Usually bystanders in the NFL’s free-agent market, the Pittsburgh Steelers could be in position to be more than just window shoppers when the signing period begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Though the Steelers aren’t expected to make any high-priced signings, general manager Kevin Colbert said the team might be busy this year.
“I think there’s a possibility we could be more active in the free agency market this year,” Colbert told ESPN 970-AM. “From a (salary) cap situation, we haven’t been able to do some types of things in the past because, quite honestly, we had more work to do just to get into compliance.”
The Steelers easily got in compliance with the 2014 NFL salary cap of $133 million with a flurry of moves last week including contract extensions for safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller and a restructure of wide receiver Antonio Brown’s deal.
The Steelers have about $3 million in cap space. That is not much, but it’s enough to make a couple of moves.
Pittsburgh could clear additional cap space with more extensions or by asking a veteran with a big contract, such as cornerback Ike Taylor, to take a pay cut or be released. Taylor has a base salary of $7 million for 2014 and the Steelers would like to trim that, though they haven’t approached Taylor’s agent with any formal discussions.
The Steelers figure to be more active on the market than in previous years as they try to fill some holes, particularly on defense.
“It’s probably a throwback to the early 2000s, when we were trying to put it together,” Colbert said. “At that point, we were a little more active in free agency with a James Farrior and a Jeff Hartings and so on. So it’s kind of cyclical, but I think we could be more active in free agency.”
Also at issue are Pittsburgh’s 19 players who can become free agents.
The Steelers already took two players off the market as linebacker Jason Worilds signed his one-year transition tag tender worth $9.75 million and safety Will Allen agreed to a one-year deal.
With safety Ryan Clark, defensive ends Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, running backs Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling and offensive linemen Fernando Velasco, Guy Whimper and Cody Wallace all potential free agents, the Steelers have work to do to sign their own players.
“We’d like to,” Colbert said. “Really, until you get further down the road with your evaluations to see how your own stack up against the alternatives (you don’t know who to sign). What are the chances of signing the outside guys that you don’t know?”
The NFL permits impending free agents to have informal negotiations with free agents starting three days before the signing period begins. Sanders, the Steelers’ second-leading receiver last season, reportedly had discussions with Detroit.
Coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons that have ended without a trip to the playoffs, Colbert is open to anything.
“The goal was always to compete for a Super Bowl championship, and to win a championship. Obviously, you’ve got to get in the playoffs,” Colbert told Steelers.com. “We’re never going to say, ‘OK, we know we’re not a contender. We’re going to gut this thing and start over.’ It will never be acceptable for this organization to gut it and start over. Our challenge is to compete and improve, and so we did what we thought we should do with the cap.
“That’s our challenge again this year: to take what we have from a cap standpoint plus where we are from a record standpoint and improve them both. Can you look back on decisions and say, ‘Boy, I wish I would have done this or that?’ Sure, but you can do that with draft picks, with every signing.”