The Pittsburgh Steelers have 21 players who will be unrestricted free agents when their currents contracts expire March 21, so management has quite a few decisions to make before the roster is set.
Here is a position-by-position look at the current players and what could occur during the upcoming months. This second story looks at the running backs.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers backfield was influx at the beginning of this past season, as Jonathan Dwyer was cut and then re-signed and veteran Felix Jones was signed to hold the fort while rookie second-round pick Le'Veon Bell returned to full health. LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was supposed to be the backup to Bell and a solid third-down back, got the bulk of the carries in the opener until he had a knee injury that knocked him out for the season.
The running backs room might look quite different to open this upcoming season, but one thing is certain. Bell will be the No. 1 back and get the bulk of the carries, and he should after the way he finished. Bell missed the opening three games, but still ran for 860 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 45 passes for an additional 399 yards. His 1,459 yards from scrimmage set a rookie record that lasted four decades. Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris had the club's rookie record set in 1972.
Bell's rookie contract was a four-year, $4,120,600 agreement with a $1,376,800 signing bonus and first-year roster bonus at $97,300. Bell's rookie salary was $405,000. He is scheduled to make $495,000 this coming season, $779,600 in 2015 and $966,900 in 2016. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017, but the Steelers should renegotiate and upgrade him long before then because they are thrilled with Bell so far and expect more in the future.
Dwyer, Jones and Stephens-Howling are all unrestricted free agents. It's unlikely that all three will return. Stephens-Howling appeared to have recovered from knee surgery by the end of the season, so he should be re-signed. Jones didn't do much one way or another. Could be re-signed, but would go for at least the NFL minimum for a six-year veteran at $730,000 annually. It pained Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to bring back Dwyer, so he won't likely be re-signed again.
The two players who got reserve-future contracts are Miguel Maysonet and Alvester Alexander, who was on the Steelers practice squad to end last season. Alexander is small, and Maysonet is well-traveled. He spent parts of the 2013 season on the practice squads of the Washington Redskins, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts. He spent the entire 2013 training camp with the Cleveland Browns. Maysonet originally signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Stony Brook on April 29, 2013, so he already has made the rounds.
Don't be surprised if the Steelers take a running back in the late rounds and most assuredly will sign one or two as undrafted free agents.
Check out the first submission in the series Steelers Roster Projections: Quarterbacks by Dale Grdnic
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