Pittsburgh Steelers: Alex Carrington

Free-agency review: Steelers

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
Most significant signing: The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t wait long to get younger and faster in the secondary as they lured Mike Mitchell away from the Carolina Panthers with a five-year, $25 million contract. Mitchell, who turns 27 in June, will replace Ryan Clark at free safety, and the Steelers are hoping they added a playmaker to a defense that intercepted 10 passes last season, tied for the third-fewest in the league. Mitchell, who picked off four passes in 2013, has the speed to cover ground in the secondary and is also a good blitzer. Did everything come together for him last season because he played on a defense that led the NFL with 60 sacks or was the jump he made a natural progression for a player with an impressive skill set? The Steelers are banking on the latter.

Most significant loss: Steelers fans grumbled about Emmanuel Sanders and his lack of consistency, but his signing with the Broncos cost them a starter and left them Kleenex thin at wide receiver. Second-year man Markus Wheaton is the most experienced wide receiver on the roster after Pro Bowler Antonio Brown but he played just 157 snaps last season. Jerricho Cotchery, who led the Steelers with 10 touchdown receptions last season, is no lock to return. The 10-year veteran is visiting Carolina and it could be a good fit for both sides. The Panthers needs wide receivers in the worst way and Cotchery badly wants the chance to play in a Super Bowl.

Biggest surprise: The Steelers probably anticipated losing Ziggy Hood but they couldn’t have predicted that Hood and Al Woods would sign with other teams so early in free agency. The losses of those defensive ends left the Steelers in need of sheet bodies at the position, and yet it didn’t seem like they were any more inclined to bring back 12-year veteran Brett Keisel for one more season. Maybe that changes if they don’t land Alex Carrington, who visited the Steelers last Friday but is also meeting with other teams before signing somewhere.

What’s next: The Steelers are less than $3 million under the salary cap, which means they have to free up more cash since the $8.58 million they saved this year by releasing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley doesn’t become available to them until after June 1. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons could be on deck as far as a contract restructure. His base salary in 2014 is $6.75 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the Steelers can lower his cap number ($11.82 million) by converting a big chunk of that into a signing bonus. The Steelers could also reduce Jason Worilds’ cap hit of $9.754 million by signing the outside linebacker to a long-term contract.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers were roughly $3.47 million under the salary cap, according to the NFL Players Association, prior to their re-signing of offensive lineman Guy Whimper.

The Whimper deal will be a cost-effective one as he made $715,000 last season but counted only $555,000 against the salary cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

His signing leaves the Steelers less than $3 million under the cap and they are going to have clear more room cap room given their interest in three outside free agents as well as some of their own.

The Steelers hosted former Bills defensive end Alex Carrington for a visit last Friday, and former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore and former Packers running back James Starks are scheduled to visit team headquarters on Tuesday.

The Steelers have done a good job of massaging the cap in signing a handful of their own free agents as well as safety Mike Mitchell and nose tackle Cam Thomas.

Mitchell signed a five-year, $25 million contract last week but his cap hit is only $2.2 million for 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the guaranteed money in his deal is only $5.25 million.

Here is a look at the two other multi-year contracts that the Steelers signed players to last week as both are also cap friendly.

Cam Thomas: The player whose nickname is “Baby Zilla” signed a two-year, $4 million contract, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Thomas received a signing bonus of $1 million and base salaries of $1 million in 2014 and $2 million in 2015.

His respective cap hits are $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

The contract is almost identical to the one former Steelers defensive end Al Woods received from the Titans, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Woods also signed a two-year, $4 million contract that included a $1 million signing bonus.

Essentially the Steelers traded Woods for Thomas, who has also played defensive end.

Cody Wallace: The Steelers bolstered their depth along the offensive line when they re-signed Wallace to a three-year, $3.48 million contract. The signing bonus ($450,000) is the only guaranteed money in the deal and Wallace's cap hits are $880,000 in 2014, $1.25 million in 2015 and $1.35 million in 2016.

It’s a very reasonable deal for a team that needs quality depth along its offensive line given all of the injuries they sustain up front every season.

And Wallace, one of the most well-traveled players on the Steelers’ roster, gets some measure of stability after starting the final four games last season at center and playing well.

The fourth-year veteran can also play guard, providing the position flexibility that the Steelers covet.

Steelers sign NT Cam Thomas

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers finally added a body -- and a super-sized one at that -- to their depleted defensive line.

The team signed Cam Thomas to a two-year contract on Friday, and it will be interesting to see what the addition of the former San Diego Chargers nose tackle means for Steve McLendon.

The Steelers can entertain the possibility of moving McLendon from nose tackle to defensive end, though that is anything but a given despite the need that they have at the position.

Thomas may be more of a traditional nose tackle than McLendon, and the 6-4, 330-pounder started 10 games there last season and recorded 23 tackles while intercepting a pass.

Thomas also has the flexibility to play defensive end, and his signing at the very least adds depth to the defensive line.

Thomas, whose nickname is "Baby Zilla," is only 27 years old and he was a fifth-round pick by the Chargers in the 2010 NFL draft. The Steelers had been interested in him when he was coming out of the University of North Carolina.

Thomas signed with the Steelers during a visit to Pittsburgh, and the Steelers are meeting with former Bills defensive end Alex Carrington this afternoon.

Whether the Steelers need an upgrade at nose tackle is a question that has stirred considerable debate.

The Steelers did not re-sign five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton last year, and they allowed 115.6 rushing yards per game in 2013 after yielding just 90.6 rushing yards per game the previous season.

That decline coincided with McLendon’s first year as a starter, raising questions as to whether the fourth-year veteran is more suited for defensive end or playing in a rotation in which he gets snaps at both end and nose tackle.

To pin the Steelers’ struggles in stopping the run solely on McLendon, however, would be unfair and inaccurate as inexperience at inside linebacker also contributed to them.

The signing of Thomas will fuel speculation that the Steelers intend to move McLendon to defensive end given how thin they are at the position.

Cameron Heyward is the only defensive end on the roster with significant NFL experience, and the Steelers lost Ziggy Hood and Al Woods to the Jaguars and Titans, respectively, earlier this week.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers could move quickly to sign a defensive end after losing Al Woods and Ziggy Hood in the last two days.

A source confirmed to ESPN.com an earlier NFL Network report that free agent defensive end Alex Carrington will visit the Steelers on Thursday night.

Carrington, who turns 27 in June, has upside and could come at a reasonable price since he is coming off a season in which he missed the final 13 games because of a torn quadriceps.

If the 6-5, 307-pounder checks out physically, the Steelers could try to sign Carrington before he leaves Pittsburgh.

Carrington, a third-round pick of the Bills in 2010, is probably the best free-agent option for the Steelers as far as defensive ends, and they need sheer bodies at the position.

There are just three defensive ends on the roster, and only Cameron Heyward has any significant NFL experience.

Hood, the Steelers' first-round pick in 2009, signed Thursday morning with the Jaguars and Woods signed with the Titans on Wednesday night.

The Steelers could bring back Brett Keisel for one more season as the 12th-year veteran has no intention of retiring and would love to play his entire career in Pittsburgh.