That worked out pretty well as James Farrior anchored the middle of the Pittsburgh defense for the next decade, helping the team to a pair of Super Bowl victories and three appearances in the NFL's championship game.
But the signing of Farrior at $5.4 million for three years in 2002 received little fanfare in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else in the NFL for that matter, since it came weeks after the free agent period began. But there is little doubt it was the best free agent signing in Steelers' history.
Now that Farrior is gone – released in the veteran purge of 2012 – the Steelers might be in search of their next free agent steal.
As usual, the team hasn't been a player in the early free agent flurry. But that doesn't mean it won't make some moves late in the game – such as when they signed Flozell Adams two years ago – that could have a big impact.
And there are still plenty of solid players remaining despite the early feeding frenzy.
Some of the players that I mentioned prior to the start of free agency are still available, including running back Justin Forsett, fullback Owen Schmitt, tight end Vinsanthe Shiancoe and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. Those players could still help the Steelers and as the free agent period wears on, the pricetag continues to drop.
The Steelers also hosted their first outside free agent last week, bringing in Buffalo offensive tackle Demetrius Bell for a look to see if the oft-injured 27-year-old would meet their doctor's standards.
But as the offseason has worn on, some other players have also found themselves suddenly on the free-agent market.
Here's a look at some other players who could still interest the Steelers at this late date:
Jason Brown, G/C, St. Louis – Brown was released by St. Louis March 12 in a cost-cutting move, though he hadn't lived up to the $37.5-million contract he signed with the Rams in 2009. Brown (6-3, 320) has started at both guard and center for the Ravens and Rams, and the Steelers value versatility. He's also just 29. The Panthers showed some interest early in free agency, but he left Carolina without a contract. The Steelers know him well, having lined up against Brown during his four seasons in Baltimore.
Vernon Carey, G/OT, Miami - Again, we're looking at versatility here. Carey has started at both right tackle and guard. In 2011, he was penalized just once while allowing three sacks. A seven-year starter with the Dolphins, the 6-5, 340-pound Carey is an excellent run blocker. He's also just 31 and should have several productive seasons remaining.
Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis – Why not? I know Clark has been injury prone, but he's also a player who commands respect from a defense. The Steelers have never really had a true complementary receiving tight end to work the middle with Heath Miller. That could be even more important now that Hines Ward is gone. Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are a dangerous trio, but they're not the biggest of receivers. Clark would be a weapon, and considering he's played in just 17 games in the past two seasons, might come cheaply for a one-year deal. With Weslye Saunders suspended to start the season, the Steelers have a need here. Clark could fill it.
Leonard Pope, TE, Kansas City – Pope has already followed Todd Haley from Arizona to Kansas City. Why not follow him to Pittsburgh as well? It wouldn't be a sexy signing, but the 6-8, 264-pound Pope certainly would offer something the other Pittsburgh tight ends do not – height. Haley has lauded Pope for his blocking abilities in the past, and if he could free up Miller for more receiving action, Steelers fans would be happy.
Luis Castillo, DE, San Diego – It's hard to believe, but Castillo (6-3, 290) is still just 28 years old. He played in just one game in 2011 and the Chargers released him rather than pay him a $1-million roster bonus on top of his $3.9-million base salary. Castillo has plenty of money, does he want to win a championship? He's visited New England and Kansas City and left both cities without a contract, meaning he's likely looking for more than the veteran minimum at this point. But as free agency drags on, reality starts to set in. Castillo would give the Steelers a veteran to work in a rotation with Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward at defensive end. Castillo has also shown some ability to get to the quarterback out of a 3-4 defensive end position as well.
Derek Landri, DL, Philadelphia – At 6-2, 290 pounds, the former Notre Dame star could help fill the void left by the departures of Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke. The Steelers don't like to be forced to play young guys, especially on the defensive line. Heyward has the look of a future star at defensive end, but if the team is considering moving Hood inside to nose tackle until Casey Hampton is ready, that's not a good fit. Landri, like Hoke, could fill in on the nose or at end and would come cheap. As a starter for Carolina in 2010, he recorded 43 tackles and three sacks.
Tim Dobbins, ILB, Houston - With a number of higher-profile inside linebackers – David Hawthorne, Brady James and London Fletcher – still on the market, a guy like Dobbins (6-1, 245) is getting overlooked. While serving mainly as a backup in his career, the 29-year-old has made 16 career starts and could be a potential special teams captain. He's also shown a nose for the ball in his limited playing time, recording a pair of interceptions and six forced fumbles. Dobbins could likely be had for the veteran minimum, a nice cost for a guy who could provide some veteran depth and experience.
Jonathan Goff, ILB, NYG - Tough for the former Vanderbilt star. He becomes a free agent in a year with plenty of inside linebackers on the market following a season in which he missed the year with an ACL injury. But Goff started all 16 games for the Giants in 2010, recording 80 tackles, a sack and forced fumble. He's also just 26. Goff's injury happened in early September, which is why the market has been slow for him. This would be a move the Steelers could make just prior to the start of training camp, particularly if they don't get an inside linebacker early in the draft.
(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)