Thursday, March 16, 2017

Options running low as Steelers show free agency restraint

Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writer 15, 2017

Image result for landry jones steelers
Landry Jones (Getty Images)
A breakdown of the first full week of free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Most significant signing: Backup quarterback Landry Jones. Considering the Steelers' saunter through the free-agency gate, it's fitting that their biggest signing got a modest $4.4 million over two years. The team re-signed Jones and tight end David Johnson at the start of free agency and haven't done much since. But the Jones signing is important because it's a reminder that the team views him more favorably than fans clamoring for a splashy name to back up Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers see Jones as a quality No. 2. And though they could add another quarterback through free agency and the draft, Jones' presence at least fills a need so they don't have to press for help.
Most significant loss: Linebacker Lawrence Timmons. The first draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era was a productive Steeler for 10 seasons and had a chance to return. But the Steelers weren't going to overpay for a linebacker turning 31 in May and braced for a divorce. Miami then swooped in with $11 million guaranteed over two seasons. The Steelers are betting on youth at the position with 27-year-old Vince Williams and others, but they will miss Timmons' experience and versatility. Though not the quickest linebacker in pass coverage, Timmons is a run-stopping thumper and effective blitzer who can make a few plays in zone coverage when needed.
Player they should have signed: Colts outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard or John Simon. Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who visited the Steelers on Tuesday, was a fantastic fit for this defense and a worthy replacement for Timmons. He might have been the edge this defense needed to vault from good to great. But the Steelers were never comfortable paying $10-plus million per year -- Hightower's price point for his extension with New England -- for an inside linebacker. Prices for the good cornerbacks were that steep, too. If money was the issue, why not beef up the pass rush with a more affordable option? Simon, a solid all-around player who fights through injury, will get between $5 and $6 million per year. Sheard, whose $25.5 million over three years comes with $12.75 million in guarantees, can line up at defensive end or outside linebacker in a 3-4.
What’s next: The Steelers will continue working the phones for supplemental help. Good second-tier linebackers Kevin Minter and Perry Riley are still available. Viable cornerback options are scarce, though perhaps players such as Morris Claiborne and Sterling Moore offer length and experience the Steelers covet. The signing of wide receiver Justin Hunter signing is intriguing because though he hasn't validated his billing as a former second-round pick, his speed would be a good fit for Roethlisberger in the vertical passing game and he won't cost much on a one-year deal. The Steelers have eight selections in a loaded draft, so the team will prioritize pro days from here on out.
Overall gradeC-plus. There's not much here to grade. There's still time to find help in several areas, and showing restraint this time of year isn't a bad thing. Let's not act like the Steelers have glaring needs at several positions. This roster is pretty good overall. But in the bloated salary-cap era, even teams like Pittsburgh have to spend some. Getting a solid press-man cornerback would have helped this team. Most of the good ones are signed already. Can't have enough pass-rushers and corners, as teams often say. Depth is required at these two spots.

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