Through two preseason games, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be struggling to find answers to problems at a number of key positions. The free-agent market has been picked clean and there are few names currently available who would represent upgrades over the options the Steelers already have on their roster. But come September 1, this circumstance is all set to change with the release of 1,184 names across the league.
Most of the players let go in the final round of cuts will be undrafted rookies and fringe NFL talent but, traditionally, there always have been a handful of veterans released who can still offer some value to the right team. While there once was a time when it would have seemed ridiculous to suggest Pittsburgh might be seeking players in this last-minute free agency, the Steelers have been one of the more active teams in the league at this point in the year over the past three seasons.
Teams with more highly regarded players on their rosters which they intend to release will first see if those players have any trade value in the days before the deadline for making cuts. Pittsburgh has not been averse to giving up future draft picks if necessary to acquire a player they believe could improve their roster.
Just days before the start of the 2017 regular season, the front office agreed to trade with the San Francisco 49ers for the rights to Vance McDonald and also with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for J.J. Wilcox. Sandwiched in between those two trades was the signing of Joe Haden after he was cut by the Cleveland Browns. McDonald and Haden were signed to be starters, while Wilcox was expected to be a significant contributor as a backup safety and special teams player.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger and cornerback Justin Gilbert were the last minute additions in 2016, with Mettenberger signed off of waivers from the Tennessee Titans and Justin Gilbert acquired via trade with the Browns. Cornerback Ross Cockrell and running back Jordan Todman joined the Steelers well after their fifth preseason game of 2015, and a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars for Josh Scobee was completed only days before their final preseason game of that year.
Although it’s hard to predict which names might be on the chopping block in the coming weeks, players like New Orleans Saints linebacker Manti Teo and Indianapolis Colts linebacker John Simon are potential roster-bubble candidates with their respective clubs who could add some value as depth signings. If the team is looking to add another tight end to the roster, there’s a chance that options such as Maxx Williams of the Baltimore Ravens or Nick O’Leary of the Buffalo Bills could become available in the next few weeks.
Several close battles at punter are also being fought out across the league, so there might be value for the Steelers in examining the potential of those who fail to win their respective contests. The Cleveland Browns have an interesting fight going on between Britt Colquitt and Justin Vogel, while the Houston Texans appear still undecided between the veteran Shane Lechler and the talented, undrafted rookie free agent Trevor Daniel — each of whom might represent an upgrade over Jordan Berry.
The Steelers’ big splash in this cut-down free agency period last year was made possible by a significant amount of cap room at the time, and it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh has far less salary cap space to play with in 2018. With just under $4 million currently available, funds are tight, but there’s always the option of restructuring one or two existing contracts to create the required space.