Offensive tackle Jake Long signed a four-year deal with the St. Louis Rams on Sunday night that could be worth up to $36 million. The former No. 1 overall pick reportedly chose the Rams over the Miami Dolphins, but there was another interested team as well.
The Pittsburgh Steelers surprisingly made a play for Long as well, although it occurred after his negotiations were too far along with St. Louis, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This information indicates the Steelers aren't completely sold on their offensive tackles and the team could be more active in free agency than many expected.
This type of move is unlike the Steelers, who rarely go after such high-profile free agents. Long would provide experience and dependability in protecting the blind side of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose injuries have derailed the past two seasons for the Steelers. By even reaching out to Long, the Steelers showed they have some reservations about either left tackle Marcus Gilbert or right tackle Mike Adams, especially when the team's precious cap dollars should be spent on more pressing needs like outside linebacker, running back and wide receiver.
Gilbert, who has started at right tackle the past two seasons, is expected to make the move to the left side and take over for Max Starks, and Adams has been penciled in at right tackle. The only other impact left tackle available is New England's Sebastian Vollmer. The Ravens' Bryant McKinnie is a stop-gap option.
The Steelers are usually quiet during free agency and that's primarily because they don't have much cap space. Their history is re-signing their own players or developmental prospects like Joe Long, Jake's younger brother who spent last season on the Steelers' practice squad. But Pittsburgh cleared over $23 million this offseason by restructuring contracts and releasing linebacker James Harrison. In contacting Long, who wasn't going to come cheaply, Pittsburgh is perhaps not as cap-strapped as many believe.
The Steelers have been looking at veteran (and presumably inexpensive) running backs like Ahmad Bradshaw and Beanie Wells. There's also a chance of adding an outside linebacker to replace Harrison and a tight end to fill in for Heath Miller, whose status is uncertain after tearing his ACL late last season. Pittsburgh also might have a decision to make at wide receiver if New England decides to sign Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet.
Let's see if the Steelers have any other surprises in store over the next couple of weeks.