The Steelers And UFA 2014: Defense

No one in Pittsburgh media knows NFL personnel like Dale Lolley. Today, Dale breaks down the defensive free agents who will appeal to the Steelers.

As most fans know, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren't usually big players on the free agent market. But that could change a bit this season.

Given their cap situation, the Steelers aren't going to go out of character and dive into free agency with the heavy hitters, but the team certainly has some needs that could be fixed in free agency.

Here's a look at some defensive players the team might take a look at when free agency begins March 11, with a special nod to the defensive line and secondary, where the Steelers figure to have some losses.

Buffalo defensive end Alex Carrington isn't a household name and is coming off a quad injury that limited him to just three games in 2013, but the 6-5, 309-pound Carrington is an emerging player and was a starter for the Bills at defensive end in the first month last season before his injury.

Tyson Jackson is a former first-round pick of the Chiefs when Todd Haley was head coach, but Jackson never quite lived up to being the third-overall pick in the 2009 draft. But if the defensive lineman had been a third-round pick instead of the third pick of the draft, he wouldn't have been considered the bust he was in Kansas City.

Jackson had 34 tackles and four sacks in 2013 after recording 43 tackles and three sacks in 2012. A fresh start could do the 6-4, 296-pound former college teammate of Al Woods some good and he might be better suited to play end in Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme.

Chicago's Corey Wootton is listed at 6-6, 270 pounds but is clearly heavier than that. After lining up at end in 2012, when he recorded seven sacks, he slid inside after injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins. Wootton was a little out of place inside and a shift back to end with the Steelers could be welcomed by a player who's recorded 10.5 sacks and six pass deflections in the past two seasons.

Nose tackle Terrence Cody is well-known to Steelers fans after his time in Baltimore and at Alabama before that. While he's never going to be viewed as a star, the true nose tackle is certainly a clogger in the middle at 349 pounds.

Houston's Earl Mitchell spent 2013 at nose tackle, though at 6-3, 300 pounds, he could play end as well. Mitchell has a good first step, a la Steve McLendon, and, at 26, would give the Steelers another good young athlete up front.

Clinton McDonald was a rotational player on the line for the Seahawks, making just one start in 2013, but the 6-2, 297-pounder did record 35 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two pass defenses and an interception.

McDonald's teammate, Tony McDaniel, has the size at 6-7, 305 pounds, that would make him an imposing figure lining up opposite 6-5 Cameron Heyward. He also started ahead of McDonald last season, putting together a 53-tackle, two-sack season for the defending world champions. With a number of key players entering free agency, the Seahawks won't be able to afford them all and McDonald or McDaniel could slip through the cracks.

At cornerback, the Steelers could be looking for a player to help replace Ike Taylor, should Taylor decline a pay cut and force the team to release him.

It only seems like Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn has been around forever because of his memorable name and the fact the Steelers play the Panthers every preseason. But Munnerlyn turns 26 in April. He's made 50 career starts in five seasons and has a nose for the end zone. He has seven career interceptions and five career touchdowns.

Munnerlyn can also return kicks and punts, something for which the Steelers might be willing to pay a little extra. Carolina has a number of its star players looking for new deals this off-season or in the near future and won't be able to afford to make everyone happy.

Nolan Carroll has the size (6-1, 205) the Steelers like in their corners and showed off some solid ball skills last season, breaking up 11 passes and intercepting three others in 16 games, 12 of which were starts. With No. 1 corner Brent Grimes also an unrestricted free agent, the Dolphins might not be able to afford shelling out money for Carroll as well.

Veteran corner Richard Marshall might be a cheaper alternative and has bounced around a little the past few years, but the 29-year-old does have 18 career interceptions and 63 pass defenses in 116 games, including 65 starts. Six of those starts came in 2013 with San Diego, his fourth team in the past four seasons.

Another cheaper option could be former Alabama star Javier Arenas, a second-round pick of Kansas City – by Haley's regime – in 2010. He was traded to Arizona for a fifth-round pick last season and played as the nickel corner. But Arenas has starting experience and is a good blitzer from the slot, something the Steelers like.

Carolina free safety Mike Mitchell became a full-time starter for the first time in 2013 and the 26-year-old responded with 67 tackles, four interceptions, four sacks and two forced fumbles. Like Munnerlyn, Mitchell might slip through the cracks.

Philadelphia's Nate Allen hasn't quite lived up to his status as a second-round draft pick with the Eagles, but the former South Florida star could prosper with a change of scenery.

Allen, 26, had three interceptions in his rookie season, but has just three combined in the three seasons since. He did have 82 tackles, one interception, one sack and one forced fumble in 2013, however.

If the Steelers are intent on moving a cornerback to free safety, it won't be Taylor, who has shown very little in the way of ball skills during his long career. But there are some veteran corners on the market who might be looking to make a similar move to extend their careers, if they are willing to come at the right price.

Charles Tillman just turned 33 and certainly has plenty of miles on him. But Taylor's former college teammate might jump at the opportunity to move to safety and play another three or four seasons.

Tillman's ball skills are near-legendary. And the 6-2, 198-pound corner certainly has safety size. He has 36 career interceptions, 42 career forced fumbles and eight career touchdowns to his credit, all of which would interest the turnover-starved Steelers. Tillman's base salary was just $3.5 million in 2013.

Another cornerback who might be ready to move to free safety is former Steelers killer Rashean Mathis.

Mathis played for Detroit last season with a base salary of just $950,000, the veteran minimum, and failed to record an interception – though he did defend 16 passes to match his career high.

Mathis, who will turn 34 in August, has 30 career interceptions and three touchdowns and at 6-1, 195, has decent size.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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