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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Steelers land a big fish

Sorry I've been a little inactive on the blog this week. Been in Myrtle Beach watching my son's high school baseball team open the season.

The Steelers, of course, added another good free agent pickup on Friday, signing running back LeGarrette Blount to back up LeVeon Bell.

Blount, a former 1,000-yard rusher with Tampa Bay, comes over from New England, where he ran for more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013 as part of a running back rotation.

He might not get quite as much work as the 150-plus carries he had with the Patriots in 2013, but I would expect the Steelers to split the touches between Bell and Blount in a 70-30 fashion.

Blount also averaged more than 29 yards per kickoff return in 2013 for New England, so there's a good chance he will serve that role with the Steelers as well.

The 250-pounder averaged a  very healthy 5.0 yards per carry in 2013 - the second time in his four-year NFL career he's been at 5.0 - and should give the Steelers the best 1-2 running back punch in the AFC North.

@ With a wide receiver and running back added to the equation, the Steelers will be done in free agency offensively. They'll add a wide receiver in the first two days of the draft in May to complete their offensive makeover.

I still see some mock drafts with the Steelers taking an offensive linemen in the first round and chuckle every time. That's not going to happen.

Pittsburgh is taking a wide receiver or corner in the first round with the top targets being Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin, pretty much in that order.

If none of those players are available, or if it's Benjamin, who they feel they might be able to get a few picks later, you could see a trade down.

My perfect Steelers scenario at this point would be Dennard in the first round and a big wideout in the second, with Donte Moncrief and Jordan Matthews being the targets.

@ With Alex Carrington signing with St. Louis earlier this week, the odds increased for the Steelers to bring back Brett Keisel for one more year to serve in a defensive line rotation with Cam Thomas.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Steelers-Bills agree to joint practices

The Steelers and Bills have agreed to hold joint practices the next two seasons over the course of three days.

The Bills will visit Latrobe this summer, with the Steelers returning the favor and visiting the Bills' camp at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., in 2015.

The Steelers and Bills used to hold a joint practice/scrimmage back in the early 90s at Edinboro University and Pittsburgh also used to scrimmage against Washington.

The interesting thing about these scrimmages is that the Bills' general manager, Doug Whaley, is a former scout for the Steelers and Buffalo has a number of former Steelers on its roster.

@ The Steelers hope to sign a veteran free agent running back by the end of this week.

Maurice Jones-Drew is still the frontrunner, but he wants $3.5 million to play this season, more than the Steelers, who are currently less than $1 million under the salary cap, are willing to pay.

LeGarrette Blount will be in town later this week to meet with team officials once they get back from the owner's meetings.

The Steelers can free up some cash immediately with a restructure of Lawrence Timmons' contract, something that would be beneficial to both parties.

At some point, they'll also work out a new deal with linebacker Jason Worilds - though that's a little more difficult since it's a negotiation. It takes two sides to agree.

The team isn't in any hurry to extend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is scheduled to make just over $12 million this season and has two seasons remaining on his current deal.

That's a bargain price for a quarterback of Roethlisberger's skill.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Steelers add linebacker depth

The Steelers signed Buffalo free agent linebacker Arthur Moats on Monday, barely getting him in the door at the team facility before coming to an agreement on a one-year deal.

Moats, a starter at weakside linebacker for the Bills in 2013, has good speed -he ran in the 4.6s at the NFL combine - and  size at 6-2, 250. He can play inside or outside, giving the Steelers some much-needed depth.

In 2013, Moats, a former sixth-round pick of the Bills, had 54 tackles.

His signing would appear to bring to an end any thoughts by the team of bringing James Harrison back.

That's probably not a bad thing. At 26, Moats is 10 years younger than Harrison and will give the team far more flexibility on game days because he can also play special teams.

It will be interesting to see if he can push or beat out Vince Williams for a starting spot at inside linebacker, or if that's even in the cards.

Moats is considered a good locker room guy and is very active in the community.

@ The Steelers have pushed running back LeGarrette Blount's visit to Friday when Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II return from the owners meetings.

The Steelers don't appear to be in a real hurry to sign a backup running back. That is one position where it is very easy for a rookie to come in and contribute greatly right away.

@ The Steelers received a third, fifth and sixth round draft pick in the compensatory draft.

The third rounder was expected for Mike Wallace, as was a fifth for Keenan Lewis. The sixth was a little unexpected. I had guessed they'd get a seventh, if anything.

Pittsburgh now has nine picks in this year's draft.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Steelers sign Moore, to host Blount

The Steelers on Friday bolstered their thin wide receiver group by signing veteran Lance Moore to a two-year deal.

Pittsburgh was in dire straights at receiver, having lost both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery in free agency to Denver and Carolina, respectively, earlier this week.

Moore, who has 346 career receptions for 4,281 yards and 38 touchdowns, gives the Steelers another veteran option. The only other receivers with NFL experience on the roster behind Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye, have a combined eight career receptions, all of which came in 2013.

The Steelers would have preferred to keep Cotchery, but when he scheduled a visit with Carolina earlier this week, they immediately contacted Moore and had him in for a visit.

The addition of Moore could give the Steelers a MAC-heavy starting offense in 2014. Brown, Moore and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all played in that conference.

Ironically, Moore also signed as a rookie free agent with Cleveland in 2005 before joining New Orleans after his release. Now, Moore will play against the Browns twice a year for at least the next two seasons.

@ The Steelers are expected to host free agent running back LeGarrette Blount next Friday. Blount rushed for more than 700 yards with seven touchdowns for New England last season despite sharing the running back duties.

Pittsburgh hosted Maurice Jones-Drew earlier this week. But Jones-Drew is reportedly seeking an offer of at least $3.5 million per year, which is more than the Steelers are willing to pay at this point.

The Patriots want to bring Blount back next season, while Baltimore is also reportedly interested in his services.

@ Tight end Michael Palmer also was re-signed by the Steelers Friday to a one-year deal.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Another day, another FA loss

Jerricho Cotchery accepted a two-year deal from Carolina on Thursday, spurning an offer to return to the Steelers.

The deal is worth $5 million, with $3.5 million of that front-loaded into the first season, making it an offer the Steelers would have had a tough time matching.

Pittsburgh is currently about $2.5 million under the salary cap.

With Cotchery gone, the Steelers have a combined 8 receptions on the roster among their receivers not named Antonio Brown.

The Steelers hosted veteran wide receiver Lance Moore on Wednesday and were in a holding pattern with him while they waited to see what happened with Cotchery. Now, you can expect the Steelers to begin courting Moore even harder.

@ Team president Art Rooney II said Thursday that the Steelers have been informed by the league that it will not lose a draft pick for the Mike Tomlin sideline infraction last season in Baltimore.

That's not necessarily a surprise, but it is new news.

@ Tomlin was at Notre Dame's pro day today and did some individual workouts with nose tackle Louis Nix III.

That calculated move - Tomlin made sure photographers were there taking his picture with Nix - could be pure smokescreen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Surprise visitor on the South Side

Veteran receiver Lance Moore finally made his visit to the Steelers facility on the South Side Wednesday.

But the buzz of the day involved the surprise visit of Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

MJD is one of the top free agent running backs available this season, despite the fact he turns 29 on Sunday. He's still a productive running back, even though his rushing average dropped to a career-low 3.4 yards last season.

He's still very productive catching the ball out of the backfield and though he might not get a starting offer anywhere at this point in his career, there has to be other suitors out there who would use him as a third-down back.

As such, I'd be shocked if the Steelers signed him, but he is returning Thursday for another day of meeting with the team, so that's a positive sign.

Moore will remain a possibility as long as Jerricho Cotchery's situation remains unsettled.

But at 5-9, Moore would be another slot-type receiver, though he has played outside at times during his career in New Orleans.

It would be interesting to see how he fit into the mix with the other smurf-type receivers currently on the Steelers' roster, Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton.

@ The Steelers are currently about $2.5 million under the salary cap, but can free up as much as $4 million in cap space with a simple restructure of Lawrence Timmons' contract.

@ The James Harrison rumors continue to be hot and I'm hearing the Steelers are considering bringing the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year back for a season at the veteran minimum.

That move, however, wouldn't likely be made until after the draft.

As I wrote yesterday, I can see the need for a proven pass rusher who knows the defense. But bringing in a reserve linebacker who, at 36, isn't likely to play special teams is troublesome.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Free agency, start of Week 2

Tuesday marked the start of the second week of the free agency period as the Steelers hosted wide receiver Lance Moore of New Orleans.

James Starks, who was supposed to visit as well, signed a two-year contract instead to stay in Green Bay.

Meanwhile, after spending all of Monday and part of Tuesday in Carolina, Jerricho Cotchery left Charlotte without a contract.

He is deciding whether to accept an offer from Carolina or return to the Steelers.

Cotchery likes it here and fits in well in the locker room. I'd say he's probably leaning toward returning to Pittsburgh, but it might come down to money.

@ James Harrison told the NFL Network Monday night he'd like to come back to the Steelers. He still lives in Pittsburgh and was released last week by Cincinnati.

At first glance, it might make some sense for the Steelers to bring Harrison back. Their only real depth behind Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones at outside linebacker is Chris Carter.

But they also have to find out what they have in Carter, who is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of this season.

For a long time the Steelers relied on veterans at the expense of playing some of their younger players. As such, once those players hit free agency, they had a very limited knowledge of what those players could do in terms of game action with the added issue of ticking the younger guys off because they felt there was a glass ceiling here.

The best thing for the Steelers to do is wait until after the draft to make a decision with Harrison. In fact, they could wait until after June 1, when they'll get an additional $8 million in cap space, to sign a guy who already knows the system.

The trouble with bringing Harrison back at his point is that he'd have to come back knowing he's a backup. And at his age, he might no longer be able to play special teams, a must for a reserve linebacker.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Steelers re-sign Whimper

If you'd have told me last August the Steelers would be re-signing offensive lineman Guy Whimper, I'd have told you they were in desperation mode.

But after a solid season in 2013 as Pittsburgh's swing offensive lineman, Whimper was brought back Monday for a one-year deal.

It's a solid signing and gives the Steelers eight of their top nine offensive linemen returning in 2014.

Center Maurkice Pouncey is on pace with his rehab and should be ready to return from his torn ACL by the start of training camp, at the latest.

Because of that, a line that has often entered training camp in a state of flux, will be pretty well set heading into 2014.

Unless something changes dramatically, Pouncey will be at center with David DeCastro and Ramon Foster at guard, Kelvin Beachum at left tackle and either Mike Adams or Marcus Gilbert at right tackle.

Certainly the tackle spots could change, but none of the changes would be drastic. Adams could blossom under the tutelage of new line coach Mike Munchak and take the left tackle spot from Beachum, for example.

But after years of being unsettled, the Steelers' line finally has some semblance of continuity.

@ After signing Whimper, the Steelers have $2.4 million in remaining cap space.

They can, however, free up some cap room by working out and extension with transition tagged linebacker Jason Worilds or with a restructure of Lawrence Timmons' contract.

@ Adam Schefter is now reporting that running back James Starks will re-sign with Green Bay for a two-year deal. The Steelers will have to look elsewhere for running back help.

At this point, I like Michael Bush of Chicago and Bernard Scott, formerly of Cincinnati and Baltimore.

I think guys such as Knowshon Moreno and LeGarrette Blount will just be too expensive.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

WR could become an issue

The Steelers took an expected hit on Sunday when wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders signed a three-year deal with Denver worth $18 million.

But another, unexpected loss could also be on the way as free agent wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery is scheduled to visit Monday with the wide receiver-starved Carolina Panthers.

If the Steelers lose both wide receivers, they will be in a similar situation to Carolina. The Panthers released wideout Steve Smith last week and he signed with Baltimore, while Brandon LaFell, Carolina’s other starting wideout, signed with New England late Saturday night.

The Steelers still have Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown, but are now in danger of losing two of their top three wideouts.

Sanders was second on the team with 67 receptions for 760 yards and six touchdowns in 2013, while Cotchery led the Steelers with 10 touchdown receptions to go along with his 46 receptions for 602 yards.

If Cotchery, whom the Steelers would like to re-sign, agrees to a deal with Carolina, the only receivers other than Brown with NFL experience on Pittsburgh’s roster would be Derek Moye and Markus Wheaton, two players with eight combined career receptions.

The Steelers have had some talks with Cotchery’s agent and he just returned from a team-sponsored fan cruise on Saturday, but the 31-year-old played collegiately at North Carolina State.

Just in case, the Steelers also have set up a meeting with free agent wideout Lance Moore of New Orleans on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh has just over $3 million in remaining salary cap space after making five free agent signings last week, including Carolina safety Mike Mitchell, though the team can count on an additional $8 million in cap space being cleared June 1 when LaMarr Woodley’s contract comes off its books.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Steelers to host Starks

Needing a reliable backup to running back Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers will take a look at Green Bay free agent James Starks.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, Starks will meet with the Steelers on Monday.

The Steelers are quite familiar with Starks, who turned 28 last month. He started Super Bowl XLV for the Packers in a 31-25 victory over the Steelers, gaining 52 yards on 11 carries. He also gained 47 yards on 10 carries in a 38-31 Pittsburgh victory in Green Bay last December while serving as the backup to rookie Eddie Lacy.

Starks had 493 yards on 89 attempts in 2013 serving as the backup to Lacy, the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.

The Steelers are looking for a capable backup to Bell, their rookie of the year in 2013 when he set a franchise record with 1,259 total yards.

Reserve running back Jonathan Dwyer signed with Arizona earlier this week, and fellow reserves Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling are also both unrestricted free agents.

Currently, the only other running back on Pittsburgh’s roster is Alvester Alexander, who spent the entire 2013 season on the practice squad.

After signing safety Mike Mitchell, defensive lineman Cam Thomas, safety Will Allen, long snapper Greg Warren and center Cody Wallace earlier this week, the Steelers have about $3.5 million in available salary cap space.

@ Looking for a good sign? Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, a free agent, was on the Steelers-sponsored fan cruise the past few days.

The Steelers have been in negotiations with the agent for Cotchery about his return. It would seem he's still very much interested in returning.

Perhaps in the future, the Steelers should send all of their impending free agents on a cruise in the opening days of free agency. Tough to get a new contract offer on a boat.

@ After a whirlwind tour of the country, making trips to Jackonsville, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, San Francisco and, apparently, Denver, Emmanuel Sanders appears to be signing with Denver.

The Steelers had planned on losing Sanders all along. They weren't going to overpay for a No. 2 receiver who has a history of foot injuries.

Sanders didn't miss any time the past two seasons with the injuries - he has had problems in both feet - but he did sit out some practices because of soreness.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Day 4 free agency

The Steelers signed nose tackle Cam Thomas to a two-year deal on Friday. The move could mean that Steve McLendon is slated to move to defensive end., though Thomas can also play end.

Thomas was one of two defensive linemen to visit the team on Friday in the wake of Al Woods signing with Tennessee and Ziggy Hood leaving for Jacksonville.

Thomas (6-4, 330) started 10 games for San Diego last season. He signed a two-year deal worth $4 million that included a $1 million signing bonus and a $1 million salary for 2014, putting his cap number at $1.5 million this season.

Buffalo's Alex Carrington was the other. There is no news on Carrington yet though he reportedly had a good visit.

Carrington isn't fully healed from the quad injury he suffered last season, but he checked out OK with the team's doctors

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Free agency, Day 3

The Steelers lost a second defensive lineman Thursday as Ziggy Hood signed with Jacksonville. Coupled with the loss of Al Woods to Tennessee, it assures the Steelers will have a whole new look on their defensive line in 2014.

That's not a bad thing.

The line was just OK in 2013. Cam Heyward is an emerging star and Steve McLendon is a good, not great, nose tackle.

But the Steelers didn't get much out of the other defensive end spot last season. Brett Keisel is 37 and clearly on the downside, while Hood never became the 3-4 end the Steelers hoped.

Pittsburgh will have Buffalo's Alex Carrington in for a visit later today. He was on my pre-free agency watch list and would be a good fit.

The Steelers are also bringing in San Diego nose tackle Cam Thomas for a visit. Thomas began the season as San Diego's starting nose tackle but was benched after 10 games.

The losses of Woods and Hood also increases the chances that Keisel might be brought back on a one-year deal. But if they do so, it would not be as a starter.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley signed a two-year deal with Oakland worth $12 million, or about $1.5 million than he's costing the Steelers in dead cap money over the next two seasons.

Meanwhile, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will make his third free agency visit. After spending time with Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, Sanders will head to Kansas City.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day 2 of free agency

The Steelers made a couple of moves on Wednesday that were much more Steelers-like, re-signing a pair of their own players, center Cody Wallace and long snapper Greg Warren.

Neither move will get much publicity outside of Pittsburgh, but both were solid moves.

Wallace will provide veteran depth behind Maurkice Pouncey, while Warren has long been a solid long snapper since joining the team in 2005.

The Wallace signing means the Steelers likely won't re-sign Fernando Velasco, though that's certainly not written in stone. Velasco, of course, missed the final four games of 2013 with a torn Achilles' tendon. Wallace started those final four games and the Steelers went 3-1.

Three players jumped ship, as running back Jonathan Dwyer signed with Arizona, tight end David Johnson left for San Diego and defensive lineman Al Woods was lured away by Tennessee.

Dwyer had an up-and-down career with the Steelers, leading them in rushing in 2012, then getting released at the end of training camp in 2013. The Steelers later brought him back, but he wasn't in their long-term plans despite the fact they don't have a running back on the roster with any experience behind Le'Veon Bell.

The Steelers would like to re-sign LaRod Stephens-Howling, instead, though they could also look for other veteran help.

 Woods signed with the Titans for $5 million over two years. Considering the Steelers will pay new safety Mike Mitchell just under $2 million this season, that was too rich for their blood, even though they would have liked to have him back since they have little defensive line depth.

Johnson, a former starter at fullback, hasn't played much due to injury in the past two seasons.

Meanwhile, a second defensive lineman, Ziggy Hood, spent Wednesday in Jacksonville meeting with Jaguars officials.

Woods, Hood and Brett Keisel, all unrestricted free agents, combined with Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon to play the majority of the snaps on the defensive line last season for the Steelers.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who was second on the team with 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns – all career bests – spent the day visiting with the Jaguars, as well. Sanders is scheduled to visit Tampa Bay today.

The player the Steelers signed Mitchell to replace, free safety Ryan Clark, will visit with Washington today. Clark joined the Steelers in 2006 after two seasons with the Redskins.

Finally, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, released by the Steelers Tuesday in a salary cap-related move, announced on Twitter than he will travel to Oakland to visit with the Raiders today.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Steelers sign Mike Mitchell

The Steelers signed a player on the opening day of free agency for the first time in as long as I can remember, scooping up Carolina's Mike Mitchell, a free safety with a five-year, $25-million deal.

Mitchell was on my free agency list to watch and is a good signing.

He recorded four interceptions and four sacks last season in Carolina after playing his first four seasons in Oakland and is considered a good blitzer with excellent speed.

Not that this is surprising, but the signing ends Ryan Clark's tenure in Pittsburgh, something Clark confirmed Monday night when he tweeted that he had not received an offer from the Steelers.

With Mitchell on board, the Steelers now have quality starters and depth at safety with Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas and Will Allen also coming back.

@ The Steelers have also begun negotiations with the agent for free agent wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.

Cotchery, who led the Steelers with 10 TD catches in 2013, is an unrestricted free agent.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Steelers continue trimming

The Steelers on Tuesday will release linebacker LaMarr Woodley with a June 1 designation.

By doing so, the Steelers will receive $8 million in salary cap savings after June 1 with $5.59 million of his current deal being pushed into 2015.

So the Steelers will have to continue carrying his $13.59 million cap number until June 1.

Why do it now? It allows Woodley the opportunity to find a job elsewhere while also not giving him a chance to be injured during the offseason at an OTA or mini-camp.

Quite simply, it was the right thing to do.

When Woodley's money comes off the books, the Steelers will have around $11 million in cap space.

The team also worked out a deal with cornerback Ike Taylor to lower his $7 million base salary for 2014, which will be additional savings. Taylor took a $4.25 million pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh and will now earn $2.75 million.

Coupled with the moves they made last week, the Steelers now have around $8 million in cap space.

The Steelers made some initial inquiries with three potential free agent cornerbacks, speaking to the agents of Tennessee's Alterraun Verner, Miami's Nolan Carroll and Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn.

Carroll and Munnerlyn were two guys who were already on my radar and seem much more realistic than Verner, who was a 2013 Pro Bowl player.

The Steelers do have some ties to Verner, however. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak was his head coach in Tennessee, while Steelers defensive backs coach held the same position at UCLA when Verner was a player there.

Still, it's unlikely Verner is going to take a lesser deal from Pittsburgh because of that, especially when he has a number of suitors.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Steelers now close to cap compliance

The Steelers made a flurry of moves on Wednesday trimming $15 million off their 2014 cap to bring them within striking distance of the $133 million NFL salary cap.

All teams must be under the cap by Tuesday.

The Steelers gave safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller two-year contract extensions that trimmed $8 million off of their salary cap while giving neither player any "new" money.

Both players had their 2014 salaries trimmed - $1.5 million for Polamalu and $1 million for Miller - with the remainder of what they were scheduled to earn turned into signing bonus, which can prorated over the three years of their contracts.

Polamalu will now have cap friendly salaries of $6 million in 2015 and 2016, while Miller's will come in at $4 million in each of those seasons.

The Steelers also signed impending free agent safety Will Allen to a deal that seals Ryan Clark's fate. With Allen now under contract, at 1 year and $985,000, the Steelers will allow Clark to leave, not a surprising fact, but now a fact nonetheless.

In addition, the team released Levi Brown, Curtis Brown and Larry Foote at a savings of $7.95 million.

What does all of this mean?

It means there isn't a true urgency to release cornerback Ike Taylor, though the team will continue to work with Taylor at lowering his 2014 salary, which is currently $7 million with a cap hit of $11.9 million.

The Steelers could see some additional cap savings with further extensions - Ben Roethlisberger - or by signing linebacker Jason Worilds, who had the transition tag placed on him Monday, to a more cap-friendly long-term deal.

The Steelers are also now in a position where they don't HAVE to cut linebacker LaMarr Woodley, though that could still happen with a June 1 designation.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Now what?

Now that the Steelers have taken care of their biggest issue in free agency, first slapping the transition tag on linebacker Jason Worilds and then getting him to sign it, thus assuring he won't leave as a free agent.

Next up with Worilds is getting him to agree to a contract extension that will lower his 2014 cap hit - currently set at $9.75 million thanks to the transition tag.

That will be critical for the Steelers, who now find themselves some $15 million over the cap after tagging Worlds.

Prior to tagging Worilds, the Steelers were around $6 million over the $133 million cap, a sum that could have been made up in one fell swoop by releasing Levi Brown and his bloated $6.2 million salary.

Now, the Steelers will have to get a little more creative, particularly if they wish to sign any of their own potential free agents before they hit the open market next Tuesday.

With Worilds out of the picture, who will they target?

Tops on my list would be wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who led the team with 10 TD catches in 2013, and two defensive ends, Brett Keisel and Al Woods.

Woods might be a guy who jumps out among those three. After all, he's been just a spot player over the past two years after hanging around on the practice squad.

But he showed enough flexibility last season at both end and nose tackle for him to be very valuable to the Steelers.

With Emmanuel Sanders likely to leave as a free agent, Cotchery would give the team a stable veteran presence at wideout, while the same could be said of Keisel at defensive end, where Ziggy Hood is also a free agent.

After those three, offensive lineman Guy Whimper would be next on my list, something I would never have envisioned typing last August. But Whimper showed enough as a swing man in 2013 to merit coming back again on a veteran minimum deal.

I would also try to bring back LaRod Stephens-Howling and Fernando Velasco, two guys who could be relatively easy re-signings given that both ended the 2013 season on IR.

Finally, I'd bring back Michael Palmer for tight end depth. Palmer showed me enough last season as a blocker and special teams performer that he's worth keeping around to push David Paulsen for the No. 3 tight end spot.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Steelers place transition tag on Worilds

The Steelers made a surprising move Monday, placing the transition tag on impending free agent linebacker Jason Worilds.

The move came after general manager Kevin Colbert said just a couple of weeks ago the Steelers were unlikely to use any tags this offseason.

But when some of the other top-end pass rushers were taken off the market via tags by their respective teams, it made Worilds one of the hottest prospects on the open market.

So the Steelers covered themselves, somewhat, by tagging Worilds, who led them with eight sacks in 2013 despite making just 11 starts.

The Steelers will now pay Worilds $9.7 million and change if they are unable to work out a long-term deal. He has the right the explore free agency and sign elsewhere, but the Steelers have the right to match the deal.

If they decline to match, however, they receive no compensation.

The tricky part is that teams can continue to offer transition tagged players a contract until July 21 - right before everyone goes to training camp. That, however, is unlikely.

It's somewhat unrealistic to expect a team to make a pitch to Worilds that would count much more than $9.7 million in 2014. A team would have to really front-load his contract with some guaranteed money to make that happen. And, as many Steelers fans are quick to point out, he's only really had one breakout half season.

He has more value to the Steelers, who have liked his potential from the start, than he has elsewhere. And there's also some pressure on the Steelers now to reach a long-term deal with him quickly that will help reduce his 2014 cap hit.

@ The Steelers also are working on an extension with tight end Heath Miller, among others, that will keep him in Pittsburgh in the future while also lowering his $9.5 million cap hit for 2014.

The Steelers, after tagging Worilds, are now about $15 million over the $133 million salary cap.

They can easily shed $6.2 million of that by releasing offensive tackle Levi Brown, and there are some simple restructures - with Antonio Brown for example - that will give them considerable cap savings as well.

But they also have to now get cornerback Ike Taylor to take a cut in pay from the $7 million base salary he's due in 2014.

Something tells me they wouldn't have tagged Worilds unless they were certain they had enough moves to make to get under the cap with relative ease.