Steelers View of UFA: Offense

The NFL's fiscal New Year is March 12. Dale Lolley identifies some inexpensive free agents in whom the Steelers should be interested.

We all know the Pittsburgh Steelers' tight cap situation. We also know that they rarely make a big splash in free agency, choosing instead to re-sign their own players – or at least the ones they can afford.

But they do dip into the free-agency pool on occasion to fill holes in their roster. The signings might not be sexy or flashy, but they are often necessary.

With that in mind, here's a look at some offensive players the Steelers should look at once the free agency period opens March 12:


Matt Leinart, Oakland – Leinart hasn't been successful since the Cardinals took him in the first round of the 2006 draft, but he hasn't been completely awful either. In fact, his career completion rate of 57.1 percent and passer rating of 70.2 aren't too much different than of Charlie Batch's career numbers. He also has experience working in Todd Haley's offense. The 26-year-old Leinart isn't starting material, but he could very well work as an affordable backup to Ben Roethlisberger. With both Batch and Byron Leftwich reaching unrestricted free agency, the Steelers might need an experienced backup to come at a minimum wage salary. Re-signing Batch will likely be option No. 1, but the Steelers could want another veteran on board as well in case something happens to the 38-year-old.

Tyler Thigpen, Buffalo – Another quarterback who has experience working with Haley, Thigpen spent the past two seasons as a backup in Buffalo, throwing a combined 13 passes. But he started 14 games for Haley in 2008, throwing 18 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions. Again, we're looking at backups here who could start in a pinch without being overwhelmed by the experience. The 28-year-old Thigpen could at least compete with the recently claimed John Parker Wilson.

Brian Hoyer, Arizona – Hoyer had a cup of coffee with the Steelers in 2012 when both Roethlisberger and Leftwich were injured, so there's some familiarity. He doesn't have the experience of Leinart or Thigpen, but he did spend some valuable time backing up Tom Brady. Hoyer could, however, be a little more in demand than Leinart or Thigpen.

Running back

La'Rod Stephens-Howling, Arizona – Mike Tomlin thinks highly of Howling, a former Pitt star, especially after the 5-7, 185- pound speedster burned the Steelers for a 73-yard TD catch in 2011. He certainly wouldn't be an every-downs back, but the Johnstown native could fit as a third-down back and is an excellent return man. He's Chris Rainey with an NFL resume. I know fans want to dream about Shonn Greene or Ahmad Bradshaw, but the Steelers signing a valuable role player such as Stephens-Howling is much more likely.

Mike Goodson, Oakland – Goodson has backed up some very good running backs in his three NFL seasons, first with Carolina, then with Oakland. But when the 6-0, 210-pounder has played, he's performed well. Goodson has used his excellent speed to gain 722 yards on 170 carries, an average of 4.5 yards per carry. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry on 35 attempts last season in Oakland and had 40 receptions working as a third- down back in 2011 for Carolina. Goodson did have four fumbles on 143 touches for the Panthers in 2011, but did not fumble last season. He could be a diamond in the rough, and one that could be had for a bargain price. Like Stephens-Howling, he also has experience as a kickoff return man.

Justin Forsett, Houston – I liked Forsett a year ago as a possible free-agent signing for the Steelers, but he signed with Houston instead and averaged a healthy 6.0 yards per carry on 63 rushing attempts for the Texans. He's an accomplished receiver out of the backfield and also has returned kicks and punts. At 5-8, 198 pounds, Forsett might not be an every-down back, but he has value.

Wide receiver

Steve Breaston, Kansas City – As soon as Breaston was released by the Kansas City Chiefs, Twitter came alive with rumors of the former Woodland Hills star being on the Steelers' radar. It makes perfect sense. He's a Haley guy, having played for him in Arizona and then following him as a free agent to Kansas City. It was the same for Leonard Pope, but Breaston is a better player than Pope. If Breaston takes a run through the opening phase of free agency and doesn't find the big money he's looking for, perhaps he'll come back home.

Devery Henderson, New Orleans – If the Steelers lose Mike Wallace in free agency, as expected, they could be in the market for a deep threat. Even at 30, Henderson can still get deep, as evidenced by his 300 yards on 21 catches in 2012 – a 14.3 yards per catch average. He's never been much more than a deep threat, but at least he's capable of keeping a defense honest. The Steelers aren't going to be big spenders here, so dreams of Dwayne Bowe or even Greg Jennings to replace Wallace are just that. But a one-dimensional speedster such as Henderson would be a more logical fit, perhaps along with keeping Plaxico Burress.

Domenik Hixon, N.Y. Giants – With so many big-name receivers on the market, a solid, do everything-type of receiver like Hixon could be a steal for somebody. Hixon had 37 receptions for 526 yards and a pair of scores in 2012 serving as the Giants' No. 3 receiver. And at 6-2, 197 pounds, he offers a little more size than Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders. Hixon has also returned kicks and punts in his career. Again, paired with the re-signing of Burress, Hixon would provide the Steelers with options at WR at a minimal price.

Tight end

Anthony Fasano, Miami – With Heath Miller coming back from a torn ACL and the Leonard Pope experiment likely over, the Steelers could be looking for a solid backup/complimentary player to Miller. Yes, they like young David Paulson, but he has to get stronger. And there's also a good chance that David Johnson will be back at a bargain price after missing the 2012 season with torn knee ligaments. But Fasano would give them a proven veteran in the event Miller isn't ready to go at the start of the season.

Kevin Boss, Kansas City – Like Breaston, Boss was released by the Chiefs. Unlike Breaston, he has never played for Haley. That doesn't matter. He's a nice, complementary tight end, and, at 29, still has some good years ahead of him. A solid blocker and underrated receiver, Boss, like Fasano, would lessen the blow of perhaps not having Miller to start the season.

Offensive line

Will Svitek, Atlanta – Svitek started 10 games for Atlanta at left tackle in 2011 in place of an injured Sam Baker, then missed all of 2012 with an upper arm injury. The 31-year-old former Stanford star could serve as a swing tackle at a cheap price, especially if Willie Colon is released and Kelvin Beachum works his way into the starting lineup as a guard.

Barry Richardson, St. Louis – A sixth-round draft pick of Haley's in Kansas City in 2008, Richardson owns 49 career starts, but played in 2012 for the Rams at the veteran minimum. Cheap offensive tackle experience.

Geoff Schwartz, Minnesota – Hip surgery cost Schwartz the 2011 season and a sports hernia knocked him into a backup role for Minnesota last year, but in 2010 Schwartz made 16 starts at guard for Carolina and was a solid run blocker. The 26-year- old could be had on the cheap.

Garrett Reynolds, Atlanta – Reynolds was a starter in Atlanta – ahead of second-round pick Pete Konz – until a back injury landed him on injured reserve. The back issue appears to be cleared up for the 25-year-old former fifth-round draft pick.

(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)

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