Arthur Moats has bounced between defensive coordinators and positions like a ping pong ball. Edge player in college, outside linebacker and mike linebacker in the pros, his signature catch-phrase "Don't Cross The Moats" seems more like "The Moats Crosses Over Frequently."
In San Diego, recent Steelers free agent signing Cam Thomas was a nose tackle in his four years there, having earned the starting role, only to lose it later in the season. San Diego was not interested in his return.
The big name free agent, Mike Mitchell, was a safety of some kind when Oakland shocked the draft world by selecting him in the second round. Playing on a team of some kind, it stands to reason why he didn't have much success. He left Oakland, signed as a reserve in Carolina and, filling in for injury, he had an outstanding 2013 season.
What's the point?
All three of them could be starting on the Steelers' defense next year, all three are 26 or 27 years of age, and all three of them, to some extent, would be playing something of a new position in their time in Pittsburgh (if Moats signs).
So much for continuity of system.
All three of them stand out in their own accord; Thomas's size and strength, Mitchell's ceiling and aggressiveness and Moats' character and position versatility.Their highest and best use, collectively, are not position-specific as much as they are organic and fundamentally-based for the sport of football.
The Steelers have been dogged over the last two years for being old and slow. They've gotten younger with Thomas and Mitchell, look to get better with Moats and improve in other areas this defense lacked the last two seasons.
And the Steelers will barely have spent much money in doing it. Thomas got what's basically a Prove It deal; play well this season, there's $2 million there for you next year. Fail to prove it, and the Steelers can walk away without affecting the 2015 salary cap. Some might say that's also a What If contract, giving the Steelers motivation to nab a nose tackle in the upcoming draft.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has said Thomas was signed to play defensive end, a change from the nose tackle he's been playing in San Diego. He'll likely get work at both, but the Steelers don't have any experience at the defensive end position currently, outside of Cameron Heyward.
Mitchell received the largest contract, 5-years, $25 million, but $15 million of that is due in the form of salary in years 2016-18, and he received a $4.75 million signing bonus. He also has a $2 million roster bonus for next season, meaning, like Thomas, the team can cut him and save on the bulk of the deal while taking minimal cap loss - however unlikely that scenario might be.
He's played free safety before, but in a 4-3 defense. He played strong safety in Oakland's 3-4 during some of the time he was there. While not drastically different, having four linebackers in front of you in a base defense is a bit different for the free safety.
Moats, as of Monday morning, has not signed with the team and is reportedly visiting today. He's a high character guy, having won both Buffalo's Walter Payton Man of the Year award and the franchise's Ed Block Courage award over the last two seasons. He's a downhill-attacking player, who looks to be a good fit as an early-downs inside linebacker. He's also played outside in the past (his claim-to-fame is he's the guy who hit Brett Favre, injuring him enough to end his consecutive games streak), but it appears his value would come as an inside linebacker in Pittsburgh (not a guarantee).
In the past, the Steelers won two Super Bowls with the addition of free agent linebacker James Farrior. They won one each with free agent defensive end Kimo Von Oelhoffen and free safety Ryan Clark. Clearly, the franchise has had success with these kinds of signings at these positions in the past. While no one is saying Moats will definitely sign with the Steelers, and certainly not saying he's the next coming of James Farrior, the fact the team is making specific defensive moves for specific defensive players shows they are looking at immediate contributors - something they couldn't really avoid last season when two rookie linebackers were pressed into starting action (Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams).
The right free agent signings can alter the direction of a franchise, not as much in the high-end value that player would bring, but simply through raising their floor. The Steelers got better with the additions of Thomas and Mitchell, and could get a little bit better with the addition of Moats as well.