Pittsburgh Steelers: James Starks

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers’ search for running back depth has them meeting with a seemingly unlikely candidate for help in that area.

Three-time Pro Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew is visiting the Steelers today, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and Pittsburgh is among the teams that are interested in the eight-year veteran.

Le'Veon Bell is entrenched as Pittsburgh’s featured back but the Steelers have no proven backups behind him. They were scheduled to meet with James Starks on Tuesday but Starks re-signed with Green Bay before visiting the Steelers.

That a player the caliber of Jones-Drew is willing to visit a team that doesn’t need a starter at his position may be a sign of how depressed the market is for running backs.

Jones-Drew has more than 8,000 career rushing yards and is just two seasons removed from a 1,600-yard campaign. Squat and powerfully built, the player who is aptly nicknamed “Pinball” has been a workhorse in Jacksonville, which makes it curious that he would return the Steelers’ interest in him.

Jones-Drew's base salary last season was $4.95 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Steelers are only $2.31 million under the salary cap, and they don’t have the flexibility to pay what Jones-Drew is likely seeking unless they restructure contracts or sign players to new long-term deals to lower their cap hit for 2014.

Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is an obvious candidate for a contract restructure.

His base salary is $6.75 million this year and the Steelers could turn a significant chunk of that into signing bonus and spread the money over the final three years of his contract to reduce his 2014 cap hit.
PITTSBURGH -- Scratch that James Starks visit.

The Steelers’ search for running back depth will lead elsewhere as Starks has decided to stay in Green Bay.

Per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Starks will sign a two-year contact with the Packers, and that development happened the night before the fourth-year veteran was scheduled to fly to Pittsburgh.

Starks, who was going to visit the Steelers on Tuesday, rushed for 493 yards and three touchdowns last season while backing up Eddie Lacy.

He would have been an ideal backup for Steelers feature back Le'Veon Bell, and apparently the Packers feel the same way about Starks in regard to Lacy.

The Steelers don’t have an experienced running back on their roster aside from Bell and fullback Will Johnson.

They are also thin at another skill position after wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders signed with the Broncos on Sunday, and the Steelers could lose another player at that position.

Jerricho Cotchery is visiting the Panthers and Carolina badly needs wide receivers after getting raided at that position through the first week of free agency.

The Steelers are scheduled to host former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore on Tuesday.

Moore, who was released by the Saints last week, caught 37 passes for 457 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. The 5-9, 190-pounder is less than two years removed from his only 1,000-yard season, having caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.
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.
PITTSBURGH -- Emmanuel Sanders’ strange saga is over.

The three-year, $18 million contract that Sanders signed with the Broncos, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Josina Anderson, became official after he passed a physical on Sunday afternoon.

Medical concerns over his feet are why the former Steelers wide receiver didn’t sign a longer deal and, according to NFL.com, some teams were none too happy with the negotiating tactics of his agent, Steve Weinberg.

All in all, however, Sanders made out pretty well, getting a deal that averages $6 million per year and rewards him if he stays healthy. He will also get a chance to put up good numbers while playing with quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver’s pass-happy offense.

The Steelers have more pressing concerns than how Sanders’ situation played out since they have very little in the way of experience behind Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown.

It seemed like a no-brainer that the Steelers would re-sign Jerricho Cotchery, who caught a career-best 10 touchdown passes last season and has said he wants to return to Pittsburgh.

But Cotchery will visit the Panthers on Monday, a source confimed to ESPN.com, and Carolina is desperate for wide receivers.

The Panthers are down three wide receivers as they released franchise icon Steve Smith last week and also lost Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell to free agency.

How much the Panthers are willing to pay a wide receiver, who turns 32 in June, remains to be seen. But the fact that Cotchery is visiting another team adds even more uncertainty to the Steelers’ outlook at wide receiver.

The Steelers are just as thin at running back though James Starks is scheduled to visit them on Tuesday, a source confirmed to ESPN.com.

The fourth-year veteran rushed for 493 yards and three touchdowns for Green Bay last season and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. The Steelers would be eyeing Starks to fill the same kind of role he had last season when he backed up rookie Eddie Lacy.

Le’Veon Bell is entrenched as the Steelers’ feature back but they need depth at the position. Jonathan Dwyer, Bell’s primary backup last season, signed with the Cardinals last week.