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The Steelers’ 2023 free agency period is much like last year’s

Out with almost no spending and in with savvy additions.

New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Following free agency has always been a bit of a bittersweet time period as a Steelers fan.

Despite a glut of stars and game-changing talent hitting the open market, Pittsburgh has been notorious for being frugal, not spending its available money. In part, that practice reflected the beliefs of long general manager Kevin Colbert, but it’s also somewhat a characteristic of a franchise that has tended to prefer homegrown talent and bolstering the roster through the draft.

However, everything did an about-face last March.

After years of hardly doling out cash, the Steelers spent $146.405 million during free agency. For context, the number for the offseason before was just $60.02 million. In his final stretch of signings as head executive, Colbert added James Daniels, Larry Ogunjobi, Mason Cole, Myles Jack, Levi Wallace, Mitch Trubisky, Gunner Olszewski and Damontae Kazee. On top of that, the organization re-signed Chuks Okorafor, Ahkello Witherspoon, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Arthur Maulet and Montravious Adams.

In many cases, free agency can simply be a team tossing around accumulated dough, including paying players more than market values may dictate. For the Steelers, that was hardly the case, with no player receiving more than $30 million total over the course of a deal.

Some common themes emerged from Colbert’s last free agency cycle. For one, Pittsburgh did well to fill positions of need, including QB, OC, RG, DL, LB and CB. Signing such players granted the Steelers more freedom entering the draft; the team didn’t even take one offensive lineman, linebacker or corner in 2022.

Moreover, the organization demonstrated a preference for players that have experience yet that were under 30. Contractually, the Steelers further ensured they weren’t committed for extended periods of time, using short-term, backloaded deals with opportunities to make cuts or trades if necessary. On top of that, the Steelers made a concerted effort to keep some of their own talent.

Only a week since the legal tampering period opened — and with a new GM — many of those sentiments have held true in 2023.

In his first offseason at the helm, Omar Khan started rather quietly but then pounced on the market. The Steelers’ first signing, 32-year-old Patrick Peterson, came as a bit of a surprise; even then, Peterson helped bolster a secondary that lost Cam Sutton.

On top of that, PIT overhauled its linebacker room. As top names like Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards and Azeez Al-Shaair were no longer without franchises, Khan settled on two outside targets in Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts. The pair has played a combined 157 games despite neither being older than 28. With Devin Bush and Robert Spillane heading out west, Pittsburgh also cut ties with Myles Jack, meaning the team would have three new ILBs in 2023.

Another major position of attack? Interior offensive line. The Steelers signed Nate Herbig on Tuesday and Isaac Seumalo late Saturday, converting a shaky guard-center-guard triad into a unit with experience, skill and lots of depth. Andy Weidl’s background in Philadelphia, particularly with having an extremely talented and versatile OL, has already carried over in the Steel City.

Khan’s other work thus far included keeping some familiar contributors. The Steelers re-signed Ogunjobi to a three-year, $28.75 million deal to keep the defensive lineman next to Cam Heyward. Also, Kazee inked a contract worth $6 million to roam the Pittsburgh secondary alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Much as the team did in 2022, the Steelers have very precisely approached the market with areas of overhaul in mind: offensive line, linebacker, cornerback, defensive line and safety. With, at minimum, solid pieces at such spots, the team has created flexibility entering late April regarding what it can do with Picks 17, 32 and 49.

Peterson is an elder statesman, but the common thread of experienced yet young veterans proliferated. Herbig is only 24; Holcomb is 26; Ogunjobi and Roberts are 28; and Seumalo is 29.

It’s also worth recognizing that the maximum length of a deal issued by Khan & Co. is three seasons. That element of low salary cap values and low guarantees has continued, too. For instance, Herbig’s cap hit is just $2.5M in 2023, while Roberts is guaranteed only $2.335M.

In both the 2022 and 2023 free agency periods, the Steelers prioritized particular positions of weakness with knowledgeable, rather cheap veterans. While Khan has oriented more toward improving areas that already appeared solid, his approach of bolstering the Steelers’ overall roster through signings is much like his predecessor’s thus far.