Ranking Pittsburgh Steelers' Best Remaining Free Agency Options
Less than a week into free agency, it has not been hard to see that there is a different feel around the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rather than wait for the market to settle, the Steelers have been aggressive and made a splash.
It all began by signing Mike Mitchell to a five-year deal to take over for Ryan Clark at free safety. They continued their effort to upgrade the defense by adding Cam Thomas to provide depth along the defensive line.
Both players should help boost a defense that fell to 13th in the league last season, but there is plenty of work to go.
The Steelers have depth issues scattered throughout the roster and have limited cap space with which to work. They will have to make smart signings that are cost effective to help fill major holes on the roster.
With so many needs left to address, the Steelers still can take a look at numerous players to bolster the roster. The following slides will examine Pittsburgh’s best remaining free-agent options ranked from least to most likely to be signed.
Note: All stats are courtesy of NFL.com.
8. Knowshon Moreno, RB
Knowshon Moreno is arguably the best available running back remaining on the free-agent market. Last season, he ran over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and would prove to be more than a competent backup to Le’Veon Bell.
Over his five years in the NFL, Moreno has rushed for 3,468 yards and 26 touchdowns. He has proven to be a good receiver as well with 157 career receptions. He had a breakout season last year with 60 receptions for 548 yards and three touchdowns.
Given the lack of attention that he has received so far, Moreno’s price may not be too high. However, as one of the only starting RBs remaining on the market (via Walter Football), odds of him taking a backup role are slim. Even so, he is still worth investigating.
7. Pat Angerer, ILB
When the Steelers released Larry Foote, they immediately had a need at inside linebacker.
While they could allow Vince Williams to take over as the full-time starter, it would not be a bad idea to find a veteran free agent to help upgrade the position. Pat Angerer of the Indianapolis Colts could be a nice option as a stopgap.
Angerer has suffered through injuries to his foot and knee over the past two seasons, which as kept him off the field. When he’s healthy, he has proven to be a very productive linebacker.
In his first two seasons in the league, Angerer had 236 tackles—including 148 in his second season. He is a tough linebacker but does struggle in coverage and would need to prove himself in a 3-4 defense.
The 27-year-old Angerer is still young and could be brought in on a one-year “prove it” deal. He would be a better option than bringing back Larry Foote, who told ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson that he still wants to play.
In the meantime, the Steelers could draft an inside linebacker in the draft and prepare him to start in 2015.
6. Lance Moore, WR
With Emmanuel Sanders seemingly no longer an option now that, as reported by Adam Schefter, he appears to have a contract in place with the Denver Broncos, the Steelers need to go elsewhere to build depth.
According to Jason La Canfora of CBS, the Steelers will bring in Lance Moore for a visit on Tuesday.
As recent as 2012, Moore was one of the more productive receivers in the league with 1,041 yards with an average of 16.0 yards per reception. However, his numbers dropped off significantly last season to just 457 yards on 37 receptions which raises some concern.
At just 5’9”, Moore won’t provide any size for Ben Roethlisberger, but would rather be a contingency plan if the Steelers cannot retain Jerricho Cotchery. Of course, it is possible that the Steelers could sign both given the lack of proven depth.
If signed, Moore would contribute at most as the No. 3 receiver, with potential to fall to the fourth spot or lower if the Steelers re-sign Cotchery and invest a high draft pick in the position.
5. LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB
LaRod Stephens-Howling’s career with the Steelers never really got started as he suffered a torn ACL in the season opener.
He was signed last season to be a change-of-pace back as well as a contributor on special teams. He would have a similar role if the Steelers decide to bring him back in 2014.
Le’Veon Bell has proven to be a three-down running back with his ability to block and catch the ball out of the backfield. However, the Steelers need someone to spell him, and Stephens-Howling is still a good option on passing downs.
Even though he has only 58 receptions in five seasons, the 26-year-old running back has good hands. He can also contribute in the return game, where the Steelers lack any viable options outside of Antonio Brown right now.
4. James Starks, RB
With no viable depth in the backfield behind second-year running back Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers will have to sign one or two backs and draft another.
Starks will visit the Steelers on Monday, at which point he could be signed to back up Bell.
At 6’2” and 218 pounds, Starks has a similar to build to Bell and has comparable skills. In four seasons Starks has rushed for 1,427 yards and five touchdowns. He made 45 receptions as well, including a career-high of 29 in 2011.
The Steelers got a first-hand look at Starks last season when he carried the ball 10 times for 47 yards in a Week 16 meeting between against the Packers in Green Bay.
Starks has experience as a backup running back in a passing offense and would fit nicely in with what the Steelers are trying to do. Pittsburgh should consider Starks as an ideal candidate to be No. 2 on the depth chart.
3. Brett Keisel, DE
In yet another area devoid of depth, the Pittsburgh is in need of finding depth at defensive end. With Ziggy Hood and Al Woods leaving via free agency, the Steelers may need Brett Keisel for one more season.
Keisel’s agent Eric Metz recently told Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he intends to play another year.
“He’s (Keisel) productive, healthy and has every intention to continue to play football,” Metz said on March 6. “Hopefully, he can finish his career a Steeler as he’s always desired,” Metz added.
Health will be an issue with Keisel as he missed four games in 2013 with plantar fasciitis. When healthy, Keisel was as productive as ever with 29 tackles, four sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries last year.
Unlike other positions where rookies can contribute immediately, the Steelers typically take two to three years to develop defensive ends. That means that Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams are likely at least another year away from starting.
Keisel would provide starting experience on the defensive line as well as leadership in the locker room. He will have to take a discount to return, but at this point re-signing Keisel may be best for both sides.
2. Jerricho Cotchery, WR
It is not often that a 31-year-old receiver would be one of the top priorities for a team during the offseason. That is the case with the Steelers and Jerricho Cotchery.
Cotchery had an unbelievable season in 2013, in which he was third on the team with 602 yards and fourth with 46 receptions. His 10 touchdown receptions led the Steelers and tied for 10th in the entire league.
The Steelers are depending on Cotchery to return to provide them with another veteran presence besides Antonio Brown. He would compete with Markus Wheaton for the starting role and at the very least be the third option for Roethlisberger.
The Steelers can’t overpay, but this is one free agent they do not want to let get away. He is essential to their depth this season.
1. Alex Carrington, DE
Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Alex Carrington visited with the Steelers last week.
Carrington is expected to recover and would be a quality young option to play defensive end. At 6’5” and 301 pounds, he has the perfect build as a five-technique in a 3-4 defense and at only 26 years old, he has his best football ahead of him.
The Steelers will have to make a competitive offer to acquire Carrington, but it would be worth it. To sign a young defensive end to start opposite of Cam Heyward would be huge after losing Hood and Woods.
Carrington would help solidify the defensive line and provide another piece to a defensive unit which the Steelers were looking to improve this offseason.