Later today, Peyton Manning is expected to announce his retirement. The 2016 NFL season has certainly started with a bang. The league year actually officially begins Wednesday with the beginning of the annual free-for-all known as free agency. As usual, the Pittsburgh Steelers are poised to have another uneventful off-season.
You’ll see articles on other websites dreaming up a list of potential free agents the Steelers have approximately zero chance of going after. With very rare exceptions, “winning the off-season” through splashy signings isn’t the Steeler Way. They’ll do what they usually do and look at fringe players while waiting to pick through the leftovers sometime in July or August.
Not that it’s a bad strategy, mind you. Pretty much everybody concedes last year’s signing of DeAngelo Williams was one of – if not the best – move of the entire off-season. Williams was basically a cast-off, a veteran salary cap casualty seen as purely a depth acquisition. He turned out to be an absolute godsend when Le’Veon Bell had his usual season-ending injury.
The Steelers could certainly use help, particularly all around the defense. Corner is always a concern, a safety to pair with Mike Mitchell would be nice, and with Steve McClendon hitting free agency, Keith Butler needs to find someone to plug up the middle of an otherwise strong defensive line. William Gay, Will Allen and Brandon Boykin are all free agents which means the secondary has to be addressed in some way. Offensively, Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum are both almost certainly gone with Foster probably being too expensive to retain and Beachum having too many question marks coming off a torn ACL.
Speaking of guys coming off injury, Bell was cleared to start running on a treadmill last week. I bring this up because there’s a lot of talk about the Steelers signing Bell to an extension with this upcoming season being the last on his current deal. Looking at this year’s crop of free agents should serve as a giant flashing red warning sign. Doug Martin, Arian Foster, and Matt Forte are among the running backs available this year.
What do they all have in common? A history of being injury prone. I hate to say it but the Patriots have it right, running backs are too fragile to invest in. It’s far better to get what you can out of them, then move along to the next one once they start to show tread on the tires. Now Bell is significantly younger than those guys (24) but he also has a significant injury history. The Steelers would be far smarter to let him play this year, Franchise him next year and then worry about hammering out an extension rather than sign him now and potentially be on the hook for another LaMarr Woodley situation.
As always, I’ll update when the Steelers sign somebody of note.