As I do every offseason, I’ll take a look over the next few weeks at the Steelers’ potential free agents and possible veteran replacements or upgrades.
Keep in mind that the Steelers have never been major players on the free agent market. So no matter how much you want them to go out and sign say, Terrell Owens, it’s not going to happen.
This week, we’ll take a look at the offensive line.
Steelers potential losses
Willie Colon, RT
Darnell Stapleton, G/C (restricted)
The Steelers, like many teams, will be watching the collective bargaining agreement negotiations closely.
If no new agreement is reached, Colon, along with a number of other players, will be restricted free agents rather than unrestricted.
And no other position may be affected by that like this group of offensive linemen.
The Steelers would like to have Colon back to man their right tackle position. He’s gotten better the more he’s played and has turned into a good, but not great, player.
But can the Steelers do better by bringing in a free agent?
Certainly a free agent lineman would help this team a great deal. The Steelers have not done a great job in recent years drafting on the offensive line. They haven't taken one in the first two rounds of the draft since Kendall Simmons in 2002 and several of the later draft picks haven't worked out as well as they would like.
If the Steelers choose to go the free agent route, there are a number of intriguing possibilities, most of who will be restricted if there is no new collective bargaining agreement.
And that could be the rub.
For example, the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints have three linemen, tackles Jammal Brown and Jermon Bushrod, and guard Jahri Evans, who are scheduled to reach free agency.
Brown, Bushrod and Evans will be restricted if there is no new collective bargaining agreement.
The problem for the Saints will be decided how to tender each of those players.
Brown, who will turn 29 next month, is the oldest of the trio, but might also be the most valuable. The former Oklahoma star is a natural left tackle with 58 career starts under his belt.
Bushrod, however, filled in admirably for Brown after his injury and, at 26, is three years younger.
Evans, meanwhile, was the team’s best run blocker from his right guard position.
And, as the Steelers know all too well, there is a heavy price that goes along with being a Super Bowl champion, making it unlikely that New Orleans will be able to keep all three.
Brown would certainly be an upgrade for the Steelers, but, even coming off an injury, his price tag will likely be out of the team’s range. That’s especially true considering how much money the Steelers are paying Max Starks. They could sign Brown and move Starks back to right tackle – a move that would really solidify the team’s line – but would likely then have $12 to $14-million per season wrapped up in their offensive tackles.
Of the three, Bushrod, a Towson product, might be the best fit, if the Saints tender him with a low offer. Bushrod is a former fourth-round draft pick.
A number of other decent options are also available, but are also looking at the possibility of restricted free agency.
That group would include San Diego left Marcus McNeil, Minnesota right tackle Ryan Cook and New England guard Logan Mankins.
Of the unrestricted group, there are two players who are young enough to still have some upside who have not lived up to their billing with their current teams, St. Louis’ Alex Barron and Green Bay’s Daryn Colledge.
Barron, a former first-round draft pick, has been plagued by penalties playing left tackle for the Rams, particularly false starts. But perhaps a change of scenery and joining a winning program could bring out the best in him.
Colledge, meanwhile, is headed for unrestricted free agency, but the word out of Green Bay is that the former second-round draft pick won’t be tendered an offer.