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Pittsburgh Steelers Blueprint for Winning Free Agency

Andrew WatkinsCorrespondent IMarch 3, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers Blueprint for Winning Free Agency

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    If the Pittsburgh Steelers are to return to the NFL’s elite, it begins with what they do this offseason.

    They face numerous tough decisions. Be it who to re-sign, pursue or cut, the Steelers will assuredly field some new faces and be without some familiar ones next year.

    So then, what are their best options?

    Have we seen the last of Jason Worilds or LaMarr Woodley? Is it possible that Cortez Allen will be the only returning starter in the secondary?

    And what of outside help? Should the Steelers have any interest in recently released players like Louis Delmas and D'Qwell Jackson?

    Read on to find out.

Re-Sign Jerricho Cotchery

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    In Jerricho Cotchery’s three seasons as a Pittsburgh Steeler, he’s totaled 1,044 receiving yards—an average of 348 per season. That total doesn’t necessarily indicate a priority free agent.

    But those who witnessed Cotchery’s resurgent 2013 can attest that the 31-year-old should be retained.

    With Mike Wallace’s Pittsburgh career in the rear-view and Heath Miller returning to form after an ACL tear, Cotchery saw more targets in ’13 than he had in the previous two seasons combined.

    With that increased attention, Cotchery became one of Ben Roethlisberger’s most trusted weapons. When in need of a third-down conversion or a big play in the red zone, Roethlisberger never shied away from Cotchery.

    Sort of a Hines Ward-lite, if you will.

    Cotchery snagged a third of his 30 career touchdowns in ’13. He, Wallace and Ward are the only Steelers receivers to manage at least 10 scores with Roethlisberger under center.

    Perhaps the biggest reason Cotchery should be re-signed, though, is because Emmanuel Sanders looks to be on his way out. Continuity is vital to a quarterback’s success, and Roethlisberger would likely face a tough adjustment period if two of his top three targets were jettisoned.

Woodley or Worilds?

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The trickiest decision facing the Steelers this offseason comes at the outside linebacker spot.

    On one hand, they’ve got LaMarr Woodley. The former All-Pro’s posted just nine sacks in the past two seasons after averaging 11 in his first four as a starter.

    Much of that decline can be attributed to injuries. Woodley’s been ransacked by them over the past three years and has missed 14 games as a result.

    Many fans feel Woodley and his hefty price tag should be eschewed in favor of re-signing impending free agent Jason Worilds. Worilds came on strong in his fourth season with a team-leading eight sacks.

    Of course, re-signing the former Virginia Tech standout carries a few concerns of its own. Worilds was an average rotational player through his first three seasons. It’s tough to fault Pittsburgh for being wary of his big year coinciding with a contract season a la Paul Kruger.

    Ideally, the team could retain both, but that feat could be tough to pull off for this cash-strapped Steelers squad.

    It’s difficult to see the team going into next season without Woodley considering the cap hit his release entails. Similarly, it’s difficult to see them matching the richest offer Worilds might receive on the open market.

    Though it may not be the most popular option, look for Woodley to be the starter opposite Jarvis Jones next season.

    Unless…

Restructures/Cuts in the Secondary

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    In recent years, the Steelers have severed and/or restructured numerous contracts. If reports that they hope to be active in free agency hold true, then that may be the case again in 2014.

    If so, a good place to start would be in the secondary.

    32-year-old Troy Polamalu is coming up on the final year of his contract and, per ESPN's Scott Brown, team president Art Rooney II has already stated he wants to see the safety retire a Steeler.

    Presuming Polamalu’s got at least two seasons left, he’s an ideal candidate for a contract restructuring. This could help lessen the eight-time Pro Bowler’s cap hit and also give the Steelers a chance to add pieces that will give him a shot at another Super Bowl.

    Worilds perhaps?

    Like Polamalu, Ike Taylor is one of the few remaining cogs from the team’s Super Bowl-winning defenses. Taylor, though, experienced a sharp decline in 2013.

    Rumors that Taylor would have to accept a pay cut to remain a Steeler in 2014 have already surfaced. If Taylor’s unwilling to do so, it’s entirely possible his eleven-year career in Pittsburgh will come to a close.

Lock Up the Franchise

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    In spite of midseason reports via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com to the contrary, it appears Ben Roethlisberger is comfortable with remaining in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.

    Now it’s just a matter of working out the finer details.

    Roethlisberger’s got two years left on his current deal, so this isn’t exactly a pressing need. However, it’s imperative that the team gets a deal done sooner than later, lest Roethlisberger grows agitated and begins to rethink his stance.

    Seeing the mega-deals quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler have gotten recently has to make Steelers fan wary of what sort of salary Roethlisberger commands. Especially since he’s done some of his best work ever in recent seasons.

    Of course, Roethlisberger’s current contract (eight years, $102 million) is by no means chump change, but it still doesn’t stack up to the $20 million Joe Flacco averages per season.

    The team needs to work to convince Roethlisberger that though his contract may not be the most lucrative among NFL quarterbacks, it could still make him the most successful.

    If Roethlisberger were willing to accept a hometown discount, like Tom Brady, it’d enable the team to add talent around him. And with that, he could change his fringe Hall of Fame status into a certainty.

Smart, Cheap(er) Signings

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Steelers aren’t traditionally big players in free agency, and that’s unlikely to change this year.

    However, there are some instances of under-the-radar signings proving to be hugely beneficial to the team. A few that really stand out include Jeff Hartings, James Farrior and Ryan Clark.

    If the recent visit from Louis Delmas is any indication, the team could look to free agency to shore up some of its weaknesses. And that doesn’t just mean with retreads like Matt Spaeth and William Gay.

    Defensively, the team’s got needs on virtually every level. Paul Soliai’s arguably the best nose tackle available and should be affordable for the Steelers. If signed, the team would be limited through the rest of free agency though.

    The Steelers also face uncertainty opposite Lawrence Timmons. One candidate to put that issue to rest is the recently released D'Qwell Jackson.

    At 30 years old, Jackson should have some tread left on his tires. He’s got experience playing in a 3-4 defense and notched the seventh-most tackles (141) in the league last season.

    Last is the aforementioned Delmas. Delmas brings a physicality (sometimes to a fault) that would be a welcome addition with Ryan Clark’s impending departure.

    Delmas has a history of injuries, but he did manage to play in every game and set career bests in sacks and interceptions last season.

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