PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers rarely dip into the NFL's free-agent waters, but this year they've made a huge splash.
Not only have the Steelers re-signed six of their own free agents -- safety Will Allen, offensive lineman Guy Whimper, outside linebacker Jason Worilds, long-snapper Greg Warren, offensive lineman Cody Wallace and tight end Michael Palmer -- but they also secured the talents of seven free agents who played for other teams last season. And that's an unprecedented number for the Steelers.
First, the club signed free safety Mike Mitchell. He is expected to start opposite strong safety Troy Polamalu. He and defensive lineman Cam Thomas, along with linebacker Arthur Moats, were brought in to be starters. Thomas was signed to play an end spot, while Moats should start at inside linebacker.
They are cornerback Brice McClain, running back LeGarrette Blount and wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Lance Moore. Blount is a power back to complement starter Le'Veon Bell, while the wideouts replace free-agent losses Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Moats can play inside or outside, while Thomas can play outside or on the nose. McClain can play the slot cornerback spot and on special teams.
Sure, the Steelers helped themselves considerably during the past four weeks, but more work needs to be done during the annual NFL Draft May 8-10. The Steelers should still select a cornerback, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive tackle. The availability of certain players should determine which position gets filled in the first round and which ones follow.
The Steelers could take a cornerback with the 15th overall selection in the first round, such as Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller. Either of these talented players eventually could replace veteran Ike Taylor, who only is signed for this season.
If the Steelers believe their defensive line needs a big boost, and it absolutely does, the club could go with beefy nose tackle Louis Nix from Notre Dame in the No. 15 spot. The Steelers D-line got shoved around more often than not last season and was ineffective. It also lost veteran Brett Keisel and former No. 1 pick and starter Ziggy Hood to free agency, so Thomas was signed to play end opposite Cameron Heyward and alongside nose tackle Steve McLendon, who has not been more than adequate in replacing Casey Hampton.
Even though the Steelers signed two wideouts in free agency, they most assuredly will draft one as well. It's unlikely that player will be selected in the first round, but wideouts such as Mike Evans from Texas A&M and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin would be good choices if available. A second group of receivers includes LSU's Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Fresno State's Davante Adams or Mississippi's Donte Moncrief.
Any of the aforementioned players would make terrific additions to the Steelers and considerably upgrade the roster. They also would provide stability for the future, because only newcomer Mike Mitchell (2018), Antonio Brown (2017), Heath Miller (2016), Troy Polamalu (2016), Lawrence Timmons (2016) and Cody Wallace (2016), as well as the 2013 rookies, are signed past next season.
Several notable players are among the group with expired contacts after this season. They include starters Cortez Allen, Marcus Gilbert, Cameron Heyward, Will Johnson, Maurkice Pouncey, Shaun Suisham, Ike Taylor, Greg Warren and Jason Worilds. New players Brice McCain, Arthur Moats and Darrius Heyward-Bey all signed one-year deals as well.
In the upcoming weeks, Behind the Steel Curtain will look at the Steelers' future contract situations by position, who needs extensions and who will be gone.