The Pittsburgh Steelers came into the 2014 offseason with many, many question marks regarding team personnel, retiring players, etc.
Now that many of those issues have been resolved, how did the Steelers do? Where have the decisions they’ve made left them? What can they do to improve in the up and coming months?
Well, let’s start with something all Steelers fans were talking about well before the season ended.
Would the Steelers keep Emmanuel Sanders or Jerricho Cotchery? Or both?
And if you’re keeping track at home, that leaves the Steelers very thin at the wide receiver position, granted still left with Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.
The depth chart is as follows at WR:
1-Antonio Brown (entering his 5th season)
2-Markus Wheaton (entering his second year)
3-Derek Moye (entering his third season)
That’s not a whole lot of experience at all.
We all know that Brown can produce, but we have seen very little of Wheaton and Moye.
The good news is that Wheaton seems motivated to have a “Mike Wallace-like” breakout sophomore season, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. And he is coming off an injury suffered last preseason.
Moye is a big target out of Penn State, but is so far unproven catching only two balls last year, one for a touchdown.
So, what can the Steelers do?
As far as free agency is concerned, most of the big names are off the market with only names like Santonio Holmes, Sidney Rice and Miles Austin among others still looking for work.
Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the Steelers will pursue any free agent WRs, but it might not be a terrible idea to sign a solid veteran that can still be productive while their younger players grow.
As far as drafting a WR, sitting at 15 is a great place to snatch up the highly touted Mike Evans from Texas A&M, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out as this year’s WR class is a deep one.
But even then, no matter how talented, they’ll still be rookies.
Right now, I’d say WR is priority No. 1 for the Steelers. We don’t want to waste the prime years that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has left, right?
The Steelers may have some work to do at the linebacker position as well following recent free agent events.
Veteran LaMarr Woodley was released and signed with Oakland while the Steelers placed the transition tag on the younger, less injured Jason Worilds.
As long as nothing goes wrong there, the Steelers are looking at thier starting LBs to be:
OLB: Jarvis Jones (entering second season) / Chris Carter (entering fourth season)
ILB: Lawrence Timmons (entering eighth season)
ILB: Vince Williams (entering second season)
OLB: Jason Worilds (entering fifth season)
Timmons is really the only mainstay from a dominate linebacking corp of the perennial playoff teams the Steelers fielded only a few years ago.
Worilds had a breakout 2013 season recording eight sacks and two forced fumbles, but last season was his first season with that kind of productivity (which came from increased playing time, surely).
Vince Williams played valiantly in his rookie season, but again, he’s still young and it’s unknown if he can keep up that style of play.
Jones, last year’s first-round pick, did not live up to expectations, but the ceiling is still very high for the second year OLB out of Georgia who led the nation in sacks in his last season as a Bulldog.
The Steelers have faith that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and linebackers coach Keith Butler can get this group to play well, and I believe that talent is there to do that.
Signing Worilds (for real) should be the top priority, but there shouldn’t be too much focus placed on this position in the draft.
However, former Steeler great James Harrison, who was recently cut by the Bengals, has expressed interest in rejoining the team, which may give the Steelers a nice passing-downs pass rusher to spell the starters. It will be interesting to keep an eye on that, for sure.
Defensive line where’d you go?
The Steelers lost big nose tackle Al Woods, defensive end Ziggy Hood and are still unsure about DE Brett Keisel’s future with the team.
That leaves Pittsburgh with:
DE: Cam Heyward (entering fourth season)
NT: Steve McLendon (entering fifth season)
DE: Brian Arnfelt (entering second season)
The Steelers second priority should be addressing the defensive line.
Arnfelt did not see the field in his rookie year and McLendon is no Casey Hampton.
However, Cam Heyward was an animal last season and has finally seemed to have grasped the NFL game. He’s a blossoming star.
Now, while McLendon is no Casey Hampton, the Steelers did go out and sign Cam Thomas from San Diego who is a big body with tremendous upside at the nose tackle position. Keep an eye on him.
As for Keisel, the Steelers should really consider signing him to a large contract or anything more than the minimum if he wants to stay.
I believe the Steelers learned their lesson in being “too” loyal to their star players, like signing Ike Taylor instead of keeping the younger, better Keenan Lewis.
Retaining Worilds and letting Woodley go is a great first step.
And the Steelers had another opportunity with Sanders over Cotchery, but that really didn’t work out.
Good for Ike Taylor (and Antonio Brown) for restructuring their contracts to save the team money, but signing star safety Troy Polamalu to three more years turned some heads. Luckily it wasn’t for that much money.
Letting Ryan Clark walk and signing Mike Mitchell from the Carolina Panthers was a great move to get younger, too.
But have the Steelers done too little this offseason so far?
They are never big players in free agency, but this year it just seems a little different.
The team is too thin at too many positions.
The draft is of the utmost importance this year more than ever for the Steelers.
And luckily they won’t be down a draft pick.
Ah, remember that? When head coach Mike Tomlin was on the field during a kick off return by Raven’s returner Jacoby Jones and he got in the way? The NFL was considering penalizing the Steelers with losing a draft pick for that little gaffe, but news across the wire is that the Steelers will not be charged that draft pick.
Which is great news, considering they need every resource available to them to be ready and competitive for the 2014-15 season.