If you’re a long-time Steelers fan, you’re no doubt preparing yourself for their usual low-key and business-like approach to the NFL’s free-agency period, which is set to kick off at 4p.m. EST.
If you’re a long-time Steelers fan and a bit excitable, you might be preparing for an Earth-shattering signing, like say receiver Brandon Marshall (whoops, forget about that).
If you are the excitable type, it is likely you will be feeling pretty frustrated with Pittsburgh’s inactivity this free-agency period. Now, when I say “inactivity,” I don’t mean that the Steelers won’t sign a player or two who could possibly be the final piece to their Super Bowl puzzle. It’s just that, well, you may not feel that free-agency “winner” bump that fans of some teams normally experience this time of year.
It’s okay, though, the people that normally feel that are fans of teams with tons of salary cap space (the Browns and Jaguars).
When it comes to the Steelers, they will never make a huge splash in free-agency; if that day ever comes, you can rest assured that the highlight video of their previous season will be called “Character Builder” or a similar title usually reserved for teams coming off really bad seasons.
It is possible this season could be an exception. After all, Pittsburgh is roughly $21 million under the cap (as of this writing) and certainly has enough room to bring in a truly big name (or at least someone who “seems” like a big name, based on his current free-agent status and the Steelers need at the position he happens to play).
But does it really have to be an exception?
The Steelers are maybe one player away from getting to and winning a Super Bowl next season.
If you were convinced that one player was a bona fide number two receiver who could take the pressure off of Antonio Brown, Marshall leaving New York for, well, New York is perhaps a disappointment. But what if Martavis Bryant, the young receiver with Randy Moss talent but also a penchant for getting himself suspended for substance abuse, really has cleaned his act up for good and will be on the straight-and-narrow for the rest of his career, but more specifically, 2017? Wouldn’t that be better than signing a receiver with the resume of a Marshall or the break-out potential of a Terrell Pryor, who has been pipe-dreamed to Pittsburgh in recent days?
The thought of that may not be very sexy right now, at the dawn of NFL free-agency, but it will seem pretty good, come November, if Bryant really has turned a corner.
What about the cornerback position? Would you feel that huge bump of excitement if the Steelers signed Brice McCain?
Ewww, right? After all, he already played here. I mean, how provocative is that?
But what if McCain is the missing piece to a secondary that has already been infused with some young talent in Artie Burns and Sean Davis and could conceivably get a bump from the eventual NFL debut of Senquez Golson, a 2015 second round pick, who has yet to contribute anything but medical updates during his two-year “career”?
Over the past few seasons, the Steelers “splash” free-agent signings have included names like Mike Mitchell, LeGarrette Blount, DeAngelo Williams and Ladarius Green.
Two of those signings made major contributions—Mitchell and Williams—while the other two left a lot to be desired—Blount for sure, while the jury is still out on Green— but they all made sense from a football perspective.
Mitchell replaced the legendary Ryan Clark at strong safety, while Williams was the do-over in the attempt to make Blount Le’Veon Bell’s backup at running back.
While only two of those players worked out (Blount was cut fur insubordination, while Green has been dealing with lingering concussion issues), fact is, all four signings were smart and sensible.
While Blount had and will continue to have major red flags regarding his character, fact is, he has rushed for 2,917 yards in two-plus seasons as a Patriot and now owns two Super Bowl rings.
As for Green, there is no mistaking his talent and that Antonio Gates, the Chargers legendary tight end, was the only thing keeping him from being a productive tight end in the NFL.
Unfortunately, head injuries have also gotten in the way of Green breaking out of Gates shadow by breaking out with the Steelers.
The Steelers need help to reach the next level, but it’s doubtful that “help” will garner much publicity with regards to the NFL’s free-agent bonanza.
So what below-the-radar free-agent signing will make the Steelers a better team?
Whoever that player is may not bring you excitement in March, but if you’re jumping up and down in January, it will be worth it.