The offseason can be a barren place for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Never ones to be active in free agency, fans sit back and watch other teams spend millions on free agents, while the Steelers stick to the formula.
Sign your own + a few serviceable veteran free agents + quality drafting = success.
However, for some, this isn’t enough. They demand the big-time free agent acquisition, and complain about the draft picks at every stage of the selection process.
With the Steelers almost done with Organized Team Activities (OTAs), only minicamp stands between them and training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on July 27th.
Since the offseason is mostly in the rear view mirror, it seems fitting to go back and grade what the Steelers did, or didn’t do, throughout the process.
Outside Free Agents
The Steelers signed several players, none of whom were highly sought after prospects on Day 1 of free agency. They signed wide receiver Justin Hunter, cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, defensive lineman Tyson Alualu and running back/kick returner Knile Davis. The team went after D’onta Hightower, but failed to sign the big-name inside linebacker.
Retaining Free Agents
The Steelers always want to keep their own, and they did so by signing tight end David Johnson, quarterback Landry Jones, linebacker James Harrison, linebacker Steven Johnson, lineman Chris Hubbard, kicker Chris Boswell, safety Jordan Dangerfield, cornerback Ross Cockrell, fullback Roosevelt Nix and kicker Chris Boswell. They also placed the franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell.
However, while they signed many of their own, the loss of Lawrence Timmons could be felt on the interior of the defense.
The Steelers, drafting in the back end of the first round, had 8 draft picks throughout the 7-round process. They took linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second, cornerback Cameron Sutton and running back James Conner in the third, quarterback Josh Dobbs in the fourth, cornerback Brian Allen in the fifth, long snapper Colin Holba in the sixth and linebacker Keion Adams in the seventh round.
Four defensive players, three offensive players and a special teams specialist. Pretty even draft class, and while many were down on the team’s selections, this could turn out to be a draft class who has players who stick around the team for many years.
Recently, ESPN had several former NFL personnel executives grade the offseason for all 32 NFL teams, and here is what they said about the Steelers:
Similar Steelers offseasons probably would have earned higher marks in the past, but with New England setting a more aggressive pace, Pittsburgh's lower-key approach gave the impression that the Steelers lost ground they could not afford to lose. Of course, what works for Belichick and Brady in New England doesn't work everywhere else. The Steelers have been successful for a long time doing what they did this offseason.
"Pittsburgh never seems to make the big impact move," a personnel director said. "They seem to just keep trying to get guys who fit into their locker room or fit into their scheme. It is almost like they are a little bit of plug-and-play and not really willing to stretch out and put themselves out there."
The Steelers knew they could get better on offense simply by sitting back and waiting for the league to reinstate receiver Martavis Bryant. That happened. Beyond that, the Steelers used a first-round choice on a linebacker for the fourth time in five years. They used a fourth-round pick for developmental quarterback Joshua Dobbs. They used the franchise tag to buy time with running back Le'Veon Bell.
"Pittsburgh is one of those teams that likes to plug people in and keep moving and they rely heavily on their coaching," the personnel director said. "No team is more constant in coaching except for maybe New England."
There can clearly be a case made for the C+ grade to be justified, but the team did what they always did. They followed the aforementioned equation, and why would they stray from that equation which has seen the team never suffer a losing season under Mike Tomlin, and an AFC Championship appearance in 2016.
The Steelers added key pieces in free agency in Alualu, Davis and possibly Sensabaugh, have some rookies who could step in and contribute right away and have a game named Martavis Bryant back on the team which will certainly help.
With that said...
Overall Offseason Grade: B
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