We are oh so close to one of the most fun times to be an NFL fan: the start of free agency.
While players like Derek Carr have already switched allegiances, the legal tampering period officially begins Monday at 12 p.m. ET. As usual, expect quick fireworks with teams zeroing in on big names and offering heaps of cash.
Although there aren’t a ton of bonafide elite players set to hit the open market, the available pool received some additional waves in light of teams trying to create cap space in the last few days and weeks. The Steelers themselves will likely have to do some additional maneuvering — in addition to cutting recently acquired corner William Jackson III — given they only have $10 million in cap space, per Over the Cap.
Even as it stands, Pittsburgh should be able to bolster its roster with some relatively inexpensive players to fill holes before the Draft in late April. Below is a list of players recently let go of that makes sense for Omar Khan to explore adding to his roster.
Eric Kendricks, LB
With neither Devin Bush or Robert Spillane currently under contract, that leaves Myles Jack as the only inside linebacker on the Steelers’ roster. It seems probable that Spillane will be retained, but even then, Pittsburgh needs reinforcing in the second level of its defense.
Draft pundits have pegged Pick 32 as a possible spot for the Steelers to draft an ILB; that certainly aligns with the lack of a young, elite linebacker. However, don’t discount the idea of signing a veteran on a short-term deal, much like the franchise did with Myles Jack last offseason.
Kendricks is definitely a player that could provide an upgrade to a weak inside linebacker corps. In the last two seasons, the former Viking played a combined 32 games, notching two interceptions, 10 pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, six sacks and 16 tackles for loss. That’s the type of impact Mike Tomlin is craving from an ILB.
At the same time, Kendricks is 31 and has not posted a season with a PFF grade above 61 since 2020; he was especially liable in coverage, earning a 46.4 mark. If younger options such as Tremaine Edmunds, Germaine Pratt or T.J. Edwards fall through, Kendricks could be good insurance at the right price.
Donovan Smith, OT
Smith struggled pretty mightily last year, committing 12 penalties — tied for fifth among all offensive linemen in football — while playing only 13 games for the Buccaneers. However, it is worth noting that Smith mentioned he was dealing with “personal” matters.
It would have been hard to fathom Tampa Bay moving on from Smith before this year: he posted three straight campaigns with a PFF grade north of 70, including a career-best 83.3 grade in 2021. Still yet to turn 30, Smith might make sense heading back to Pennsylvania, where he played college.
As Dan Moore Jr. enters his third season, questions linger about his consistency and ceiling; it’s no coincidence that experts continue to project the Steelers to take a tackle high, possibly at Pick 17. If that doesn’t occur, though, Smith could be a low-risk, high-reward add to create a battle to protect Kenny Pickett’s blindside.
Though Smith signed a two-year, $31 million extension with the Bucs, it’s tough to imagine him making similar money as he seeks to rebound in 2023 and beyond. Don’t be stunned if the Steelers express interest in the veteran.
Gabe Jackson, OG
After playing 31 games in Seattle the last two seasons, the soon-to-be 32-year-old Jackson is now able to pick any team he wants. While Pittsburgh’s offensive line jelled as the 2022 season progressed, the team will likely explore upgrades along its left side, including at left guard, in light of inconsistencies from Kevin Dotson. Consequently, Jackson may make sense.
Though Jackson hasn’t played LG since his first two seasons in the NFL (2014-15), he could offer solid depth, if not competition for Dotson. This move might be appealing if the Steelers feel more inclined to bolster their tackles in the draft, as opposed to the interior line play.
Cam Dantzler, CB
It was a bit surprising to see the Vikings move on from Dantzler by releasing the 24-year-old. Granted, Minnesota did just hire former Steelers defensive assistant Brian Flores to be its new defensive coordinator, but both Patrick Peterson and Duke Shelley are free agents; cornerback isn’t exactly a luxury for the team right now.
Regardless, Dantzler should have interest from teams, and the Steelers may be one of them. The former Mississippi State Bulldog had two solid years to begin his NFL career but played just 505 snaps in 2022 because of a lingering ankle injury.
The Steelers took a (non-literal) waiver on Ahkello Witherspoon by trading for the 26-year-old in 2021, and the team may explore a similar approach with Dantzler. In fact, there would be little downside to producing a deal given Dantzler’s age and Pittsburgh’s need for cornerbacks.
Graham Glasgow, OG
Glasgow, who played for the Broncos for the last four seasons, is somewhat similar to Mason Cole: a veteran who can play center or guard. That type of versatility is always coveted, especially when a team is trying to fortify its offensive line.
Similar to Jackson, Glasgow has not suited up at left guard — likely his most probable fit on the Steelers’ offensive line — since 2016-17, his initial two years as a pro. But, the soon-to-be 31-year-old could still be a sound player in the mix or as a backup, especially if on a rather cheap and short deal.
Shaquill Griffin, CB
When Griffin inked a three-year, $40M deal with the Jaguars two offseasons ago, it seemed as if Jacksonville had landed a premier cornerback that would stay in Duval County for years. However, the two sides have already broken matters off before the contract ran its course.
Griffin only played in five games last year, but he tallied four pass deflections and three tackles for loss in 2022. Just 27, the former third-round pick could provide insurance in case the Steelers aren’t able to come to terms with Cam Sutton, who figures to be in line for a major payday.
While Griffin probably isn’t a true No. 1 corner, he still holds value in deepening a weak Pittsburgh cornerback room. On top of that, the veteran could help mentor a rookie, assuming the Steelers select one in April.
Ronald Darby, CB
Darby is in a similar situation to Griffin, having only played in five contests last season and being cut by the Broncos. Even at 29, he still seems to have some decent years of football ahead.
Despite last playing a full season in 2020, Darby has continued to post solid run defense grades, albeit in smaller sample sizes. The journeyman — having been on the Broncos, Washington Football Team and Eagles in the last four seasons alone — also has experience in multiple systems and against some of the game’s premier receivers. Those sentiments of leadership would apply, even if he became a No. 2 or No. 3 corner in the Steel City.
Darby signed a one-year, $3 million deal with Washington in 2020; the year before, he garnered a one-year, $6.5M contract with the Eagles. Expect Darby to agree to terms on another short, prove-it situation for a similar amount of money — frameworks which could fit the Steelers’ interests.
Bud Dupree, OLB
This is the name you were probably waiting for.
Ever since news came out on March 6 that the Titans were planning to cut Dupree, Steelers fans have been clamoring for a reunion.
The fit does make some sense given that Pittsburgh needs more edge rushing depth. However, Dupree has just seven sacks in the last two seasons and did not exceed 30 pressures in either campaign. Plus, he’s on the wrong side of 30.
Then again, Dupree has familiarity with Tomlin and the organization, given he played in the 412 for six seasons. Assuming Dupree signs a much less expensive deal than his five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Titans, it would be a fun story to see him return. Yet, the Steelers will likely still have to extend Alex Highsmith, and it remains to be seen if Dupree would be willing to be relegated to more of a backup role.