On paper the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason was extremely mundane. The only free agent acquisition was former Carolina Panthers veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, the team had a solid draft class in the 2015 NFL Draft and fans shouldn't forget re-signing Ben Roethlisberger to the list of accolades this offseason. When analyzing the team's offseason, ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler gave the Steelers a B+ grade.
Take a look at Fowler's justification for his grade:
Best move: Signing running back DeAngelo Williams to a two-year, $4 million deal. This move had to be made. Le'Veon Bell is missing three games, and the Steelers couldn't open the season with Dri Archer and Josh Harris at running back. Williams has a starter's pedigree and comes to Pittsburgh on a low-risk contract. He can be a reliable early-down option for the Steelers but doesn't have to carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game because the offense is so stocked. Ben Roethlisbergerthrew the ball 38 times a game last season, a career high. Williams still has explosion left, notching 58 rushes of at least 20 yards in 1,432 career carries. The Steelers will need some of that burst, and Williams has assured he can give it. Williams averages less than 20 catches a year as a receiver, so the Steelers would like to see that clip rise while Bell's out.
As great as the Williams signing was for the Steelers, Fowler leaving Roethlisberger's new contract extension out of this equation is leaving out by far the biggest move of the offseason. No one, including the Rooney family, wanted Roethlisberger playing 2015 in the final year of his previous deal, and let's be honest, without Roethlisberger the offense isn't half as dynamic as it is with Roethlisberger under center. Williams was a good signing, but not the best move, in my opinion.
Riskiest move: Pittsburgh eschewed the cornerback market and failed to draft one in the first round of the 2015 draft. The Steelers took Senquez Golson in the second round, and he has a future as the team's slot cover in zone coverage. But the team took pass-rusher Bud Dupree at No. 22 overall over corner Byron Jones, who is athletic and has ideal build for the position. Dupree might be a great pick, but corner was an obvious need that wasn't addressed on the draft's first day or in free agency, where several impact players were available. The Steelers are basically saying "we're good enough" with the maligned-but-talented Cortez Allen, Antwon Blake (one career start) and William Gay. If Allen cleans up his 2014 performance and Blake turns his offseason flashes into success, then they will look smart. But the risk is obvious.
Although the team did choose to not take a cornerback in the first round, Fowler is forgetting how all the great cornerbacks in this year's draft class were gone with the Steelers' name was called in the first round. Add in the fact the team's pass rush needed to be improved as well, and you get the Bud Dupree selection in the draft. Yes, Bryon Jones was still on the board at No. 22, but when Dupree slid to Pittsburgh there was no way the team wasn't going to take him. Other than this fact, it comes down to whether you believe Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin when they say they were targeting Senquez Golson from the start and had him as a second round status on their draft board. Fowler is correct in listing this as the riskiest move, but sometimes the NFL Draft is an enigma in terms of what players are available when it is your turn to pick.
Training camp outlook: The Steelers' biggest questions remain on defense, which must be answered -- can only be answered -- in camp. The offense had the edge for much of offseason workouts, and though a few young players emerged (Blake and Shamarko Thomas, according to teammates), the Steelers need to see who's ready to hit once the pads go on. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones had some good moments in May and June. He should take advantage of the momentum. The offense should feel very good about where it's headed. While the team needs a No. 2 receiver, Bryant and Wheaton both appear ready to fulfill that need. The offensive line wants to lead a top-10 rushing offense.
Fowler's B+ grade seems to be about par-for-the-course in regards to what the Steelers have done this offseason. Minimal moves in free agency, smart drafting and hoping veteran players elevate their game is what the Steelers do, and this offseason was no different. This offseason set the team up for success, the question now is whether the team will be able to deliver. Only time will tell, but training camp can't get here soon enough.