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2023 NFL Free Agency: Grading the Steelers Free Agent additions

Jeremy Betz and Andrew Wilbar, hosts of The Steelers Fix podcast, hand out the Steelers Free Agency report card.

NFL: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have not been idle throughout the first waves of Free Agency. With several former players on the move to their next opportunities with other franchises, the Steelers had holes to fill and have been busy doing so for the last couple weeks.

The plan so far has been clear: get more physical up front on both sides of the ball. Secondary to that has been the obvious desire to add cerebral players with leadership qualities and high football IQs who are hungry and ready to make a mark for their new squad.

Andrew Wilbar and I broke down the team’s Free Agent acquisitions on the latest episode of The Steelers Fix podcast, handing out grades for each new addition to the team. As a whole, we are excited about the direction the Steelers appear to be headed with the NFL Draft looming, but we did have a couple different takes on the new signings. Let’s dive into our grades for the newest members of Steelers Nation.

NOTE: Since the drafting of this article, the Steelers have also signed OT Le’Raven Clark to a one-year deal. Clark provides solid depth at the swing tackle position and is another solid addition for the Steelers new front office. Please click here for more about this signing.

Cole Holcomb, ILB

Previous Team: Washington
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 240
Age: 26

Jeremy’s Grade: B

Holcomb comes to Pittsburgh as an experienced linebacker who plays with a physicality and aggression the Steelers will love. “Flow” Holcomb, as I like to call him, is a thumper in the run game and does a good job working through blocks to attack runners in the hole. He as enough range to handle coverage duties, although he struggled finishing plays in that regard in Washington, so here’s hoping a change of scheme and coaching can help him improve in that area. Overall, I like the signing as an upgrade over the cast of characters the Steelers employed at ILB last year.

Andrew’s Grade: B

A change in scenery and scheme may be exactly what Holcomb needs to improve his consistency in coverage, as that is the main flaw in his game. Overall, I think this is a better signing than any of the Steelers’ recent free agent signings at linebacker (i.e. Mark Barron, Jon Bostic, Avery Williamson, Joe Schobert, Myles Jack), as Holcomb can be the true signal-caller for the defense.

Elandon Roberts, ILB

Previous Team: Miami
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 238
Age: 28

Jeremy’s Grade: C+

Adding another downhill thumper in Roberts shows the team is looking for a change in play-style and scheme for it’s second level defenders. The departure from athletic sideline-to-sideline ‘backers is a bit of a surprise to me, thus my “meh” grade, but if you believe in the defensive staff the Steelers have put together, it could turn out really nice for a team in transition on defense. This signing coupled with the release of Myles Jack was the second sign that the Steelers were changing things up big time on the defensive side of the ball. We’ll talk about the first sign next.

Andrew’s Grade: B

The only reason I consider this a solid signing is because of the miniscule amount of risk. He is not likely to be an every-down linebacker, and his ability as an early-down run defender and blitzer may be exactly what the Steelers have been lacking at the position.

Patrick Peterson, CB

Previous Team: Minnesota
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 198
Age: 32

Jeremy’s Grade: D+

Before you block me on all platforms, hear me out. I love the player. Pat Pete is a guy you want on your team from a leadership and experience standpoint. He’s one of the best cover-men to ever play the game. He’ll be an awesome mentor for a rookie CB draft pick. However, the signing pigeonholes the Steelers into very specific looks on defense in 2023 in my opinion, with Peterson at a point in his career where zone coverage schemes that allow him to read quarterbacks and make plays on the ball are really the only coverages he is comfortable with. You lose a lot of versatility replacing the incumbent Cam Sutton with Peterson. Again, if you believe the Steelers defensive staff can make it work, it might turn out alright. But my initial reaction is one of angst for a team that had really turned into a mix-and-match unit as far as coverages go. You won’t be able to do that easily now in 2023.

Andrew’s Grade: A-

Not every one on your team can be under the age of 30. I realize why some may be hesitant about the move due to age, but Peterson is still playing at a high level, and he is the perfect vet to have in the building as the team presumptuously drafts their future CB1 early in the draft. He is not as fast as he once was, but in all fairness, Cameron Sutton was never the most athletic dude. The Steelers are not really losing any athleticism making this move, and they are gaining the knowledge, instincts, and experience of one of the best cornerbacks in the league over the past decade.

Isaac Seumalo, OG

Previous Team: Philadelphia
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 303
Age: 29

Jeremy’s Grade: A

This is my favorite signing of Free Agency so far. Seumalo is the guy I didn’t think the Steelers could get along the OL, and yet they scored a guard who excels in both phases as a blocker. On the surface, he can provide an anchor of stability for the left side of that line which struggled for a good portion of 2022 (see Andrew’s note about his versatility). He makes everybody better. Way to get it done, Omar Khan and Andy Weidl!

Andrew’s Grade: A+

Cameron Heyward in the face, Troy Polamalu for the hair! Pittsburgh is going to love this lineman as he plays with a nastiness and tenacity that embodies the Steel City. One of the better all-around guards in the NFL, I could see him sliding in at right guard, allowing James Daniels to slide over to his more natural position on the left side.

Nate Herbig, OG

Previous Team: NY Jets
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 334
Age: 24

Jeremy’s Grade: B+

Really liked this signing in the moment as competition at left guard for Kevin Dotson, but I like it even more now knowing he’s likely your top depth option along the interior. The hulking Herbig is the definition of people-mover, and he’ll make an impact on the Steelers ground game in 2023.

Andrew’s Grade: B+

This isn’t the fanciest signing in the world, but Herbig is an excellent depth option at guard. A true mauler at the position, Herbig has definitely put Kendrick Green on the roster bubble.

Which additions did you like or dislike? What other signings would you like to see the team make? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.