Quick Thoughts on Steelers Free Agency

posted by David Todd -

*While I understand Steelers’ fans disappointment with the lack of the team’s activity in free agency, particularly compared to the flurry of moves by the Patriots, it obviously isn’t surprising based on past history. With the signing of Antonio Brown and tagging of Le’Veon Bell they took care of two cornerstone players who were by far their highest priorities. That counts.

*The Landry Jones and Lawrence Timmons scenarios played out exactly as I predicted way back in September. 

Jones is unlikely to ever be a starter in the NFL, but is a capable backup who knows the system. Based on the money being paid to backups like Chase Daniel, Nick Foles and Brian Hoyer, Jones’ contract, 2-years, $4.4 million with a $600,000 signing bonus and $600,000 guaranteed, represents decent value for the team. It’s right in line with the 2-year, $4 million contract Matt Barkley signed with the 49ers and Jones is better and/or cheaper than anyone else left on the market.

Most importantly Jones’ deal allows the Steelers to pass on a QB early in this year’s deep draft. Art Rooney II’s comments immediately following the season led me to believe that drafting a QB would be on the radar in rounds 2-4. While Kevin Colbert was non-committal at the combine, he didn’t rule it out. The Jones deal allows the Steelers to kick that can down the road. While they may draft a QB late and will certainly bring someone into camp to compete with Zach Mettenberger for the #3 job, they can now look elsewhere with their top four picks in the first three rounds. And yes I expect Ben Roethlisberger to play out his contract, which runs through 2019, and be the Steelers starter in 2020 under a new deal at age 38.

Lawrence Timmons was a great, not quite All-Time, Steelers player. You may have heard that he was Mike Tomlin’s first-ever draft pick. He was better in 2015 than 2014 in my opinion. He was great attacking the line of scrimmage and was good enough dropping into underneath zone coverage. One of Timmons’ lesser-recognized attributes was his great hands. When he had a chance to make a play on the ball he did, particularly on balls over his head. But the writing was on the wall in August when the Steelers extended Vince Williams instead of Timmons. Timmons will be 31 in May while Williams is 27. Williams’ cap hit of $2.5 million each of the next two years is well below the approximately $6 million Timmons will cost the Dolphins. And while Timmons was asked at times to carry TEs down the field and to cover receivers in crossing routes and backs out of the backfield, difficult tasks for any linebacker, I don’t expect the Steelers to ask Williams to do that often or to use him as a 3-down player. I expect the Steelers to play much more dime this coming season and to draft personnel that will allow them to transition that direction. That will bring Williams off the field in obvious passing situations.

**No, I don’t expect Dont’a Hightower, visiting today, to sign with the Steelers, but there is a benefit to both sides in having the visit. Hightower and his agent obviously raise his value if there are more perceived suitors. The Steelers get to pick the brain of a key defensive player on a team that beat the Steelers twice, dominating them in the playoffs. Win-win.

**When the Steelers sign veteran role players/special teasers to deals, they generally make the final 53-man roster. In recent years Darrius Heyward-Bey, Cam Thomas, Arthur Moats, Matt Spaeth, Stevie Johnson, Ricardo Mathews are just a few. TE David Johnson, who returned to the Steelers last year, was another. Johnson recently signed a 2-yr, $2.05 million deal to re-up with the team. With LaDarius Green, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble under contract, one might have thought there was no need for Johnson, particularly with a deep TE class in this year’s draft. Here’s betting he makes the final 53.

**I think there is a better than 50-50 chance both CB Davon House and WR Justin Hunter sign with the Steelers. Sammie Coates future may be even more uncertain than Martavis Bryant’s, assuming the league reinstates him in the near future. Yes, I think he be on the 2017 roster, but his fall from where he was after week four this season to today has been precipitous.

**I was less surprised than most at the 2-year, $11 million deal Markus Wheaton signed with the Chicago Bears. I've always been a big fan of Wheaton who is fast, a good route-runner and willing blocker. The most perplexing thing during his time with the Steelers was how often he and Ben Roethlisberger appeared to be out-of-sync. I never understood that from a wideout with a reputation as being very smart. I expected Wheaton to be one of the bargains in free agency this offseason and even thought, if there was a lack of interest, he could return to the Steelers on a cheap, prove-it deal. No such luck. Obviously the Bears just ignored last year's drop-filled, injury-plagued, 4-catch season and signed Wheaton based on past performance and his draft pedigree. $6 million guaranteed is more than I expected, but will be more than fair if Wheaton produces like he did in 2015. If he breaks out like Manny Sanders he’ll be a huge bargain. If he flops, they can cut him and move on, much as they can with new QB Mike Glennon. I like the deal for both sides.

**I don’t expect D’Angelo Williams to be back this season even though the Steelers have an obvious need at running back. I’m confident the team will draft a RB with one of their first three picks (along with an edge rusher and corner) and Fitz Toussaint is a capable special teams player and #3 RB. Williams will go down as one of the best under-the-radar FA signings ever by Kevin Colbert. He was a great locker room and team-first guy who produced when called upon. But I don’t see a spot for him in 2017.

Image Courtesy of Getty Images

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