Who should the Steelers target the rest of Free Agency?

The Pittsburgh Steelers may be on the verge of replacing Lawrence Timmons. In fact, they’re trying to go one step further as they look to sign New England Patriots free agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
Hightower is one of the most sought after free agents of 2017 and has visited both the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans. 26-year-old Hightower made several big plays in the Super Bowl. He played in 13 games this year and compiled 65 combined tackles, as well as 2 sacks and a safety. However, many experts expect him to resign with New England.

Let’s take this opportunity to review what the Steelers have been up to in free agency in 2017. Priority number one for the Steelers this off season was to take care of their own. They’ve succeeded, at least in part, to lock up several of their key contributors. Star players Antonio Brown (who agreed to a 5 year, $72.71 million dollar contract) and Le’Veon Bell (who signed a franchise tag tender worth $12m) were the key targets here. Also re-signed were backup quarterback Landry Jones and tight end David Johnson.

Free agency has not been a friend to the Steelers in 2017 and they’ve lost a trio of significant players. The Miami Dolphins signed Timmons to a two-year deal where he can run around getting off blocks.

Another loss was wide receiver Markus Wheaton who signed with the Chicago Bears. He was a role player who had showed improvement each of his first few years before getting injured. In the three games he did play last season, Wheaton was able to contribute only 51 yards.

The Steelers declined the fifth-year option on disappointing former first round pick Jarvis Jones. However, a prospect like Jones, a former first round pick, was always going to garner some interest, and he has signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Perhaps he’ll replace their own departed star, Calais Campbell.

One of the Steelers key backups last season is still on the market. Free agent running back DeAngelo Williams was essential when Bell was inactive and despite a relatively low yards per carry (3.5), he should be resigned. He rushed for 343 yards and 4 touchdowns in relief of Bell. Should he sign elsewhere, the Steelers may look to a veteran like Adrian Peterson or Jamal Charles.

In 2016 the Steelers coverage left room for improvement and it was a role many thought they should upgrade in free agency. Whilst they weren’t active in the first round of free agency it’s likely they will look to find a bargain. If they wish to sign a veteran prior to the draft they could do worse than Morris Claiborne or Brandon Carr. Both players are ageing but could fill nice roles in coverage and, more especially as leaders (given the relative inexperience of the Steelers young defence).

Finally, I wonder if the Steelers will investigate an in-state trade and look at Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks has experience in the 3-4 and is best when playing downhill. He has shown an ability to get to the passer when asked and could boost the Steelers pass rush for little cost.

In their latest power rankings NFL.com had the Steelers rated as the third best team in the NFL. They can certainly be dominant on offence but the loss of Timmons will hurt more than many expect, especially early in the season. If Bell and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stay healthy for the whole season they should be challenging for the play-offs but I don’t expect it to be easy! They’ll need a solid draft with sold contributors to get there.
Pic: SportingNews.com

Jonathan Cumbleton

Johnny has been an Eagles fan since 1992 when he was in awe of Randall Cunningham. He covers the AFC North for Ninety-Nine Yards. You can follow him on Twitter @Cumbleton.

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