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Steelers in Free Agency: Offense

The business side of football begins today, so Dale Lolley takes a look at some potential free agent fits for the Steelers.

Although the 2017 salary cap hasn't been firmed, the Pittsburgh Steelers can expect to have somewhere between $30 to $35 million to spend this offseason.

For a team that's had to make tough decisions in the recent past just to get under the salary cap, that range might provide a temptation to go crazy with extra money. 

However, the Steelers must tend to business of their own, and may very well take care of some of that today, the opening day of "franchise tag" season.

The Steelers most likely will be putting a $12.4 million one-year tag on Le'Veon Bell sometime soon, with the hope of turning that into an extended deal. 

So it appears it'll be business as usual for the Steelers in free agency.

But bargains can be had for a team that needs just a few tweaks here and there. Here are some offensive free agents the Steelers might target when the soft free agency period begins on March 7, followed by the hard start of the fiscal new year on March 9:

Brian Hoyer, QB, Chicago: A player with whom Steelers fans are familiar. Hoyer was briefly with the team in 2012 and beat them two seasons later as the starter for the Cleveland Browns.

The 31-year-old Hoyer has made just 31 career starts and the opportunity for him to get another shot as a starter is unlikely. His career passer rating of 84.8 is slightly better than Landry Jones’ 82.8 but Hoyer does have the experience factor working for him. He’s also 16-15 as a starter and went 10-6 in his two seasons in Cleveland, which means they should probably build a statue for him there. He made $2 million last season in Chicago. A two-year deal at $5 million might get him to sign on as Ben Roethlisberger's backup.

Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay: This is a little more intriguing than Hoyer in that, at 27, Glennon still has upside. He’ll draw some interest as a potential starter in a quarterback-starved league and the Steelers won't get into a bidding war for a guy who would be their backup for the foreseeable future. But if they truly think Roethlisberger is going to be year-to-year from here on out, signing a starter-capable backup might be the move to make.

Glennon has completed nearly 60 percent of his 630 career passes with 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions with inferior weapons around him. Imagine what he could do with Pittsburgh’s offensive stars.

It’s a longshot considering the quarterback-starved market and the fact some team - the New York Jets? - will make a run at him as their starter, but the Steelers should at least inquire.

Rex Burkhead, RB, Cincinnati: Has been an undervalued player for the Bengals throughout his stay in Cincinnati, thanks to the presence of Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill. But with Bernard injured last season, Burkhead finally got more playing time and averaged 4.6 yards per carry and had a 100-yard, 2-touchdown game against the Baltimore Ravens in the regular season finale. He also had 13 special teams tackles last season to lead all NFL running backs.

The Bengals want him back, but is he going to want to be a third-string running back, considering he turns 27 in July?

Burkhead runs hard, catches the ball well and plays special teams. What’s not to like? He’s everything you want in a backup running back.

* Knile Davis RB, Kansas City: Had an interesting season in 2016, getting caught up in a numbers game in the crowded Kansas City backfield. Davis was traded to running back-starved Green Bay after the Packers lost Eddie Lacy and James Starks to injuries, but was released just two weeks later and claimed by the Jets. New York released him the next day and he re-signed with Kansas City. So perhaps there’s something going on with him on a personal level.

But he’s been a solid, if unspectacular, producer most of his career. More importantly, he’s a solid kick return option. He’s still just 25 and has two career kick returns for touchdowns to go along with a healthy 27.0 yards per return. If the Steelers are intent on using a running back as their secondary return man - and they seem to be - Davis would be a nice option.

* Jordan Todman, RB, Indianapolis: Maybe you can go back home again. Todman did a nice job in Pittsburgh in 2015 but was signed to just a one-year deal and he left in free agency. He averaged 29.9 yards per kick return in Indianapolis last season with one touchdown and has averaged 26.6 yards per return in his career. It makes you wonder why he got just one return in 11 games with the Steelers.

* Jonathan Grimes, RB, Houston: Has 141 career carries for 619 yards, a healthy 4.4 yards per attempt average and added 53 receptions for 436 yards. And, like Burkhead, Grimes is also a guy who isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty on special teams. He had eight tackles on teams last season and has been a contributor in each of his four seasons in Houston.

* Levine Toilolo, TE, Atlanta: Many are going to look at this one and say, who? But the 6-8, 260-pound Toilolo is a good blocking tight end who has been underused in Atlanta because the Falcons prefer their tight ends to be pass catchers first and blockers second. That said, Toilolo averaged 20 yards per reception on his 13 catches last season and scored a pair of touchdowns. He has 62 catches in four seasons in Atlanta with 10 of them going for touchdowns. Think Red Zone target here.

The Steelers’ best blocking tight end last season, David Johnson, is a free agent, and no one really knows what’s going on with Ladarius Green. A combination of Toilolo and Jesse James would give the Steelers twin towers at the tight end position without breaking the bank.

* Andre Holmes, WR, Oakland: The 6-5, 210-pounder turns 29 in June. He’s averaged 14.3 yards per catch over the course of his career and scored 12 times - including three last season - on 102 career catches. Just as importantly, Holmes made 10 special teams tackles in 2016. Red Zone target plus special teams ace equals value, even at 29.

* Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota: We’re just spitballing here, but if the Steelers truly want to upgrade their return game, Patterson would certainly do that. He’s averaged 30.4 yards per return over the course of his career and has five returns for touchdowns. He’s never blossomed as a receiver thanks to some sloppy route running, but you do have to wonder how much of that has been attributable to poor QB play in Minnesota. The Vikings just never go down the field.

There also were some red flags on him coming out of college, but they weren’t necessarily off-the-field issues. Tyrann Mathieu, Travis Kelce and Alec Ogletree were some other players in the same draft who had personal issues and they’ve worked out OK. Patterson did have a career-high 52 catches last season but for only 8.7 yards per catch, mostly because Sam Bradford refused to throw the ball more than five yards downfield. A change of scenery  - and quarterbacks - could do Patterson some good.

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