Pittsburgh Steelers: LaMarr Woodley

Here is the first of two Pittsburgh Steelers mailbags. The second one will run Sunday morning. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the hashtag #steelersmail.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I don't know if I would characterize this upcoming stretch as brutal, especially with all three games at home. I do think the Steelers need to win at least two out of three if they want to put themselves into playoff contention. Even if they lose all three I would be shocked if there is a change made in regard to Todd Haley unless the wheels completely fall off the offense. There is nothing in the way that the Steelers operate that suggests they will make a significant coaching change during the season. Fans who are so disenchanted with Haley should also consider that the execution by the players hasn't been close to where it needs to be for this offense to start scoring more points. The Steelers players would be the first to say that.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think both return even if the Steelers miss the playoffs unless something drastic happens like they lose the rest of their games. Mike Tomlin will probably have to shake up his staff if the Steelers miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season and I think he officially lands on the proverbial hot seat if that happens. The Steelers would also have to take a hard look at their drafting process. Whatever the setup is in regard to Kevin Colbert and Tomlin doesn't appear to be working. The Steelers have made too many questionable draft picks since the two have been together. I think the Steelers would be wise to give Colbert the final say -- there appears to be 50/50 split between him and Tomlin -- and give him ownership the draft. Colbert's body of work going back to 2000 has earned him the right to get the Steelers' drafting back on track.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I don't know if I'd say genius. Right now it looks like the Steelers simply made the better of two bad choices. LaMarr Woodley may be non-factor in Oakland but it's not like Jason Worilds has been tormenting opposing quarterbacks. He has just two sacks and seven quarterback hurries in six games. Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week that the Steelers need Worilds to make impact plays on a consistent basis. The best thing that the Steelers can say about Worilds right now is they are not bound to him as far as a contract after 2014. It would be nice if they got more from the $9.754 million they are paying him this season.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: The Steelers wanted another special teams player against the Cleveland Browns with Shamrko Thomas out because of a hamstring injury. I wondered too about the decision to expose Wesley Johnson to waivers when the Steelers presumably could have found someone on else on their 53-man roster to take Thomas' spot on special teams. Ventrone did play well in Thomas' absence, and what does it say about Johnson that the Steelers were willing to risk losing him, as they did to the New York Jets? The bigger question may be why they used the second of two fifth-round picks on Johnson in the first place. That round continues to be a black hole for the Steelers. Their fifth-round picks dating to 2011 are Johnson, cornerback Shaquille Richardson, cornerback Terry Hawthorne, running back Chris Rainey and outside linebacker Chris Carter. Ouch. 
LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers might be "open for business," as general manager Kevin Colbert put it Monday, but there are several constraints when it comes to signing some of their own players to new long-term deals.

The Steelers have a little less than six weeks to get signings done because they don't negotiate contracts once the season starts. Colbert said they have less than $6 million under the salary cap, but the reality is the Steelers don't even have that much money to spend on new deals.

They will have to retain a healthy surplus to be used on signings during the season with the inevitability that some of their players will end up on the injured reserve list at some point.

One way in which the Steelers could shore up a critical position long term and also create immediate cap room is by signing outside linebacker Jason Worilds to a long-term contract.

Worilds' cap hit this season is $9.754 million since he signed the one-year contract the Steelers offered him when they used a transition tag on the fifth-year veteran to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Steelers could significantly lower Worilds' 2014 cap hit by signing him to a multiyear contract, which would allow them to spread the signing bonus over the length of the deal.

Colbert said Worilds is among the Steelers players who are candidates to receive a new contract, and Worilds has said that he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

How much the Steelers are willing to give the player who finally came into his own in the second half of 2013 remains to be seen. Colbert said the Steelers won't be leery of making a significant investment in Worilds even though the 2010 second-round draft pick has yet to produce at a high level for an entire season.

"That's what our job is … to try to predict future success," Colbert said. "It's no different [when] you draft a player out of college and he gets a substantial amount of money in the first round and he's never played a down. A lot of what we do is taking calculated risks."

The risk with Worilds is overpaying a player who has 18 sacks in four NFL seasons -- and getting burned like the Steelers did by the six-year, $61.5 million contract they gave LaMarr Woodley, whom Worilds has replaced at left outside linebacker, in 2011.

The question the Steelers have to answer is whether they have to see more from their top pass-rusher before signing Worilds to a lucrative long-term deal.

Camp preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation’s Scott Brown examines the three biggest issues facing the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into training camp:

Continued growth on offense: The Steelers averaged 26.6 points in winning six of their final eight games last season, and the foundation is in place for them to build on that. It all starts with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who didn’t miss a snap last season and is still in the prime of his career. Roethlisberger never looked more in control than when he was running the no-huddle offense, something the Steelers did frequently in the second half of the season. The offseason practices were critical for Roethlisberger and new wide receivers (Lance Moore) and younger ones (Markus Wheaton) to work together in the no-huddle offense. Roethlisberger said the Steelers will add to their no-huddle playbook during the offseason and training camp before picking the best plays. He must be in sync with the wide receivers; Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery must be replaced for the no-huddle attack to hum again. Repetitions during training camp and preseason practice are critical, especially because the players will be in pads and hitting one another. That means the Steelers’ wide receivers especially have to stay relatively healthy during the most important time for team building, developing a rapport with Roethlisberger and earning his trust.

Getting after the quarterback: The Steelers managed just 34 sacks last season, their lowest total since 1990, and they must get more production from their outside linebackers. Jason Worilds supplanted LaMarr Woodley at left outside linebacker the second half of last season and led the Steelers with eight sacks. Worilds, hampered by a nagging calf injury during offseason practices, has to show that he can be a pass-rushing force for more than half a season. The former second-round pick has no one blocking his path to the field with Woodley now in Oakland. Jarvis Jones has to justify the Steelers using the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft on him. The former Georgia All-American managed just one sack as a rookie but has improved his strength both physically and in regard to his grasp of the playbook. Jones also has Joey Porter mentoring him, and the Steelers will give Jones every opportunity to succeed. Depth is a concern at outside linebacker, so in addition to providing a consistent pass rush, Worilds and Jones have to stay healthy. If general manager Kevin Colbert is looking to add depth, Steelers fans will be quick to remind him that James Harrison is only a phone call away. What would most help the defense, however, is if Jones can provide the same kind of pass rush that Harrison supplied from the right side of the Steelers’ defense when Harrison made the Pro Bowl in five consecutive seasons.

Improving their run game and rushing defense: The Steelers struggled running the ball and stopping it in 2013. Both still matter, even at a time when NFL teams are slinging the ball early and often and using the pass to set up the run. Le’Veon Bell should improve on his 3.5 yards per carry in his second season, and the Steelers have improved their overall talent at running back. LeGarrette Blount is a significant upgrade over Jonathan Dwyer and third-round pick Dri Archer is a burner who gives the Steelers a home-run threat in the backfield. The Steelers should significantly improve on the 86.4 rushing yards they averaged in 2013. Not as certain is whether the Steelers will be appreciably better in stopping the run after yielding 115.6 rushing yards per game last season. Nose tackle Steve McLendon has gotten bigger and appears ready to assert himself this season, but defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward is a question mark. First-round pick Ryan Shazier should be an upgrade at weakside inside linebacker, but he will inevitably endure some rookie struggles, even if he is ready to start this season. Everything with the Steelers’ defense starts with shutting down the run, so it has to do a much better job this season.
PITTSBURGH -- Jason Worilds has always been polite and accommodating with the media. But the Steelers' outside linebacker showed a joking, playful side following an offseason practice that is not always apparent during interviews.

When asked how many sacks are possible this season after he finally broke out in 2013, Worilds did some quick -- and let's just say optimistic -- calculating in his head.

"Four hundred," he said.

[+] EnlargeJason Worilds
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThe Steelers used the transition tag on Jason Worilds, who's now playing under a one-year, $9.754 million contract.
Worilds then laughed along with the reporters who had gathered around him at Heinz Field.

A brief interview on Tuesday may have offered a portal into a more relaxed, more self-assured player. Not coincidentally Worilds finds himself in the unfamiliar but welcome territory of knowing that he is going to start next season.

The 6-foot-2, 262-pounder had been a backup who played both right and left outside linebacker in his first three seasons before another nagging injury sidelined LaMarr Woodley in 2013 and provided an opportunity for Worilds.

Worilds did so well playing left outside linebacker that the Steelers kicked Woodley over to the right side of the defense after he returned briefly from a calf injury. Then they picked Worilds over Woodley in March, opting to use a transition tag on the former and release the latter.

Worilds now finds himself as the leader of a young and largely unproven group of outside linebackers.

The fifth-year veteran has practiced only one time during organized team activities (OTAs) because of a calf injury. But that is just a precaution -- and it doesn't change the fact that Worilds is entrenched at one of the most important positions on the Steelers' defense.

“It's a good feeling to have that security,” said Worilds, who led the Steelers with a career-high eight sacks last season.

Whether Worilds will have long-term security in Pittsburgh remains to be seen.

The Virginia Tech product signed the one-year, $9.754 million contract that the Steelers had to offer after they used a transition tag on him and there are no guarantees after this season.

The Steelers would love to reduce Worilds' cap hit this year by signing him to a long-term contract. But they have to weigh that desire with how much they are willing to invest in a player who has 18 career sacks and has yet to perform at a high level over an entire season.

Worilds, a second-round pick in 2010, left no doubt that he wants to get a deal done that will keep him with the Steelers well beyond this season.

“You put so much time and effort with these guys,” he said. “You want to be there for the duration of your career so that would be extremely significant.”

When asked if he thinks it will happen, Worilds said, “You hope so. It's one day at a time. I think if I continue with that approach everything will fall into place.”
PITTSBURGH -- Signing draft picks hasn't put much of a dent in the salary-cap savings the Steelers received from releasing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

The Steelers are $6.517 million under the salary cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and that includes the four-year, $9.507 million contract that first-round pick Ryan Shazier signed last Thursday.

Of the first six Steelers' draft picks to sign only Shazier's contract counts against the salary cap right now since it is among the 51 highest on the team.

Shazier's deal will count roughly $1.729 million against the cap this season, and the Steelers will absorb a minimal hit for the four-year deal that fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant signed on Monday -- if it is even among the highest 51 contracts on the team.

With only second-round pick Stephon Tuitt and third-round pick selection Dri Archer unsigned the Steelers will still be comfortably under the cap after each inks his rookie contract.

That will give them flexibility to sign a free agent or two -- Brett Keisel, anyone? -- as well as sign some of their own players to long-term contracts.

The Steelers have a handful of core players going into the final year of their respective contracts. Ben Roethlisberger still has two years left on his deal, but the Steelers have traditionally signed their starting quarterback to a new contract before he enters the penultimate year of his deal.

Center Maurkice Pouncey may be at the top of the Steelers' list as far as players they want to sign to a long-term deal, and the Jacksonville Jaguars didn't do Pittsburgh any favors in that endeavor.

The Jaguars signed Alex Mack to a five-year, $42 million that the Browns matched after they had used the transition tag on their starting center. Mack received $26 million in guaranteed money, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the fifth-year veteran will count $10 million against Cleveland's cap this year.

Pouncey's cap hit for 2014 is $5.624 million but the Steelers are unlikely to lower that number by signing the three-time Pro Bowler to a long-term contract. Mack's deal means the Steelers are going to have to pony up to keep Pouncey -- something they should absolutely do -- and the $8 million they received in cap savings from releasing Woodley could help them sign Pouncey without putting too much strain on their cap.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers signed another draft pick only this time they went out of sequence.

After signing five picks in the reverse order of where they were drafted the Steelers signed first-rounder Ryan Shazier to a four-year contract.

Shazier is the first player the Steelers have signed since they received more than $8 million in salary-cap savings from releasing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley in March.

That money became available on Monday, and the Steelers were $8.246 million under the cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information, prior to signing Shazier.

Shazier, the 15th overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft, has been playing with the first-team defense at weakside inside linebacker since the start of offseason practices.

The Steelers have now signed six of their nine draft picks. The only ones who remain unsigned are defensive end Stephon Tuitt (second round), running back Dri Archer (third round) and wide receiver Martavis Bryant (fourth round).

Steelers offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsSigning Mike Mitchell gives the Steelers another speedy playmaker in the secondary.
Best move: The Steelers wasted little time in getting younger and faster in the secondary as they landed former Panthers safety Mike Mitchell on the first day of free agency. Mitchell, who turns only 27 next month, blossomed last season in Carolina as he intercepted four passes and recorded 3.5 sacks. He gives the Steelers a playmaker to pair with Troy Polamalu on the back of their defense. And Mitchell was cost-effective for a team that had limited room under the salary cap. Only $5.25 million of the five-year $25 million deal that Mitchell signed is guaranteed, and the contract is backloaded to make it cap friendly.

Riskiest move: The Steelers shopped more than usual in free agency, but they added only one player to their defensive line while losing defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Al Woods. Cam Thomas, who signed a two-year, $4 million contract, would ideally fill Woods’ role as a swing man between nose tackle and defensive end. But right now he is the Steelers’ best option at defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward. The Steelers need second-round pick Stephon Tuitt to develop quickly and at least play in a rotation at defensive end. They would also be wise to keep Brett Keisel’s number handy.

Most surprising move: The Steelers didn’t draft a cornerback until the fifth round, and that is a position where they have only one long-term starter in Cortez Allen. The prevailing thought prior to the draft was that the Steelers would take a cornerback early and select two of them. Shaquille Richardson, their fifth-round pick, and free-agent signee Brice McCain are the only addition they have made at cornerback. That means the Steelers better be right that the answers at cornerback are already in their building,

What’s next: The Steelers appear to be done adding -- for now -- and most of the $8 million they'll receive in salary cap savings after June from the release of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley will be used to sign draft picks. They have a handful of players going into the final year of their contracts that they should try to sign to long-term deals. The list includes center Maurkice Pouncey, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and Allen. The Steelers could also try to sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract, though nothing is imminent on that front. The Steelers may wait until after the 2014 to sign Roethlisberger to a new deal since he still has two years left on his contract.
PITTSBURGH -- This is the next in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at the all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.

Our sixth look is at the most critical position when it comes to pressuring the quarterback.

Outside linebacker

Who is new: Arthur Moats. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed the former Bills linebacker to a one-year, $795,000 contract after he made 12 starts last season for Buffalo and recorded 54 tackles.

Who is gone: LaMarr Woodley. The Steelers released Woodley in March, and the outside linebacker signed a two-year contract with the Raiders. The Steelers receive more than $8 million in salary-cap savings from the Woodley release, which becomes available after June 1.

Returning starters: Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Worilds, who looked like the odd man out at outside linebacker after losing his starting job to Jones at the beginning of last season, emerged as the Steelers’ best pass-rusher in 2013. He recorded eight sacks and shined at left outside linebacker after taking over for the injured Woodley. Jones made eight starts at right outside linebacker as a rookie, but managed just one sack. The 2013 first-round pick struggled with the speed of the game while also learning the Steelers’ defense on the job.

Most significant addition: Joey Porter. The fiery, emotional leader of the team that made an improbable run to the 2005 Super Bowl title has re-joined the Steelers as a defensive assistant. He should help Jones make a big jump in the latter’s second season and add some of his patented swagger to a defense that could use some of it.

Most significant loss: Woodley. A string of nagging injuries derailed his final three seasons in Pittsburgh -- and ultimately led to the Steelers releasing Woodley, whom they had made the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history in 2011. Woodley’s 57 sacks are seventh among the Steelers’ all-time sack leaders.

On outside looking in: Howard Jones. Perhaps the most intriguing of the undrafted free agents the Steelers signed after the draft, he has good measurables and the 6-foot-4, 238-pounder recorded a school-record 35 sacks at Shepherd University in West Virginia. But is he ready to seriously push for a spot on the 53-man roster after playing at a Division II school? Jones might need some seasoning on the practice squad before making such a jump.

Hidden number: Three players in the NFL had more sacks than the 14 combined sacks the Steelers received from their outside linebackers last season.

Outlook: This is one position that has to scare the Steelers a little, because success from it is dependent on several things, including Worilds and Jones staying relatively healthy and the latter coming into his own in his second NFL season. Moats has the capability of playing inside, but with the Steelers’ depth there he projects as the No. 3 outside linebacker. Sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt is also a candidate to provide depth at outside linebacker. James Harrison has said he wants to return to Pittsburgh, so the five-time Pro Bowler could be an option closer to training camp or during preseason practice if the Steelers need help at outside linebacker.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft and this is the sixth in a series that looks at the nine positions they could address in a week. Keep in mind that the Steelers are likely to draft two cornerbacks so they may not take a player at every position covered in this series.

Our sixth look is at outside linebacker

Added: Arthur Moats

Lost: LaMarr Woodley

Skinny: The Steelers have to replenish one of the most important positions on their defense as the outside linebackers on their roster have a combined 24 career sacks -- less than half of what Woodley produced in seven seasons in Pittsburgh. Do they take an outside linebacker in the first round for the second year in a row? I don’t think so but they have done their homework on outside linebackers and defensive ends who project as outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme. UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence, Oregon State's Scott Crichton and Arizona State’s Carl Bradford are among the outside linebacker prospects the Steelers hosted for pre-draft visits. They also hosted Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, though I think he projects as an inside player in a 3-4 scheme. The Steelers will take an outside linebacker prospect at some point, and I think one could be in play for them as early as the second round.

Draft likelihood: High

Extra points

Last OLB drafted by the Steelers: Jarvis Jones first round in 2013

Last OLB drafted by the Steelers in the first round: Jones

Last OLB taken 15th overall in the draft: Bruce Irvin, Seahawks, 2012

OLBs drafted under Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin: Six

OLBs drafted under Colbert/Tomlin still with the Steelers: Three

Steelers' draft review: 2010

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
PITTSBURGH -- The is the fourth in a series that reviews the Pittsburgh Steelers' drafts under general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin.

Next up is the 2010 draft:

Total picks: 10

Picks still with the team: 3

Best pick: WR Antonio Brown. The Steelers got an absolute steal when they landed Brown with the second of their two sixth-round picks. The fourth-year veteran has already made a pair of Pro Bowls and has twice been voted Steelers MVP by his teammates. Brown set a Steelers’ single-season record with 1,499 receiving yards in 2013, and he came within three receptions of also establishing a franchise mark for catches in a season. Not bad for the 195th pick of the draft.

Worst pick: OLB Thaddeus Gibson. The Steelers took the former Ohio State defensive end in the fourth round with the plan of converting him to outside linebacker. Gibson didn’t establish himself as a player who could at least contribute on special teams, and the Steelers lost him during his rookie season when they released Gibson with the intention of signing him to their practice squad. The 49ers claimed Gibson, but it didn’t turn out to be a significant loss. Gibson has bounced around the league, appearing in just four games for two different teams.

Best value pick (not named Antonio Brown): OLB Jason Worilds. The Steelers took some criticism for picking the former Virginia Tech star over linebacker Sean Lee, who had starred at a Pittsburgh-area high school as well as at Penn State. Such second-guessing only intensified when Lee emerged a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Dallas while Worilds didn’t contribute much his first three seasons because of injuries and the fact that James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were blocking him. Worilds, however, emerged as the Steelers’ best pass-rusher last season, notching a career-high eight sacks. The Steelers chose Worilds over the oft-injured Woodley in March when they used the transition tag on the fourth-year veteran and released Woodley.

Also of note: The Steelers hit big on first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey, No. 18 overall, as he became the first center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons ... Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (third round) and running back Jonathan Dwyer (sixth round) were among the players the Steelers lost to free agency this year ... Every player the Steelers drafted has appeared in at least one NFL game.

Final analysis/grade: It’s hard to quibble much with the Steelers’ first three picks as they netted Pouncey, Worilds and Sanders. The Steelers didn’t fare as well in the middle rounds, but added great value in the sixth round. Brown has established himself as a star, and Dwyer had his moments in Pittsburgh, leading the Steelers with 623 rushing yards in 2012. I’ll give the Steelers a ‘B+’ for this class.

Reviewing Steelers' drafts: 2007

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
PITTSBURGH -- In little less than a month, general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin will lead their eight draft together at the helm of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I will take a look at the team's previous seven drafts under the two starting with 2007, which took place just roughly three months after Tomlin became the franchise's third head coach since 1969.

Here is a review of Colbert and Tomlin's first draft:

Total picks: 8

Picks still with the team: 3

Best pick: LB Lawrence Timmons: The Steelers raised some questions when they used the 15th overall pick on a 20-year-old who had only played extensively for one season at Florida State. But Timmons has emerged as arguably the Steelers' best defensive player and is certainly their most dependable one. Timmons has started 53 consecutive regular-season games at inside linebacker, and the seventh-year veteran has led the Steelers in tackles each of the last two seasons. Timmons is athletic enough to cover the pass as well as rush the quarterback, and he has emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Second-rounder LaMarr Woodley would have gotten the nod here had injuries not derailed his final three seasons in Pittsburgh and led the Steelers to release him last month.

Worst pick: P Daniel Sepulveda: This has as much to do with where the Steelers drafted Sepulveda as much as with his not working out because he couldn't stay healthy. The Steelers traded up in the fourth round to take the punter with the bionic leg and the linebacker sensibilities. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Sepulveda sustained a pair of torn ACLs and the Steelers parted ways with him after five seasons. They are still looking for a dependable punter despite spending what amounted to fourth- and sixth-round picks in 2007 on one.

Best value pick: CB William Gay. The seventh-year veteran has been a frequent target of fan criticism but he has been unsung in two stints in Pittsburgh. Gay has been largely solid, whether as a starter or a nickel back, though unspectacular, and the Steelers couldn't have asked for much more from a player who was their second fifth-round pick in 2007. Guard Cameron Stephenson, taken by the Steelers 14 picks ahead of Gay, never played a down in Pittsburgh and is currently in the Arena Football League.

Also of note: Timmons is the only pick from the class who has played his entire career in Pittsburgh and is still on the team. Tight end Matt Spaeth and Gay each signed elsewhere following the 2011 season. The Steelers brought both back a season apart. ... Woodley's 57 sacks are seventh on the Steelers' all-time list. ... The Steelers' second fourth-round pick, defensive end Ryan McBean, never played for Pittsburgh but started 21 games for Denver from 2009-11.

Final analysis/grade: The Steelers hit on their first two picks with Timmons and Woodley but didn't do much in the rest of the draft. Spaeth has been a good blocking tight end but has never developed into much of a pass-catching threat. The Steelers missed on their two fourth-round picks and Gay is the only contributor they found later in the draft. This wasn't one of the Steelers' better drafts but it wasn't a disaster either. I give the team a "C" for this effort.
PITTSBURGH -- The NFL draft is still more than five weeks away but the Steelers may turn their full attention to it since it looks like they are finished with free agency for now.

The signing of running back LeGarrette Blount to a two-year, $3.85 million contract on Friday puts the Steelers smack up against the spending ceiling and with the least amount of salary-cap space of any team.

They have not tried to restructure linebacker Lawrence Timmons' contract, and they could create millions of dollars in cap room by turning a significant portion of his $6.75 million base salary this year into a signing bonus.

There doesn't appear to be any other moves on the horizon that could create cap room such as a new contract for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or a multiyear deal for outside linebacker Jason Worilds.

The Steelers will most likely wait until after June 1 when they receive more than $8 million in cap savings from the release of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley before they sign more free agents, including some of their own.

If they have put free agency on hold the Steelers have to be more than pleased with what they've accomplished in the last three weeks.

They signed a starting safety in Mike Mitchell, who makes them younger and faster in the secondary. They added much-needed depth at running back as well as a starting-caliber player in Blount. And the Steelers compensated nicely for the loss of Jerricho Cotchery by signing Lance Moore to step in as their No. 3 wide receiver.

They have also addressed both of their lines and signed a linebacker in Arthur Moats, who has the flexibility to play inside and outside as well as on special teams.

The Steelers haven't been splashy during free agency but they have been effective -- at least on paper -- in filling holes.

And it would have been hard to foresee them making this many signings without compromising the foundation of their team a month ago when they still had work to do just to get in compliance with the salary cap.
Steel City wake-up: morning links

It is only March, which is why Mike Tomlin is not worried about the roster coming together.

The Steelers have depth concerns at a number of positions but Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings that the team will add 10 more players through free agency and the draft.

Defensive line is one area that the Steelers have to address, even though they have already signed Cam Thomas to provide depth at end. The Steelers lost defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Al Woods earlier this month, and the latter’s departure came as a surprise.

The Steelers were unaware that Woods was seriously negotiating with the Tennessee Titans until it was too late, reports Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

With the Steelers focused on filling holes on their roster, there doesn’t appear to be any hurry to re-sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a long-term contract. General manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged that the two sides could get a new deal done, but the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Alan Robinson doesn’t expect it to happen anytime soon.

The Steelers are keeping their options open in regard to James Harrison, who has made it clear he would like to return to Pittsburgh after spending last season in Cincinnati.

Colbert said bringing back Harrison is a possibility but it doesn’t sound like anything is imminent on that front.

The Steelers need depth at outside linebacker with Chris Carter the only backup behind starters Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. The Steelers released LaMarr Woodley earlier this month and Colbert said the team cut ties with the seventh-year veteran so it would have more flexibility to sign free agents.
PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison created quite a buzz among Steelers fans with what he said Monday night on NFL Network.

Harrison and Ike Taylor were taking part in the network’s "dynasty week" and Taylor blurted out “Pittsburgh” when Harrison was asked where he wants to play next season.

Harrison’s response: “Everybody knows that.”

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison
Greg Bartram/USA Today SportsJames Harrison could provide some veteran depth for the Pittsburgh defense.
It is an interesting thought to say the least.

And here is how it could work: The Steelers wait until after June 1 to re-sign Harrison, who was released last week by the Bengals, when they will receive $8.58 million in cap savings from the release of LaMarr Woodley.

There wouldn’t be any concerns about Harrison keeping himself in shape until then – his work ethic is off the charts – or having to learn a new system.

Unlike last year when the two sides couldn’t reach common ground on the amount of a pay cut prior to Harrison’s release, the Steelers could bring him back on much friendlier financial terms.

Harrison, according to ESPN Stats & Information, made a base salary of $1.4 million last season and received a little more than $380,000 in bonuses. His two-year deal with the Bengals also included a $1.2 million signing bonus.

Harrison played 15 games for the Bengals in 2013 but managed just two sacks and averaged just over 24 snaps per contest. The 10th-year veteran wasn’t a good fit in the Bengals’ 4-3 defense and age may have encroached on his game as well.

Harrison turns 36 in May, and he has to know that he would have to accept a deal that is amenable to the Steelers as well as a limited role to return to Pittsburgh and finish his career here.

If he is willing to do that, the Steelers should at least consider bringing back the player who is fourth on their all-time sacks list (64).

Harrison could join new defensive assistant coach Joey Porter in helping with Jarvis Jones’ development. He could also provide depth at outside linebacker, another position where the Steelers have little of it.

Chris Carter is the only other outside linebacker on the roster after Jones and Jason Worilds, and he hasn’t shown that he can be much more than a special-teams player. The Steelers are likely to draft an outside linebacker at some point but they can’t depend on that player helping right away.

Look how much Jones struggled to learn the Steelers’ defense as a rookie while also adjusting to the speed and competition level in the NFL, and he was the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft.

The Steelers don’t have a history of bringing back players with whom they have parted ways but they have made exceptions.

Could Harrison fall into that category?

Stay tuned.

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.