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 skill positions, QB/WR/RB
Steelers potential losses
Charlie Batch, QB
Willie Parker, RB
Joey Galloway, WR
Carey Davis, FB
As you can see, there’s not a lot here – other than Parker – that cannot be replaced.
Galloway was a late-season replacement for Limas Sweed – more on him later – who never saw action in a game, while Batch made it through just a handful of plays before suffering a broken left wrist while replacing Ben Roethlisberger in an overtime loss at Kansas City. He was subsequently passed by Dennis Dixon as the team’s No. 2 quarterback.
The team thought so little of Davis, meanwhile, that he was released at the end of training camp, only to be re-signed later in the year.
Losing Parker will be a blow. And it’s almost guaranteed that Parker will not return. He told me after the team’s regular season finale at Miami that he still considers himself a starter and wants to go to a team that will give him that opportunity. It won’t happen in Pittsburgh, where Rashard Mendenhall has taken on that role.
The Steelers would like to have Parker return as a backup to Mendenhall, but realize that’s not likely and won’t make much of an effort to do so.
And they won’t go into next season with Mewelde Moore as the only backup to Mendenhall. That could mean that Isaac Redman or Frank Summers will get that opportunity. But the Steelers could also dip into the free agent market in an attempt to find a promising young back with low mileage as they did with Moore two years ago.
Complicating matter is the unsettled status of the collective bargaining agreement, which could take a number of unrestricted free agents and make them restricted.
Among players who could interest the Steelers who would revert to restricted status include Leon Washington of the Jets, John Kuhn of the Packers and Mike Bell of the Saints.
Former Seattle fullback Justin Griffith could be a possibility as a more dangerous version of Davis and tight end/fullback David Johnson. The Steelers like Johnson’s blocking and feel he’ll improve greatly in that role in his second season, but he’s not much of an offensive threat.
While Summers will again get the opportunity to compliment Johnson, the 6-0, 230-pound Griffith, who turns 30 in June, is an accomplished receiver out of the backfield in addition to being a capable – though not great – lead blocker. Griffith has 141 career receptions for 989 yards and 12 touchdowns.
At quarterback, the Steelers could bring Batch back for at least one more season. He’s well-liked in the locker room and helps mentor both Roethlisberger and Dixon.
The problem is that Dixon’s contract is up at the end of the 2010 season - though he will be an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Steelers will be able to keep him. But we don’t know at this point what changes a new collective bargaining agreement will bring.
The Steelers may want to look for a little more long-term stability.
Though the team will likely sign at least one rookie free agent following the draft, a veteran such as Patrick Ramsey or Brian St. Pierre could be brought in to serve as a more long-term solution as a third quarterback.
Finally, the team expects Sweed to be back for a critical third season now that the “personal issues” he dealt with at the end of last season are behind him.
I know that many people are down on Sweed, but keep in mind that the third season is often a big one for wide receivers, particularly big ones who got by on their athletic talent and size in college.
Witness Sidney Rice’s explosion this season with the Vikings. Yes, Rice benefited from the addition of Brett Favre, but he was a player who struggled catching the ball in his first two seasons, hauling in just 46 passes in his first two seasons. People considered the former second-round pick a bust.
He caught 83 passes for more than 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns this season. I’m not suggesting that Sweed will catch 80 passes in 2010, but he will be given every chance to prove that he’s not a competent NFL wide receiver.
With Sweed, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace and youngster Tyler Grisham returning, it’s unlikely the Steelers will sign a veteran wideout off the free agent market.