NFL free agency will officially begin this Wednesday, March 16, at noon. However, there were a plethora of deals agreed upon throughout the day on Monday, the first day of legal tampering.
The Steelers find themselves in an unusual situation, having enough salary cap space to be participants in the initial wave of free agency signings. The Steelers utilized the unfamiliar scenario to make 3 substantial signings:
- QB Mitch Trubisky
- OT Chukwuma Okorafor
- G/C Mason Cole
There is sure to be numerous articles written about each addition in the next few days, but I wanted to share a few personal observations about each gentleman.
Trubisky had been rumored as a possible free agent target for the Steelers throughout this offseason, and has been on my own personal wish list.
I wanted the Steelers to consider Trubisky for numerous reasons. As an unrestricted free agent, he wouldn't cost the Steelers the valuable draft capital that trading for one of the big name quarterbacks rumored to be available would have cost to obtain.
There were multiple teams who possessed far more established rosters than the Steelers who believed they were a top level quarterback away from competing for a Super Bowl championship, similar to the Los Angeles Rams heading into last season. The Denver Broncos are the latest example, and they went all-in to acquire Russell Wilson. Only time will tell, but you have to admire the moxie.
The Steelers are presently in the middle of a rebuild, and have more needs than they have cap space and draft capital to fill, especially in a single offseason. The sensible plan of attack for the Steelers would be to sign a bridge quarterback capable of adequately filling the position until the Steelers find their next franchise signal caller.
The Steelers may have found their bridge guy in Trubisky, and maybe more. He has first round talent and athleticism, and is reportedly a high character individual, labeled the kind of player you want marrying your daughter, by one NFL General Manager (GM).
The Steelers signed Trubisky to a very team-friendly contract, loaded with incentives, that was actually lower per year than expected. Trubisky mentioned the respect he has for the Rooney family, Mike Tomlin, and the franchise. Sounds like their reputation preceded them favorably.
BTSC's very own draft guru Andrew Wilbar has been singing the praises for Cole as a potential target for the Steelers since the close of the 2021 season.
Cole has a couple of attributes presently lacking for the Steelers at the center position: length and experience.
A former third round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2018 NFL Draft, the 25 year old's pre-draft measurements were a shade over 6'4 and 307, although his arm length was still only 32-1/8", slightly shorter than Kendrick Green's.
Cole has NFL experience at both guard and center during his career with the aforementioned Cardinals and last season with the Minnesota Vikings. He has proven to be functional at both positions, although not exceptional at either.
Cole may turn out to be the type of shrewd free agent signing that every young rebuilding franchise covets. Experienced enough to bring stability to a newly reconstructed unit, but still young enough to continue improving as a professional and growing as a key component of the offense.
Here's an interesting tidbit I stumbled upon when his expected signing was first reported. Cole's NFL comparison in the report was none other than Ryan Jensen, a player who has managed to show steady improvement every year of his professional career, and the free agency object of many Steelers fans’ affections recently.
Maybe Ryan Jensen re-signing with the Buccaneers after learning of Tom Brady's impending return wasn't such a bad thing after all.
Okorafor's re-signing was easily the biggest surprise of the day for yours truly. I honestly believed Okorafor's time with the Black and Gold had mercifully came to an end. I was ready to wish him the best of luck wherever his future endeavors might lead him. I was beyond shocked when those roads led directly back to Pittsburgh. He never even had to pack.
Reportedly, there were a few interested suitors, but Okorafor gave Kevin Colbert a second chance to better those offers, presumably because he wanted to remain with the Steelers. That's great and all, but Okorafor's love and respect for the organization has never been the problem. His physicality and intensity have been huge concerns.
Okorafor was viewed as a raw prospect when he was selected by the Steelers in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Western Michigan, far more athlete than technician. His technique has improved enough that he is considered an adequate pass blocker, bordering on above average on occasion. However, he leaves much to be desired as a run blocker.
He lacks both the physicality and intensity required to excel in that area. Simply put, he lacks any sort of junkyard dog mentality or nasty demeanor.
So why in the world would the Steelers re-sign him, after being all too aware of these shortcomings? I believe that's a two-part answer.
First, I believe that the Steelers still see something in the 24 year old that everyone outside the facility and the practice field fail to see. The Steelers believe his best football is potentially ahead of him, and they don't want to see the time and effort invested in him over the previous four seasons go away, and have someone else reap the benefits.
Second, this could be a not so subtle signal the Steelers are indeed planning on running more outside zone concepts, where the offensive line needs to be more nimble and light on their feet. Okorafor fits that description, and his best attribute as a run blocker is his ability to slide and set the edge.
This year's draft class at tackle is notably deep, but few of the top prospects can match Okorafor's agility, and obviously none of them can match his experience. The problem for the Steelers is the fact that Okorafor lacks the intensity of the top prospects in this class.
Okorafor has the reputation of a nice guy and an upstanding young man, but when you have to repeatedly bang heads with other behemoths along the line of scrimmage, nice guys finish last more often than not.
Although Okorafor is still very young, it's hard to believe his intensity can somehow be coached up or channeled out of him in some way. You either have it or you don't. Hopefully for the Steelers, Okorafor gets meaner as he gets older.