With the new rules allowing teams to negotiate two days before the official start of free agency, the Steelers wasted little time in locking up some key players from last years team. These signings significantly change the teams focus heading into the 2016 NFL draft.
As usual instead of going after players from other teams the Steelers instead choose to use their limited cap dollars to resign their own free agents. When the dust settles don't expect many dollars to be left over to sign free agents from other teams.
The Steelers have signed William Gay from the oft-maligned cornerback group of last season. Along with last year's 2nd round pick Senquez Golson and 4th rounder Doran Grant, that gives the team 4 cornerbacks in the fold. There are rumors of moving Grant to safety, but that is not confirmed. Two other free agent CBs from last year, Brandon Boykin and Antwon Blake are still out there, but frankly I would be surprised if the team re-signed either of them, though Blake will probably be available cheap. It seems the coaching staff was never impressed with Boykin despite the seemingly positive results he posted on game days late in the season.
They could still go CB early in the draft if the right player is available, but they don't have to if they don't really think the player worthy of a high pick.
On the offensive line front, the team re-signed Ramon Foster and are trying to get tackle Kelvin Beachum to a one year "show me" deal. With Chris Hubbard also re-signed and the rest of the line under contract, it would seem to leave little to any room for new additions to the O-line that will make a difference. Unless they want to make an investment in the future, with a player who would ride the bench for a season or two, I doubt the Steelers make a high pick investment in the O-line.
So where does this leave the Steelers in terms of draft day needs? Right in their favorite places it seems. Another linebacker is a strong possibility. Sean Spence is still unsigned at inside linebacker. Timmons is not getting any younger, some quality depth and eventual Timmons replacement is possible. On the edge, we still don't know for sure if James Harrison is coming back. Also this is the make or break year for Jarvis Jones. A high pick edge rusher could step into the starting role in 2017 after spending 2016 learning the Steelers way.
Another need for high quality depth is the defensive line. Cam Thomas probably won't be back. Steve McLendon is a free agent (though could be re-signed cheap). Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt played with their tongue's hanging out last year without real backup. The Steelers could draft a D lineman who could play interior or slide to the end to give Heyward and Tuitt and breather, as well as provide depth in case of injury.
Given the Steelers history this is the most likely place to look for in the draft. Many have mentioned TE as another place they might spend a high draft pick on. With the signing of Ladarius Green, it would seem that TE is also off the board as a driving need in the early rounds. This is also not a great draft for TE talent. Given the Steelers philosophy of best available player, I don't see them reaching for a TE early.
WR seems chock full with the re-signing of Darrius Heyward-Bey, joining Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and Sammie Coates. Plus, the Steelers have two good ones from the practice squad and IR coming back from last year.
Safety is another potential draft need and I would not be surprised if they go safety in round 1 or 2. Of course, that assumes they don't scrape enough dollars together to make a serious run at free agent Eric Weddle. Signing him would probably remove safety from the high draft pick need as well.
All in all these signings have put the Steelers in a catbird seat. They can actually sit back and take the best available players early in the draft without having to draft with a gun to their head because of need. This could result in some great talent that the team can stockpile for depth and future needs.