Steelers And UFA 2014: Offense

Kevin Colbert has said this could be the year the Steelers jump back into free agency with both feet. Dale Lolley IDs some of the offensive targets.

The interview didn't get a lot of play because Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert had been making the rounds and answering questions posed to him by just about every media outlet in Pittsburgh and beyond.

But Colbert told David Todd on ESPN 970-AM last week that this could be the year that the Steelers dive back into the free agency market with both feet after being a relative bystander for most of the past decade.

"I think there's a possibility we could be more active in the free-agency market this year than we have in the past," Colbert said. "Not only from an availability standpoint or from a depth requirement standpoint, but also from a cap situation that 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.

"It's probably a throwback to the early 2000s when we were trying to put it together. At that point, we were a little more active in free agency with a James Farrior and a Jeff Hartings and so on and so forth. So it's kind of cyclical, but I think we could be more active in free agency."

In other words, after back-to-back .500 seasons, the Steelers are at a similar point as a franchise to when they added a pair of key starters in Hartings (2001) at center and Farrior (2002) at inside linebacker.

Since then, the Steelers haven't been big players on the free-agent market. But those two signings count as two of the best in not only Steelers' history, but in NFL history, as Hartings helped the Steelers win one Super Bowl while going to multiple Pro Bowls and Farrior became a key cog on two Super Bowl winners while also making multiple Pro Bowl trips.

Prior to the NFL combine, I took a look at some of the defensive free agents that might interest the Steelers when the signings start March 11. Here's a look at some of the offensive players:

Former Bengals and Ravens running back Bernard Scott has always been a guy I've liked and is a player who has hurt the Steelers at times. He hasn't played much the past two seasons because of an ACL injury suffered during the 2012 season and just turned 30 years old.

But the former Abilene Christian star hasn't logged a ton of carries in his five NFL seasons and the 5-10, 195-pounder could probably had at a discount price as a change-of-pace back who can also return kickoffs. He'd be nice insurance if LaRod Stephens-Howling, a Steelers free agent, isn't ready to play.

The Steelers also kicked the tires on Ahmad Bradshaw last off-season after his release by the Giants. He eventually signed with the Colts and appeared in just three games before suffering a neck injury that required surgery.

Given Bradshaw's injury history – he's missed 19 games in the past three seasons – and the fact he turns 28 in March, it's unlikely somebody is going to offer him a starting job again. But the Steelers aren't going to be looking for a starting running back with Le'Veon Bell in place.

But with Stephens-Howling, Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones all heading into free agency, the Steelers could use a guy who can not only step in and make a spot start, but also help mentor Bell to a certain degree. Bradshaw, who had two 1,000-yard seasons with the Giants and is a back whose style is similar to that of Bell, could fit the bill.

As an added bonus, he brings Super Bowl experience as well.

At wide receiver, the Steelers appear set to allow Emmanuel Sanders to hit free agency and could also lose Jerricho Cotchery, who led the team with 10 touchdowns last season.

Even if Cotchery is re-signed, the Steelers could be looking for some added depth to pair with Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton.

Jacoby Ford has fallen out of favor in Oakland, but the 5-9, 190-pound speedster has put together some big games in his three-year career, putting up three 100-yard games in his first two seasons – with bad quarterbacks. If nothing else, Ford would give the Steelers a guy who can stretch the field on kickoffs. In his first two seasons, he returned four kickoffs for touchdowns.

Washington's Josh Morgan is known as a solid blocker, something the Steelers value in their receivers and kind of fits the mold as a younger version of Cotchery. The 28-year-old former Virginia Tech star has had some good receiving seasons as well, catching 52 passes for San Francisco in 2009 and 48 for Washington in 2012.

The 6-1, 220-pound Morgan can also return kickoffs and punts and could be a fallback option if Cotchery doesn't return.

Andre Roberts is another receiver who could draw the interest of the Steelers. Cortez Allen's former teammate at The Citadel has had some productive seasons working opposite Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, including 64 receptions as a starter in 2012.

But with Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd in place, there might not be room for Arizona to bring Roberts back in 2014. He can also return kicks and punts, another bonus.

Finally, former Tennessee Titan Marc Mariani has never offered much as a receiver, but he would provide depth while also providing the Steelers with a very competent return man.

Mariani hasn't played since suffering a compound leg fracture in 2012 and then separating his shoulder in training camp last season, but is well-known to new Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The speedy Mariani returned two punts for touchdowns in 2010 and 2011 and added a score on a kick return and was the AFC's Pro Bowl return specialist in 2011, beating out Antonio Brown.

The Steelers were happy with the progress their offensive line made in 2013, especially considering the line played without its leader, Maurkice Pouncey, for all but a few snaps.

But while Pouncey should be ready to go by the start of the season and the starting lineup appears close to set, there's little depth.

The team's first option would be to re-sign some two-man combination of Fernando Velasco, Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper. But if that doesn't happen, the Steelers might be forced to dive into what promises to be a hot group of OL UFAs.

Tackle Mike Otto would seem to be a prime target for the Steelers in free agency as a backup tackle. Otto spent six seasons in Tennessee with Munchak, appearing in 62 games and making seven spot starts. You don't stick around that long in one place without having some value to the guy who was your position coach and then head coach.

Minnesota's Charlie Johnson is another player who has starting experience as both a guard and tackle. Johnson has appeared in 120 games – 101 starts - in his career with Indianapolis and Minnesota but his starting days might be over as he turns 30 in a couple of months.

One last area at which the Steelers could be looking for help is punter, where only unproven Brad Wing is under contract. The top two UFAs are Indianapolis' Pat McAfee, a Pittsburgh native, and Donnie Jones, who supplanted Mat McBriar in Philadelphia last season. McBriar later signed with the Steelers.

McAfee, who was hit with the franchise tag by the Colts in 2013, is likely too expensive for the Steelers to sign unless he's willing to give the team a true hometown discount.

Jones averaged a solid 44.9 yards per punt last season in Philadelphia and placed 33 kicks inside the opposing 20 with only five touchbacks.

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

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