If Alex Carrington signs elsewhere, and if the Steelers aren't interested in signing a 35-year-old player who reportedly said he'd rather retire than play for the league minimum of $955,000 (a bizarre thought, I know), the Steelers likely will have to lean on the youth of the team.
Undrafted rookie in 2013 Brian Arnfelt and 7th round pick Nick Williams are still with the team, but in the absence of a long-term signing at the defensive end position, it will have to remain an option to target within the firs two rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft in May.
I stick by the idea of a team not drafting a position, but a player. But the position has to be justifiable. Rule out all players not worthy of the 15th pick (or a general range of a mid-first-round pick), break them down by position from that point.
Cornerback has to be a target along with defensive end, and that second round pick will appear to be just as crucial as the first for a team that's trying to improve upon a few decade-low statistical achievements. They had among the worst run defense they've had in 20 years, and they had 32 sacks, the lowest mark in 22 years.
A building block defensive end will help with that, as will a solid cornerback. The addition of safety Mike Mitchell will help against both the pass and the run (as well as the addition by subtraction of Ryan Clark), but this is still a defense that doesn't have a sense of itself through the 2-year and 3-year lens.
Cameron Heyward is an emerging star in the league, but does not have a long-term contract. Cortez Allen showed plenty of potential over the last two seasons, but faltered quite a bit in his first starting season. He also does not have a long-term contract. William Gay is a free agent in 2016.
Defensive end as well as nose tackle fits right along with that.
The Steelers are not yet done with Carrington, who played with the Bills in 2013 but missed most of the season with a quadriceps injury. But whether they sign him or not, don't be surprised if the Steelers start taking another really hard look at the potential abilities of both Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt - two players who's Combine performances didn't exactly help them, and Hageman's mediocre Senior Bowl turned some off in terms of evaluating him as a top 15 pick.