric Ebron’s contract. It’s possibly enough to find somebody who can be your primary center, or slot cornerback, or buck linebacker, for the next 12 months.
This is how the Steelers operate. When they lose a starter and they don’t have a clear and obvious successor, they sign a free agent ranging from cheap to mid-range and then use a high draft pick. If the rookie is ready to start, then great. If not, then you have the veteran.
They signed Morgan Burnett and then drafted Terrell Edmunds. They signed Mark Barron and then drafted Devin Bush. They signed Cam Thomas and drafted Stephon Tuitt. Even when they don’t draft somebody, when they have an in-house candidate, they give themselves cover with an option. In 2015, when they were still unsure of Alejandro Villanueva, they signed Ryan Harris to come in and compete for the starting left tackle job. They cover their bases.
Recovering your bases doesn’t always land you a starter, though. Just look at some of the examples above, like Burnett and Harris. Barron and Thomas did start, though in both cases, they rotated out of the lineup. Thomas actually played under 50 percent of the snaps in most games.
The Steelers suddenly have a lot of holes, but some will be filled in the draft. Others will be filled from within. Though really, the answer to this question may depend on whether or not you consider B.J. Finney, a former Steeler who was a street free agent, part of ‘outside free agency’. I’ll let the reader decide on this one.