Pittsburgh Steelers: Alterraun Verner

PITTSBURGH -- Free agency started Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET with a flurry of signings and the Steelers, as they normally do at the start of the league's new year, staying on the sidelines.

That does not mean the Steelers are sitting out free agency -- just the first frenzied part of it.

The Steelers have inquired about a handful of free agents, and they are one of two teams -- the Lions are the other one -- interested in Dolphins safety Chris Clemons, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Clemons, 28, has played all five of his NFL seasons in Miami, and in 2013 the 6-1, 214-pounder recorded 92 tackles and intercepted a pass while breaking up eight others.

Clemons saved the Dolphins' 34-28 win over the Steelers last December when he got just enough of a push on Antonio Brown to force him to step on the sidelines and negate a miracle touchdown on the final play of the game.

The Steelers have a need at safety even with Troy Polamalu returning next season, and they may not add to the position solely through the draft.

They are also thin at cornerback and inquired about at least three of them during the period in which teams were allowed to talk to agents of prospective free agents.

Tennessee's Alterraun Verner will probably be too pricey for the Steelers, making Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn and Miami's Nolan Carroll more realistic targets for Pittsburgh.

Carroll flew to Buffalo on Tuesday, and there is a possibility that he visits the Steelers, though nothing has been scheduled yet, a source told ESPN.com.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers are targeting cornerbacks in free agency, having reached out to representatives for at least three of them during the period that teams and agents of prospective free agents are allowed to talk but not consummate any deals.

The Steelers have inquired about Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner, Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn and Miami’s Nolan Carroll, according to multiple sources, and it looks like they are serious about replenishing one of the thinnest positions on their roster through free agency as well as the draft.

Pittsburgh has only three cornerbacks on the roster with meaningful NFL experience. And Ike Taylor’s future is uncertain with the 11th-year veteran scheduled to make $7 million in base salary in 2014.

Verner is one of the top cornerbacks in the free-agent class, and the fourth-year veteran is set to cash in after intercepting five passes and making the Pro Bowl last season. Verner, who has ties to Steelers assistant coaches Mike Munchak and Carnell Lake, will probably be too pricey for the Steelers, who are less than $4 million under the cap but can create more room by releasing Taylor.

Munnerlyn and Carroll may be the more realistic options for the Steelers from an economic standpoint, as neither is among the cornerbacks who will command top dollar on the open market.

The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Munnerlyn, who turns 26 next month, recorded 73 tackles and three sacks while also intercepting two passes last season for Carolina. The 6-1, 205-pound Carroll recorded 47 tackles and intercepted three passes last season for the Dolphins, and he is young, having turned 26 in January.

The Steelers are familiar with Carroll having hosted him for a pre-draft visit in 2010. The Dolphins picked Carroll in the fifth round that year while Munnerlyn was a seventh-round pick by the Panthers in 2009.

The free-agent signing period starts Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, and that is when teams are also allowed to host free agents for visits.
A source confirmed the Pittsburgh Steelers have expressed interest in cornerback Alterraun Verner, who could be one of the most sought after players when the free-agent signing period begins on Tuesday.

Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean first reported the Steelers' interest in the Titans cornerback.

It makes a ton of sense for the Steelers to at least inquire about Verner during the period in which teams are allowed to talk to agents of impending free agents but not consummate any deals (wink, wink) with them.

The Steelers have a serious need at cornerback, and Verner is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he intercepted five passes for the Titans, including one against the Steelers. The 5-foot-10, 187-pounder is only 25, and he has played every game in his four NFL seasons.

What’s more, the Steelers have more familiarity with Verner than most teams.

New offensive line coach Mike Munchak was Verner’s head coach in Tennessee for three seasons. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was Verner’s position coach his senior year at UCLA.

Working against the Steelers when it comes to Verner is dollars and sense.

The market will not be an accommodating one for cornerback-needy teams that don’t have much room under the salary cap like the Steelers (they are about $3.7 million under the cap, according to ESPN roster management).

Sam Shields established the price range for the top available cornerbacks when he signed a four-year, $39 million contract that will keep him in Green Bay.

That is a big number, and the price could be higher for Verner, becausre a handful of teams reportedly have already expressed interest. The Steelers could find a way to sign Verner given how effective they are at massaging the salary cap, and with increases in the spending ceiling anticipated over the next couple of years.

But can they afford to invest so much in one player, even one as talented as Verner, when they have so many other needs as well on defense?

I would be surprised if the Steelers engage in a bidding war for Verner, and with the start of free agency almost here, that might be the only way they can land him.