If I could characterize the events of the 2014 Free Agency thus far, I would characterize it as an Arms race between NFL Superpowers.
From the get go, it appears that the NFL's best teams have only gotten better. Of course championships are never won on paper, but then again it has never hurt to look like a winner.
The Denver Broncos, fresh off a trip to the Superbowl, have thrown their chequebook wide open. The combined signings of Aquib Talib, Demarcus Ware and T J Ward amount to $60 million in guaranteed money, and $110 million over 13 years.
In the space of three days, the AFC's best team added three Pro Bowl level talents at positions where it was needed most. The Broncos secondary was routinely picked on last season, so it as a good thing they have added one of the best CB's in the NFL as well as one of the best run-stopping safeties in the game. In addition, they have combined the pass rushing abilities of Demarcus Ware with a soon-to-be healthy Von Miller, which must surely be considered illegal.
The AFC's premiere superpower managed to add three of the very top ranked players in free agency, and if that seems a little unfair that's because it probably is.
Not to be outdone, the AFC's second best team, The Patriots, added one of the top two Cornerbacks in the NFL to a team that reached the AFC championship game last season. Although they lost the services of the aforementioned Talib, this must still be seen as a huge addition of talent, as Darelle Revis is seen by some as the premiere Cornerback in the business.
Over in the NFC (West) the two Superpowers that are the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers are laying mostly dormant. Both teams have cut a couple of high paid veterans, and the Seahawks resigned Defesnive End Michael Bennet, but for the most part they are standing still.
This is because both teams done their munitions shopping last year. In 2013 The Seahawks added Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett via Free Agency and traded for Percy Harvin. The 49ers were mostly content to stay with their core group, but traded for Wide Receiver Anquan Boldin, and may still look to improve their receiving corps in Free Agency this year.
The cores of both teams, established last season, more or less remains intact and ready to make another run at the Super Bowl.
However another perennial NFC contender was not so stagnant. The Saints, presumed to be right up against the salary cap wall, managed to add a player widely regarded as one of the best available in Free Agency, Jarius Byrd. The 6 year $54 million dollar contract locks up the services of the 3x All Pro and adds a very talented playmaker to the back end of an improving Saints defense. How the Saints pulled this one off I really don't know, but a team that was in the divisional round of the play-offs last year has added a very valuable piece to their team.
So where does this leave the Steelers? Well, even as I type the picture of the 2014 Steelers as legitimate contenders seems to get blurrier and blurrier. Whilst the two best teams in the AFC last year are actively winning Free Agency this year, the Steelers may actually be losing.
Yes they signed Safety Mike Mitchell, which could very well prove to be a great addition, but he is only one man on a team with a plethora of needs. In fact, those needs only continue to grow as Free Agency progresses. The departure of both Ziggy Hood and Al Woods has left some glaring depth along the defensive line, not to mention the Steelers absent one starter. They may have not been the players to place in a trophy cabinet, but they were at the very least warm bodies who were familiar with the defense. The Steelers are now challenged with finding a suitable replacement at defensive end who is of a good enough quality to start, and that kind of Free Agent is rare at the best of times , but especially when you are effectively bargain shopping.
Bottom line, the Steelers are losing the Arms race, and by quite a wide margin. It is very unlikely any signing they can make now would help draw them closer to the level that the Broncos and Seahawks are on. In reality the Broncos, already the better team, have added three All Pro level talents. The Steelers have added a Safety who has one good year and a boatload of promise.
For the Steelers to compete at the highest level next season, it would require a host of young talent such as Jarvis Jones, Mike Adams, kelvin Beachum, Vince Williams, Shamarko Thomas and Marcus Wheaton to break out and make huge ,significant improvements. It would also require the Steelers to sign players from what are essentially the dregs and cast-offs of the Free Agent market and mold them into effective starters/contributors in one off-season. Now that seems rather unlikely does it not?
Again, championships are never won on paper, winning in Free Agency does not equate to winning during the season and a whole stream of other clichés, but it's never hurt to have the look of a winner.
To continue the military metaphor, there is plenty to be said for the Steelers not sacrificing the war (long-term success) just to win the battle (next season) , but as it stands the Steelers are heading toward the NFL draft completely out-gunned in relation to the NFL's Superpowers.