By now it’s no secret that the Steelers need to make a strong push to resign Ike Taylor, and depending on how the new CBA works out they may also need to worry about resigning LaMarr Woodley and Willie Colon too. But I’m not here to talk about that. Those issues have been talked about to death. This also won’t be an argument in favor of why the Steelers should sign former Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Well all know that’s never going to happen. The Steelers don’t shell out big bucks on high-priced free agents, it’s just not their style, but they do sign the occasional free agent to fill out the roster, especially ones they think may contribute as starters at some point.
Looking over the free agent landscape, and comparing it to the Steelers needs, I can see three realistic possibilities that they should consider depending on how everything shakes out. Below the jump I’ll deluge into breaking down the need and the player I think could fit in well.
Why there's a need
This one is obvious. The Steelers bane for much of the 2010 season was the lack of talent behind Ike Taylor. That’s why they went out and drafted Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen in the draft. Willie Gay gives Steelers fan ulcers and Bryant McFadden was injured for what seemed like the entire season. Heading into 2011 it’s likely that Willie Gay will be gone, God willing, and Taylor may not be far behind him. Fingers-crossed we’ll resign him but if not then Steelers Nation is in some serious trouble. All that’s left is McFadden and a group of unproven youngsters. If they do manage to resign Taylor then there’s really no reason to tread into the free agent pool for a cornerback but if not the Steelers will need to act fast.
29 years old (30 in July)
It looks like Rogers has played his last down in Washington. They are contract-committed to DeAngelo Hall and they have Kevin Barnes ready to take Rogers’ spot on the team. And as always I’m sure that owner Dan Snyder is going to make a push for the best (highest priced) free agent on the market which just happens to be Nnamdi Asomugha. Now personally I’ve always been a fan of Rogers, he’s not flashy but very solid. I think the fact that he doesn’t get a lot of interceptions, like Ike, is why he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He’s still a solid cover corner with above-average skills defending the run. Now he does turn 30 years old this summer but that’s still a year younger than Ike Taylor and he would bridge the gap for now until Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen, Keenan Lewis, or Crezdon Butler is ready to step into the number one roll. Even though the talent level and value between Taylor and Rogers are comparable they are on different sides of the free agency fence. Whereas Taylor has seen much success and is now looking to cash in, Rogers has been stuck in mediocrity while earning a very nice paycheck. Obviously I hope the Steelers resign Taylor but if not then they should be able to get Rogers on the cheap, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 years/$15 million dollars. At an average of 5mil per year, which will probably be front-loaded, it would be the smart choice.
Why there's a need
If cornerback issues were the bane of the Steelers 2010 season then their offensive line woes were downright murderous. Starting with the ’05 and ’06 seasons when Jeff Hartings retired and we waved goodbye to Alan Faneca via free agency the offensive line has been on a steady decline. Look at these numbers; 46, 47, 46, 50, those are the number of times that Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked between the ’06 to ’09 seasons. I left out 2010 only because he missed the first four games due to his suspension. Max Starks and Willie Colon are both coming off of season ending injuries and depending on how the CBA shakes out we could lose Colon to free agency. Flozell Adams will be there for insurance this upcoming season, but at 36 years old how much can he really be counted on? At guard Chris Kemoeatu can be great in one game and crap in another, but he’s a bright spot compared to the other guard position. We’ve seen a revolving door of subpar performances from the likes of Trai Essex, Ramon Foster, and Doug Legursky. While they all hold some value as decent back-ups none of them should be starters. The emergence of rookie sensation Maurkice Pouncey last season it seems that the center position is the only position that doesn’t need to be addressed.
30 years old
The Redskins cut Dockery only two years into a 5 year/26 million dollar contract because he was injured much of the 2010 season and he was a poor fit for Mike Shanahan’s offensive blocking scheme. That down year means that the Steelers should be able to get him on the cheap. Throughout his career he’s played for the Redskins twice and the Bills so I’m sure he would love to come and play for a winner. He also has some experience playing right tackle as well so his versatility would be an attractive option to Tomlin and Colbert. He has above average pass-blocking skills and really excels against the run. Depending on how everything shakes out free agency wise the Steelers should definitely give him some consideration. They draft two linemen but as the 2010 season showed you can never have enough quality players. Because of the down season, and the fact that free agent market is loaded with younger guards, it’s realistic to think that the Steelers could sign Dockery to a deal for about 3 years/6-8 millions dollars.
Why there's a need
Of the needs listed above this one isn’t as prevalent. Casey Hampton is still a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the defensive line. However his play has dipped somewhat and he will be 34 years old by the start of the upcoming season. His back up Chris Hoke is 35 years old and currently a free agent. While he’s been a solid contributor to the defense it’s time to start getting younger at the position. While the Steelers have made some exceptions, i.e. James Farrior and James Harrison, they typically do not resign free agents who are that old even though Hoke’s contract would be minimal.
26 years old
To this point Branch’s career has been a disappointment. Taken 33rd overall in the 2007 NFL draft he’s never taken hold of the nose tackle position, which is why the Cards took Dan Williams in the first round of the 2010 draft. He’s battled weight and injury issues during his career and a change of scenery could do him some good. Being in a winning atmosphere with lots of veteran leadership could help Branch turn his career around. With all the former players Coach Whiz has taken from the Burgh it would only be fitting that the Steelers take one from then. Given his age, probable minimal cost, and a replacement being needed for Chris Hoke I think signing Branch would make the most sense. To this point he’s been a career back-up and could probably be had at the low-low cost of 3 years/2-4 millions dollars.