2014 Team Needs: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers will attempt a return to dominance in 2014, but first have some tough roster decisions to make. Gordon McGuinness looks at their options.
2014 Team Needs: Pittsburgh Steelers
After beginning the 2013 season in terrible fashion, with an 0-4 start that included losses on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied to narrowly miss the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
The good news is that they finished the season well and still have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger playing at a high level. That will give them hope of starting strong in 2014, and competing with the rest of the division for the AFC North crown.
They do still have some needs to address, and face some concerns with their cap space before they can start the chase in the division, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at their three biggest needs this offseason.
Potential Cap Casualties
Though they have just $4.5m in dead money on this year’s cap, the Steelers are also $8.7m over the cap (per overthecap.com) as it currently stands. The projected cap figure may rise again before the new league year begins, but right now the Steelers have some work to do just to get in position to be able to sign their draft picks.
-Unlikely as it may be, cutting an aging Troy Polamalu would save them $8.25m. That doesn’t seem like a move that would make much sense though, especially when there are another two options which would make more sense.
-Cutting Ike Taylor would result in a $7m saving and given his level of play last season, it’s hard to believe that they can’t find better production for less heading into the new season.
-They acquired offensive tackle Levi Brown from the Arizona Cardinals in the middle of last season but it’s unlikely the team will be willing to pay him $6.25m in 2014 and, with the move resulting in no dead money being added to the cap, he seems like the most likely candidate to be cut.
The good news at the position for the Steelers is that Antonio Brown is one of the best receivers in the league. Proving the Steelers right in making him their chosen long-term option over Mike Wallace, he had his best season to date last year. The bad news is that outside of him, there is very little to get excited about. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, who rounded out their top three receivers last year are due to become free agents and Markus Wheaton comes into his second year after playing just 161 snaps as a rookie, while Derek Moye played just 53 snaps last year.
Free agent fix: The smart move would be to bring back Cotchery on another short term, cap friendly deal. He’s become one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets, particularly in the red zone and, at 32 when the season begins, is unlikely to command too much attention. There have been reports that they want to find another big target for Big Ben, so maybe they’ll be the team who takes a gamble on Kenny Britt, who has yet to fulfil the massive physical potential that he has.
They made the smart move to install Cameron Heyward as a starter on the defensive line over Ziggy Hood during the season, and with Hood scheduled to become a free agent, it appears unlikely that he’ll return. Brett Keisel is also a free agent and, outside of two games, didn’t have a great year in 2013, and will be 35 just after the 2014 season begins.
Free agent fix: The top 3-4 defensive end on the market will be out of their price range, so the Steelers will have to be clever with who they bring in. An under the radar player like Vance Walker, who has spent time at both defensive tackle and 3-4 end in his career might be one of the most realistic options available, though they may find that the best option is to offer Keisel a one year deal to stick around, and address the position in the draft.
We already mentioned that Taylor hasn’t played up to the level of his contract and, even if they do keep him around, cornerback is a position they should be looking to upgrade. Cortez Allen is the only player that potentially has some upside in his future, through William Gay did have a solid 2013 campaign.
Free agent fix: Trumaine McBride was solid when he took over as a starter for the Giants last year and added a couple of really impressive games. At 5-foot-9 he’s not the tallest cornerback in the world and, in a crowded free agent class at the position, may not see the market that he and his agent will be hoping for. That’s great news for the Steelers, who won’t be in a position to go after some of the bigger names available and add to the group.
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Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.