On the Steelers/Analysis: Time to add up month's wins, losses
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Where do the Steelers stand after much of the smoke has cleared in the first dozen days of free agency? Still standing, if a little wobbly.
The loss of Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders left their group of wide receivers short and weaker, even though they added 5-foot-9 veteran Lance Moore. They have no running backs to speak of after Le'Veon Bell. And their defensive line looks as shallow as it has this century, even in March.
On the other hand, they strengthened their position at safety with their biggest signing, Mike Mitchell, and by re-signing Will Allen. They now have two young safeties in Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas and two vets in Allen and Troy Polamalu.
At the moment, they do not have a second starting defensive end after Cam Heyword or a second starting wide receiver after Antonio Brown. But they appear set in their offensive line, both with starters and backups. There are no issues at quarterback.
So they have made progress in some areas, slipped in others, kept the status-quo in spots.
It's time to take stock of the additions and subtractions in free agency, along with other maneuvers and possible future transactions as their executives gather for the NFL meetings that start this weekend in Orlando, Fla.
First, let's look at the various maneuvers:
■ Safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor accepted two-year contract extensions for no extra guaranteed money in order to save the team nearly $8 million in cap space in 2014. They now become the only assumed starters over 30 on defense. Excellent move.
■ Tackle Levi Brown, who suited up for one game but got hurt in warmups, was released to create $6.25 million in salary cap space. That was a no-brainer.
■ Linebacker Larry Foote was released to save $1.5 million in salary cap space. The coaches determined he no longer could play at an acceptable level. The move was not made to create cap room, particularly. They get more leadership drain by doing so, but decided it was time to move on.
■ Linebacker Jason Worilds was tagged as a transition player and he quickly signed the one-year contract that comes with it for $9,754,000. It's a move that had to be made, but one still waiting for the other shoe to drop with a long-term contract that would reduce that pricey salary-cap number in 2014. They could have used that room now, but it does not look as though they will get a long-term deal anytime soon.
■ Linebacker LaMarr Woodley was released, effective June 2, which is when the team will see their salary cap room grow by $8 million because of it. This move had to be made in conjunction with keeping Worilds.
■ Sanders signed with the Denver Broncos. While he was their biggest loss in free agency, they never made a real attempt to keep him.
■ Cotchery signed with the Carolina Panthers. He was among the few they really wanted to keep and were unable to do so. There was some indication that his wife, Mercedes, influenced him to leave Pittsburgh for North Carolina, where he met her while in college at North Carolina State.
■ They responded a day later by signing Moore, an eight-year vet with the New Orleans Saints who will presumably take Cotchery's spot.
■ Cornerback Curtis Brown, a third-round draft bust, was released to little effect.
■ Defensive ends Al Woods (Titans) and Ziggy Hood (Jaguars) sign elsewhere, as does halfback Jonathan Dwyer (Cardinals) and tight end David Johnson (Chargers). The Steelers might have been interested in keeping some of that quartet, but not interested enough.
■ Free agent safety Mike Mitchell left the Carolina Panthers to replace Ryan Clark for five years, $25 million, which is back-loaded to protect the team in case he does not pan out. He has been their best and biggest signing. They were not going to bring Clark back and this took the pressure off them to draft a safety.
■ The Steelers re-signed veteran safety Will Allen, long-snapper Greg Warren, backup guard-center Cody Wallace and backup guard-tackle Guy Whimper. All excellent choices to bring back, although none a full-timer.
■ Signed San Diego free agent nose tackle Cam Thomas to a two-year, $4 million contract. They needed to find someone to play in their defensive line. Although he lost his starting job near the end of last season, he gives them some depth.
■ Defensive end Brett Keisel remains a free agent in limbo. They have made no move to re-sign him and it appears he has no offers elsewhere. Agent Eric Metz said Keisel will not play in 2014 for minimum wage, which in his case would be $955,000.
■ Fernando Velasco, who played so well at center after Maurkice Pouncey's torn ACL in the opener, is still rehabbing from his Nov. 28 Achilles tear. He is a free agent, and the team will be interested in signing him back close to the opening of training camp, when his foot should be healed.
■ The same could be true for their free agent halfback LaRod Stephens-Howling, whose ACL was torn in the opener. It's possible he could return.
■ The Steelers have $2,174,434 in salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. That's enough for them to craft a multi-year contract for someone. They also could create another $3.8 million in space by restructuring the contract of Lawrence Timmons. So they have the means -- a way to have nearly $8 million in salary cap space now (not counting the additional $8 million they will gain on June 2 from the release of LaMarr Woodley). They could pick up more by signing Worilds to a long-term contract.
■ They can use some of that space on a veteran receiver, a backup halfback and a defensive end. Or, they can start re-signing players such as Maurkice Pouncey and Ben Roethlisberger to extensions.