At 32-years of age, and just let go from the organization that drafted him, veteran running back DeAngelo Williams was on a mission to find another team and just try to prove to his former team that he still has fuel in the tank. The Carolina Panthers and Williams had an ugly breakup after the team terminated his contract on March 10, 2015.
Williams used this termination letter as a little extra motivation and signed a two-year $4 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers three days after the Panthers released him. This free agent acquisition by the Steelers, in my opinion, was the best in the last five years.
Names such as: Ryan Clark, James Farrior, Kevin Greene, Jeff Hartings and even Kimo Von Oelhoffen top the free agent list over the years. While Williams has only been with the Steelers for two full seasons, there is no way I can put him ahead of Farrior, Clark and Greene, who were all excellent pick ups by the organization.
That is why I want to check out Pittsburgh's free agent acquisitions over the last five seasons (since 2012) and just why Williams tops the list.
FREE AGENCY PICKUPS SINCE 2012:
2012: Plaxico Burress (WR), Leonard Pope (TE), Brandon Johnson (LB)
In 2011, Burress caught 45 receptions for 612 yards and earned eight touchdowns with the New York Jets. The Steelers thought that bringing Burress back to Pittsburgh would provide a spark for the receiving core at the time. He ended up catching three receptions for 42-yards and earned one touchdown. He has not played a down of football since.
Pope played a full 16 games and caught three receptions for 9 yards and earned two touchdowns. He never played a down of football since signing in 2012.
Johnson was a player who was signed to provide linebacker depth. He finished his Steelers career with four total tackles and never played a down of football again.
2013: Bruce Gradkowski (QB), Matt Spaeth (TE), LaRod Stephens-Howling (RB), Fernando Velasco (C), Guy Whimper (G)
Gradkowski was hurt the majority of the time while he was in Pittsburgh. He finished his Steelers career with no regular season statistics other than filling in for Ben Roethlisberger in the 2014 AFC Wild Card against the Baltimore Ravens for several plays.
Spaeth came back in 2013 and was used mainly as a blocking tight end. He finished this second stint with the Steelers with six receptions, 67 yards and two touchdowns over a three season period (2013-2015).
Stephens-Howling looked like a promising player that could be a special teams standout, but he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) at the beginning of the 2013 season. He underwent surgery and never played another down of football.
2014: Mike Mitchell (FS), Cam Thomas (DE), LeGarrette Blount (RB), Brice McCain (CB), Lance Moore (WR), Darrius Heyward- Bey (WR), Arthur Moats (OLB), James Harrison (OLB)
Mitchell was a great free agent pickup. He is the starting free safety on defense and has registered 166 total tackles, 21 pass deflections and four interceptions since coming to the Steel City in 2014.
Thomas didn't do too well in a Steelers uniform. He finished his career in Pittsburgh with a half of a sack and 20 total tackles in two seasons with the team. It looks like in one season with the Los Angeles Rams he was more successful after registering ONE whole SACK compared to the half-sack in Pittsburgh.
At first, many thought the duo of Blount and Bell would be the best in the league. After only getting true playing time against the Carolina Panthers in an absolute dominant performance by the Steelers in week 3, Blount who carried the football 10 times and registered 118 yards with a long of 50 yards, didn't see the field much after that. Against the Tennessee Titans in week 11, Blount headed to the locker room early and was released by the team due to his behavior. He was picked up by the Patriots and won Super Bowl XLIX a few months later.
McCain was a decent cornerback in 2014 but he did end up leaving the following year to sign with the Miami Dolphins. He finished his stint in Pittsburgh with 16 tackles, three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and a fumble recovery.
Moore did not do too well in Pittsburgh. He finished with 198 total yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers drafted Martavis Bryant that year and against the Houston Texans he made his debut. After this game he was utilized more and was a dominant force on offense.
Heyward-Bey is still with the Steelers and is a player that the team can count on when it comes to special teams. He is an excellent special teamer and a fast offensive weapon that can open up the vertical passing attack for Roethlisberger and company.
Moats registered 3.5 sacks and 21 tackles in 2016. He is a backup outside linebacker now and when called upon can contribute and make plays for this defense. His Steelers stats since being signed are quite productive for a depth player. 50 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and five pass deflections.
Harrison retired from the National Football League and returned several weeks into the 2014 regular season. He has been an absolute beast since coming back to the Steel City and has a legitimate case at being one of the best free agent signings since 2012.
2015: DeAngelo Williams (RB), Michael Vick (QB), Jordan Todman (RB), Doug Legursky (C), Chris Boswell (K)
I'll go through more details as to just why Williams is the best free agent acquisition in the wrap-up down below.
Vick was one of those pickups that had many people either excited or truly upset at the organization. The past history of Vick always seems to pop up from time to time. He finished his Steelers career going 40/66 for 371 yards and two touchdowns to one interception; a 79.8 passer rating. Vick is currently a free agent and it doesn't seem like his football career is returning anytime soon.
Todman played one season with the Steelers and in the AFC Wild Card against the Bengals, he carried the ball 11 times for 65 yards and truly stepped up when he was needed the most. He currently is with the Indianapolis Colts and in week 9 of 2016 returned the opening kickoff 99-yards for a touchdown.
Legursky was called upon for depth and was needed as a backup to Cody Wallace since main center Maurkice Pouncey went down with an injury in the preseason. He is currently a free agent.
Man, even Chris Boswell has a case to be one of the best free agent signings. Yes, a kicker. He has won multiple football games with the team since being signed in 2015. He has made 50 career field goals out of 57; an 87.7 field goal percentage. In the playoffs, he single-handedly beat the Kansas City Chiefs and punched a ticket to the AFC Championship game. This guy deserves some credit.
2016: Ladarius Green (TE), Ryan Harris (LT), Steven Johnson (ILB), David Johnson (TE), Ricardo Mathews (DT)
Oh boy let's talk about Ladarius Green for a second. Green signed a four-year $20 million contract in the offseason last year. He battled an ankle injury and was placed on the PUP list at the start of the season. After returning in week 10 against the Dallas Cowboys, Green only played a handful of games after suffering a concussion against the Bengals in week 15. He was placed in the concussion protocol and did not return for the rest of the year. Green finished with 304 yards on 18 receptions for one touchdown in his first season with the Steelers.
Harris and Alejandro Villanueva were supposed to have this epic left tackle battle to see who deserves the starting position on offense. That never happened. 'Big Al' won fair and square and Harris was placed on the injured reserve before the regular season began.
S. Johnson is another athlete that was supposed to provide inside linebacker depth and be a key special teams player. He got injured and was placed on the injured reserve.
D. Johnson was utilized as a blocking tight end for the majority of his career. He was with the San Diego Chargers for two seasons before returning to the Steel City. He finished his 2016 season with seven receptions for 80-yards.
Mathews was a very solid free agent signing. He provided depth when injuries occurred on the defensive line. I would not be upset if Mathews signs another contract in the offseason. He really was a solid athlete even though statistics do not show that. 14 tackles and 1 sack in his first year with the team. Guess what? That's more than Cam Thomas had in two seasons with the team.
Out of all of these free agents, DeAngelo Williams tops the list in my opinion. Safety Mike Mitchell was an excellent pickup and should not go unnoticed and Ricardo Mathews was a great depth player who was needed during the 2016 season after injuries to Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
Williams has the ability to provide depth to one of, if not the best, running backs in all of football: Le'Veon Bell. When Bell was suspended for the first two games of the 2015 NFL season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, Williams truly gave the world an eye opener to how talented a player can be past the age of 30, especially at the running back position. In two games he registered 204-yards on 41 total carries.
Bell tore his knee against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 8, and Williams had to step up and carry the team. He finished the regular season with 907-yards and 11 touchdowns.
The following year was the same story with Bell. Suspended for three games this time, Williams was given an opportunity to showcase his talent once again. Against the Washington Redskins in the season opener, Williams rushed for 143-yards and earned two touchdowns. At the age of 32, he was still making plays. He finished the 2016 regular season with 343-yards and four touchdowns.
After Bell was once again injured, this time when it mattered the most, in the AFC Championship game, Williams came in and moved the football down the field with ease. That was until the Steelers were too far behind to continue to run the football and had to rely on the passing attack. He finished the Championship game with 34 rushing yards and one touchdown.
As you can see, I truly believe that Williams' production is too good to be a backup. He can be a legitimate starter on multiple NFL teams. It's great to have veteran depth and to have a player to rely on and not worry if Bell is injured or can not suit up.
If you just look at the free agent list since 2012, Williams really stands out along with Mike Mitchell and of course the legendary beast in James Harrison. It all is on the person and their opinion. These players all have a case to be the best free agent signing in the last five years. Please respect everyone’s opinion in the comment section. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this.