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Steelers News: Le’Veon Bell not considered the top free agent heading into the 2019 season

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Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: Pro Bowl-AFC Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at the NFL.com rankings for the top free agents set to hit the market in March. One thing which was rather surprising, at least to some, was that Le’Veon Bell didn’t top the list.

Let’s get to the news:

Top 25 NFL free agents of 2019: Defenders dominate rankings

By: Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com

The most interesting expected free agent this offseason isn’t on the list below. Nick Foles has a mutual option in his contract that makes it exceedingly likely he will be set free by the Eagles, especially after they declared Monday that Carson Wentz is their quarterback and will remain their quarterback.

Foles would top a group of available quarterbacks, including Teddy Bridgewater, that is likely to grow as teams begin to prune their salary cap before the March spending spree. That’s something to keep in mind when looking at my way-too-early list of the top 25 free agents in 2019. A lot of names will be added to the market because of cuts and plenty of high-profile players (like Jadeveon Clowney) are unlikely to ever make it to free agency because their current teams will use the franchise tag or strike a long-term deal.

That makes this initial list fun to consider, albeit a work in progress. It’s a free-agent crop that is heavy on pass rushers and safeties, while light on offensive linemen, wide receivers and cornerbacks. Chris Wesseling and I will publish our complete Top 101 Free Agents list in February. In the meantime, feel free to irrationally believe your team is going to sign all the players below and solve all of their problems.

1. DeMarcus Lawrence - DE - Cowboys

Don’t worry about his sack number dropping to 10.5. Lawrence backed up his breakout 2017 (14.5 sacks) with another season as a top-five pass rusher, solidifying his place as one of the league’s best players.

2. Le’Veon Bell - RB - Steelers

This ranking isn’t a prediction of how much guaranteed money Bell will earn. It’s a reflection of his status as one of the transcendent players this century at his position -- and the fact that he’s still just 26 years old.

3. Jadeveon Clowney - OLB -Texans

Using the franchise tag to retain Clowney makes too much sense for Houston, even if Clowney won’t be thrilled about it.

4. Grady Jarrett - DT - Falcons

A 25-year-old game-wrecker from the interior who has improved every year. There’s little chance the Falcons will let Jarrett get away.

5. Trey Flowers - DE - Patriots

While Flowers isn’t a prototypical pure pass rusher from the outside, he can do everything well from a variety of positions, the perfect Swiss Army Knife for a modern defense. And he’s already been the most disruptive presence on a Super Bowl championship team.

(Click the link in the headline for more...)

Analysis: Defense improved in 2018, but not enough

By: Dale Lolley, DKPittsburghSports

The Steelers’ 2018 defense was better than the version that ended the 2017 season. That much is unarguable.

Despite running a gauntlet of top quarterbacks in 2018 -- Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, the ChargersPhilip Rivers, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, New England’s Tom Brady and Carolina’s Cam Newton among them -- the Steelers finished sixth in the league in overall defense, including 10th against the pass at 231.1 yards per game.

But there’s also no arguing the defense had its shortcomings.

The Steelers forced just 15 turnovers, which, considering they tied for the league lead with 52 sacks, just doesn’t add up. And while it would have stretches where it looked like a top-notch unit, it also showed a propensity to give up leads late in games. Their 123 points allowed in the fourth quarter ranked 24th in the league.

That helped add up to a defense that, overall, tied for 16th in the league in points allowed, too many for a unit ranked in the top 10 in both run and pass defense.

So what were the Steelers lacking? And does it matter anyway? Of the remaining four teams in the conference title games, the best defense belongs to New Orleans (14th). Meanwhile, all four teams were top eight in offense.

So it’s not necessarily great defense but playmakers, short and simple, that are missing. There are solid pieces on the defense. The starting defensive line of Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Javon Hargrave was one of the best in the league, helping hold opponents to 96.1 yards per game rushing — sixth in the league — while also combining for 20 sacks.

And outside linebacker T.J. Watt and corner Joe Haden are among the best in the league at their respective positions, even if neither was honored with a Pro Bowl nod this season.

(Click the link in the headline for more...)

VIDEO: Stephen A. Smith wonders why Ben Roethlisberger isn’t criticized like Antonio Brown

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VIDEO: Potential landing spots for Antonio Brown in 2019

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