Steelers Free Agency Primer: What Else Does Pittsburgh Need?

We are a few weeks into the NFL free agency frenzy, one that has seen the NFL spectrum tilt in the AFC’s favor, especially the AFC West, which has added the likes of Russell Wilson, Davante Adams, Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson. The Steelers, usually frugal spenders with Ben Roethlisberger under contract, actually were very active this year, adding names like Mitch Trubisky, James Daniels, Myles Jack, Mason Cole, Levi Wallace, and Gunner Olszewski. With many of the holes patched, there is the sense that the team may go one of two routes come draft night-go the best player available route, or look for their signal caller of the future. However, there still exists several need areas across the roster.

One of which is the running back position. Rookie Najee Harris was an absolute beast in his rookie season, rushing for a rookie record 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns, while also showing off his prowess as a receiver, hauling in 74 catches for 467 yards and another three scores. He etched his name into some elite company with his ball security, as his 381 touches without a single fumble was the most since the 1990 season. His next-closest competitors were Barry Sanders with 375 touches in 1994, and LaDainian Tomlinson, also with 375 touches in the 2007 season. However, if the Steelers want a return on their 2021 first-round investment for the long haul, they need some security to minimize the mileage that Harris puts on his body.

Running back certainly isn’t the positional value that it once was, with teams often finding capable starters in the middle rounds. On the free agent market, there are a ton of names who would seem to be a great fit playing second fiddle to Harris. One name who would certainly be familiar to Trubisky and Daniels from their Windy City days is Tarik Cohen. A first team All-Pro return specialist in 2018, he led the league in punt return yards with 411, but also displayed his dynamic ability on offense. He rushed for 444 yards, but also caught 71 balls for 725 yards.

Also noteworthy, Cohen’s banner season was Trubisky’s finest season as well, as he was named to the Pro Bowl after leading the team to the #3 seed in the NFC playoffs. There are several other more notorious names available, such as Phillip Lindsay, who boasts two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. Despite his stature, the thought of Cohen running jet sweeps and gadget plays under the tutelage of Matt Canada is food for thought.

Another huge hole exists in the Steelers’ secondary at strong safety, after the team declined Terrell Edmunds’ fifth-year option. He can’t be considered a bust, but the team’s investment by making him a first-round pick in 2018 left something to be desired. A reunion is still possible, and it’s even been reported that the team not only has interest in Edmunds, but also former Chiefs’ All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu’s ball-hawking ability paired with Minkah Fitzpatrick on the back end is no doubt a scary thought for NFL defensive coordinators. However, his asking price may be something which prevents this. A less-heralded name who would seem to fit the bill could be former Cowboy Damontae Kazee, a sure tackler who also flashes his ball-magnet skills, as evidenced by a standout 2017 season in which he picked off seven passes.

After losing James Washington, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud over the course of a few days last weekend, wide receiver is now a need for the team. Pro Bowler Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool each offer differing skillsets, but if one of them sustains an injury, the team could be in real trouble.

There are several high-profile names on the market like Jarvis Landry or Julio Jones. However, a guy like speed demon Will Fuller makes sense, as he’s still only 27 years of age. This is, of course, as long as his medicals check out, because his past has been hampered by hamstring issues. The dots between he and Brian Flores can obviously also be connected to last season in Miami. The recently-signed Gunner Olszewski was signed as more of an insurance policy to offset the loss of McCloud, but the receiver position seems to be one the team is more apt to try and fill via the draft.

After all, dating back over the last decade or so, no other team has been as good at drafting great wide receiver talent. Christian Watson, Justyn Ross, George Pickens, and Skyy Moore are all receivers with whom the team has had interaction with, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of them ended up in the black & gold. Which position do you think is most important that the team rectify prior to the draft? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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