Unique Look At Steelers' UFAs

Keisel, Hood (Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)

Jim Wexell's breakdown of the Steelers' potential free agents reveals glaring deficiencies at two position groups.

A whopping crop of unrestricted free agents last spring led to a 40-plus percent roster turnover this past season for the Steelers.

This year's crop of potential free agents is even bigger, by five, at 21.

The near-extinction of restricted free agency helped that number grow into what's probably a Steelers record, but please don't make me look that up. I've wasted enough time researching what hopefully will help us grasp how many of these 21 the Steelers can and should re-sign.

Last year, the Steelers signed only three of their 16 unrestricted free agents: Larry Foote, Ramon Foster and Greg Warren. They eventually brought back a fourth -- Will Allen -- in the middle of the season.

This year the signings will certainly be higher, and I've broken the group down by position to get a more precise feel. In parentheses are the average number of players Mike Tomlin has kept at the position for his opening-day roster throughout his seven seasons as coach.

QUARTERBACKS (3.0)

Under contract: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones.

Unrestricted free agents: None.

Commentary: Pretty dull way to start this column.

RUNNING BACKS (5.0)

Under contract: Le'Veon Bell, Will Johnson, Alvester Alexander.

Unrestricted free agents: Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Commentary: This position needs attention. And the only worthwhile back-up to re-sign is Dwyer, so the Steelers must hope the lack of interest that he received from the league last Aug. 31-Sept. 8 still stands.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5.1)

Under contract: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye, Justin Brown, Kashif Moore.

Unrestricted free agents: Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders.

Commentary: At least the bodies are there. Burress won't get more than minimum wage. Cotchery won't get much more than that. Somebody else will be interested in the soon-to-be 27-year-old Sanders as a No. 3 receiver, since the Steelers don't normally re-sign starters and demote them. (They would demote him, wouldn't they?)

TIGHT ENDS (3.0)

Under contract: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Paulson.

Unrestricted free agents: David Johnson, Michael Palmer.

Commentary: Set up nicely here. Even the UFAs are well-regarded by the team and could be had cheaply. I would look at Palmer first, since D.J. has battled leg injuries.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8.7)

Under contract: Kelvin Beachum, Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Eric Olsen (exclusive rights free agent), David Snow, Nik Embernate, Chris Hubbard, Bryant Browning, Levi Brown.

Unrestricted free agents: Fernando Velasco, Cody Wallace, Guy Whimper.

Commentary: That group of UFAs would make a great bench. But would Velasco come back cheaply? He said he expects to be healed from his Achilles' injury by OTAs. Perhaps he was selling himself through the media. Perhaps the Steelers can re-sign him cheaply because of the injury. But if Velasco, Wallace and/or Whimper don't come back cheaply the team has enough under contract to START to develop its bench. One would hope they're not caught without opening-day depth for a second consecutive season.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6.6)

Under contract: Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Loni Fangupo, Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams.

Unrestricted free agents: Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Al Woods.

Commentary: Poor numbers (re: what's under contract and what's normally kept), but still better than the RB group. Difference here is that a starting job is wide open. That gives this group of UFAs some leverage, but at the same time the Steelers only need one of the three to accept a smallish offer.

LINEBACKERS (8.7)

Under contract: Jarvis Jones, Lawrence Timmons, Foote, LaMarr Woodley, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin, Chris Carter, Kion Wilson, Sean Spence, Dan Molls.

Unrestricted free agents: Jason Worilds, Stevenson Sylvester, Jamaal Westerman.

Commentary: It's all about swapping Worilds for Woodley. I'll have individual player evaluations in coming issues, but let's sum this up by calling it an attempt to keep the healthy, soon-to-be 26-year-old instead of the 29-year-old who keeps breaking down. Woodley, of course, has proven himself as a record-setting pass-rusher in post-season arenas, but if the medical people are concerned about him the Steelers will be forced to clear enough cap room to slap the franchise tag on Worilds, and then release Woodley on June 1.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (9.9)

Under contract: Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone, Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Antwon Blake, Curtis Brown, Isaiah Green, Devin Smith.

Unrestricted free agents: Ryan Clark, W. Allen.

Commentary: All's well here, numbers-wise, but the late signing of Ventrone is an indication they need a fourth safety. Clark won't come back for minimum wage, but Will Allen probably would. (And a P.S.: I'm not buying this Taylor-to-FS talk. Too much work for a guy who's not naturally inclined for the position.)

SPECIALISTS (3.0)

Under contract: Shaun Suisham, Brad Wing, Bryce Davis.

Unrestricted free agents: Mat McBriar, Warren.

Commentary: The Steelers would be wise to keep McBriar just to speak Australian to the newly signed Wing and teach him how to be a pro. Wing has a history of both bizarre behavior and eye-popping talent. Also, look for the reliable Warren to be re-signed as the long-snapper.

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