The Pittsburgh Steelers made some surprising moves in the offseason only because they were in cap hell and were able to climb out of it, at least all the way to cap purgatory, which allowed them to sign some free agents and re-sign some of their own.
Of course, they lost some good ones too, especially wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos) and Jerricho Cotchery (Panthers). They released veteran but oft-injured outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (who then signed with the Raiders) and kept younger Jason Worilds when he signed his transition tag, one-year salary of nearly $9.8 million.
They also released veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote, young cornerback Curtis Brown and veteran tackle Levi Brown. Others lost in free agency were defensive linemen Ziggy Hood (Jaguars) and Al Woods (Titans), safety Ryan Clark (Redskins), halfback Jonathan Dwyer (Cardinals) and tight end David Johnson (Chargers).
Of all the free agents they lost, they tried to keep only two, Cotchery and Woods.
Their most important signing of another team's free agent was Mike Mitchell (Panthers), who will replace Clark at free safety. They signed two veteran wide receivers, Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, but will draft another one early. They also added much-needed depth to their backfield by signing LeGarrette Blount (Patriots).
Other free agents they signed from other teams are defensive lineman Cam Thomas (Chargers), cornerback Brice McCain (Texans), linebacker Arthur Moats (Bills) and punter Adam Podlesh (Bears).
They also re-signed a handful of their own players who were free agents. Besides Worilds, they included safety Will Allen, offensive linemen Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper and tight end Michael Palmer.
They might try to re-sign veteran defensive end Brett Keisel, an unrestricted free agent, if they do not feel comfortable with that position after the draft. They will clear $8 million in salary-cap room June 2 from the Woodley release that they could use to sign a player such as Keisel or even former Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who has expressed a desire to return. Their interest in re-signing Harrison, who played last year for Cincinnati, could hinge on what happens in the draft as well.
One more free agent of their own they could re-sign later is center/guard Fernando Velasco. He replaced the injured Maurkice Pouncey after the first game and started at center until his Achilles ruptured in the 12th game of the season.
---The Steelers have the maximum of five prime-time games scheduled, including the first of the new CBS Thursday night package on Sept. 11 at Baltimore.
---Training camp will open July 25 at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
--Center Maurkice Pouncey, who made the Pro Bowl in his first three years in the league, had his season ended on the first series of the 2013 opener because of a torn ACL. He's been rehabbing at the team's facility and hopes to be ready soon to fully participate in the Steelers' OTAs.
"I can't wait," Pouncey said. "I have been away from football for a full season. You lose that much time, sit back and see all of the guys enjoying it. Even though we didn't have the best season, you always build the memories each and every year. I wasn't a part of that this year. It's my team. I want to get back to help us win."
--Former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore, signed in March, turned out for the Steelers' start of the offseason conditioning program on Tuesday.
"Coming from an organization where you won a championship, you want to go somewhere where you have another opportunity to win," Moore said. "Pittsburgh has six Lombardi Trophies. My job is to do whatever I can to make them get No. 7."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
CORNERBACK: Ike Taylor, 34, is coming back for one year and their other top two are Cortez Allen and William Gay. Not a Pro Bowl prospect in the bunch. They need more and better than that to compete in an era when teams often put four receivers on the field.
WIDE RECEIVER: They lost two of their top three in free agency, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. They signed Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey to plug a hole in the dike until they can get at least one good one in the draft, preferably taller than 5-foot-8.
DEFENSIVE LINE: End, nose tackle, take your pick. The Steelers were not a good line last season and lost two in Ziggy Hood and Al Woods as free agents. They signed Cam Thomas but they need at least another end, unless they plan to re-sign Brett Keisel.
TRANSITION PLAYER: LB Jason Worilds (tendered at $9.754M; signed tender March 4).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--WR Plaxico Burress missed all of 2013 with an arm injury. At age 37 in August, he would seem to be done as a player.
--RB Felix Jones was an emergency pickup in a trade with the Eagles and he stuck around all season, serving as the No. 1 backup for a while. He carried 48 times for 184 yards and could be finished as a player.
--DE Brett Keisel turns 36 in September in what he hopes will be his 13th NFL season. He seems ageless and has been effective in his last few years. However, the Steelers will not try to re-sign him unless they still have a need after the draft, if he is still available for minimum wage. He has said he wants to play this year.
--P Mat McBriar was the team's third punter since the final cutdown before the season and was mainly ineffective. An Australian native, he averaged 41.3 gross, 35.0 net and was not as good as the punter they let go to sign him, Zoltan Mesko. He will not return.
--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling was injured in the 2013 season opener after signing as a UFA, a season-ending ACL. He seems to have healed, but would only return if they cannot find someone else.
--LB Stevenson Sylvester has long been a backup on the inside and special teams player. However, his special teams play declined and he was released before the season began, only to be re-signed after the fourth game. He had 12 total tackles in nine games. Not likely to return.
--C/G Fernando Velasco saved the Steelers at center after Maurkice Pouncey was lost in the season opener with an ACL injury. Velasco was available, signed before the second game and started 11 games before his Achilles tendon tore Nov. 28. They would like to have him return as a backup.
--LB Jamaal Westerman was picked up by the Steelers on Dec. 17 and played in one game after he was released by the Buffalo Bills, where he had played in 12 games, mostly on special teams. He's not likely to return to the Steelers.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--S Will Allen: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--TE Michael Palmer: UFA; terms unknown.
--C/G Cody Wallace: UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LS Greg Warren: UFA; terms unknown.
--OL Guy Whimper: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Jason Worilds: Transition FA; $9.754M/1 yr.
--RB LeGarrette Blount: UFA Patriots; $3.85M/2 yrs, $950,000 SB.
--WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: UFA Colts; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Brice McCain: FA Texans; terms unknown.
--S Mike Mitchell: UFA Panthers; terms unknown.
--LB Arthur Moats: UFA Bills; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--WR Lance Moore: FA Saints; $3M/2 yrs.
--P Adam Podlesh: FA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DT Cam Thomas: UFA Chargers; $4M/2 yrs, $1M SB.
--CB Curtis Brown (released).
--T Levi Brown (released).
--S Ryan Clark: UFA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Jerricho Cotchery: UFA Panthers; 2 yrs, $2.25M SB.
--RB Jonathan Dwyer: UFA Cardinals; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--LB Larry Foote (released).
--DE Ziggy Hood: UFA Jaguars; terms unknown.
--TE David Johnson: UFA Chargers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--C/G Eric Olsen: Not tendered as ERFA/Titans; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB LaMarr Woodley (released/post-June 1 designation)
--WR Emmanuel Sanders: UFA Broncos; $15M/3 yrs, $6M guaranteed.
--DE Al Woods: UFA Titans; terms unknown.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Jerricho Cotchery
- Lance Moore
- Emmanuel Sanders
- Jason Worilds
- Maurkice Pouncey
- Brett Keisel