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Bell: Steelers Top Needs Entering Free Agency



Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan Salary Cap
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Nov. 19, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The legal tampering period for NFL free agency begins today and you can expect to see the Pittsburgh Steelers to begin making moves sooner rather than later. If you need evidence of that, they’ve already acquired a new quarterback in Russell Wilson, hopefully giving them stability at the games most important position. Now with roughly $28 million in cap space after releasing Allen Robinson, they’ve got plenty of money to go shopping with. Think of this as a free agent shopping list.

Grab a Veteran Center

It’s normally pretty difficult to find quality center prospects in the NFL draft but this year is actually an exception to that. However, it would still be wise for Pittsburgh to snag a quality veteran starter to avoid having to pigeonhole themselves into drafting one early. There’s several options available, with former Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry becoming an intriguing possibility given his previous working relationship with Wilson. With any quarterback, it’s important to protect the A-gap in pass protection but with shorter passers, that need is even more paramount. Not to mention, they’ll need to find someone with enough mobility to excel in Arthur Smith’s zone heavy run game.

Target a Three Down Safety

Now that Keanu Neal has been released, Pittsburgh needs a new starting safety to pair with Minkah Fitzpatrick. With the safety class in this year’s NFL draft leaving much to be desired, it’s especially important for them to sign someone in free agency. Because of how much depth is out there, it’s possible that they can afford to be patient, but they can’t wait too long and risk letting the pool dry up. They also need to decide where they wish to deploy Fitzpatrick moving forward, whether that be in his previous centerfielder role or as a move around chess piece. The answer to that question should lead them to finding their specific archetype of choice on the market.

Add an Athletic Linebacker to the Mix

Even with Elandon Roberts coming off one of his best seasons as a pro, his partner Cole Holcomb is still recovering from a serious season-ending knee injury. Only the Steelers truly know how his recovery is going but they must add some insurance just in case there are lingering effects from his rehab. Like we saw last season with now free agent linebacker Kwon Alexander, you can grab different skill sets, mix and match depending on situation and provide stability along the spine of the defense. Preferably, this would mean adding an athletic linebacker who can play in space, with the ability to hold his own in coverage. There are a handful of guys that fit that bill but Jerome Baker, former teammate of Roberts in Miami, makes sense.

Get Faster in the Back End

With Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace both set to play elsewhere in 2024, Pittsburgh has to replace quite a few snaps in the secondary. While those guys were quality vets, the Steelers desperately lacked speed last season and that attribute led to some of their struggles against the better passing attack. Joey Porter Jr. has already flashed shutdown potential but in the modern NFL, you need three corners that can cover. Currently, they have just one proven asset there. The corner group in free agency isn’t quite as strong as safety but there’s still avenues to improve their coverage unit. The most likely outcome is that they add at least one veteran starter, while targeting the position early in April as well.

Don’t Forget about the Offense

The Steelers offense returns most of their starters last season and with so many players on cheap rookie contracts, most are predicting the majority of the moves to be on the defensive side of the ball. This is true, but don’t forget that Pittsburgh’s offense still needs upgrades after finishing 28th in points per drive last season. One area where they could look to obtain an upgrade is at the WR3 spot that is now vacant. Arthur Smith loves big bodied wide receivers who can block and make plays down the field, so it shouldn’t shock anyone if they sign a playmaker on a relatively cheap contract. There are a few names that come to mind but former Texans and Cowboys wideout Noah Brown makes a ton of sense in this regard.