F. Dale Lolley Column

Steelers adding plenty of depth

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The NFL free agency period is not even a month old, and the Steelers have signed seven players from other teams.


For a team that usually sits in the back of the room watching others line up to ask all the pretty girls to dance, it’s certainly seems like a change of pace.


In reality, it’s not.


While many teams have been spending big money on free agents this offseason, the Steelers have remained true to their bottom line. They only made one signing that will have long-term ramifications on their future salary cap, that being safety Mike Mitchell.


Mitchell’s five-year, $25-million deal only counts $2.2 million against this year’s salary cap, which ranks 10th on the team.


That’s hardly in the same ballpark with some of the other big-money deals being handed out.


The Steelers haven’t overpaid for anyone, though they would have liked to have kept some of their own players, such as wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and defensive lineman Al Woods.


Instead of getting into a bidding war for either player, the Steelers moved on and made more prudent signings, adding defensive lineman Cam Thomas and wide receiver Lance Moore.


The money they didn’t spend to keep Cotchery and Woods was then available to make other signings, adding to the depth.


And that is what this offseason has been about, adding depth.


At this point, Mitchell is the only sure starter signed in this offseason.


Thomas and Moore will certainly have a chance to start, but it’s not written in stone as it is with Mitchell.


The Steelers’ other four signings – wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, running back LeGarrette Blount, cornerback Brice McCain and linebacker Arthur Moats – were signed for depth.


Blount and Moats will almost certainly be on the opening 53-man roster, but there are no guarantees for the two players signed this week, Heyward-Bey and McCain, a pair of low-risk, high-reward signings. Either could be cut tomorrow with little effect on the salary cap.


That is where this offseason differs for the Steelers from the previous few years.


Because the NFL salary cap had basically stagnated the past few seasons, the Steelers, who had locked up a number of their star players from teams that went to the Super Bowl three times in six seasons, were stuck in cap hell.


It meant that instead of having veterans such as Heyward-Bey and McCain fighting for roster spots, the Steelers were counting on unproven and untested players to fill the back end of the roster.


That added up to a 53-man roster to start last season that was nearly 40 percent different from the one that finished the 2012 season. And more than half of those new faces were players with little to no NFL experience.


The Steelers will likely see similar turnover this year. But instead of having young players nearly guaranteed to win roster spots – something that only the first few draft picks could be assured of before – those spots will have to be earned.


Coaches often talk about how they love competition at training camp, but for the Steelers last season, the competition was basically for the final two or three roster spots. Everything else was pretty much set before they set foot on the practice fields of Saint Vincent College.


Thanks to the signings the Steelers made this offseason and the impending additions they will bring in during next month’s draft, that won’t be the case this season.



F. Dale Lolley can be reached at dlolley@observer-reporter.com.


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