A final free agent primer

By now you've all seen my list of the free agents I feel the Steelers should/will go after once the free agent period begins at midnight Wednesday.

For those who have forgotten, here's a quick refresher: OT Adam Meadows, OLB Bertrand Berry, TE Erron Kinney and RB Dominic Rhodes.

They won't exactly be hot names on the free agent market, but the Steelers have never exactly been big players in the free agent game. And given their current salary cap situation, they don't figure to be big rollers again this year.

But that doesn't mean they can't be smart spenders.

In addition to quality bargains like Meadows, Berry, Kinney and Rhodes, there are a number of other players available who could help the Steelers out a great deal in 2004.

Indianapolis offensive tackle Ryan Diem pushed Meadows to guard in 2003, but is a restricted free agent. Indianapolis has yet to tender him an offer, but it's doubtful they wouldn't at least offer a low-end tender. That means if the Colts chose not to match an offer for Diem - which would likely have to be in the $3 million per season range - it would also cost a fourth round pick.

And certainly a veteran running back such as Duce Staley or Garrison Hearst could come in and team with Jerome Bettis in 2004 to provide the Steelers with a better running game than what they had in 2003.

But bringing in a second running back who is near the end of his career would only delay the team's inevitable need to acquire a feature running back for the future. Staley or Hearst would only be short-term solutions, though they would allow the team to select a quarterback in the first round of the draft.

Clark Haggans remains the team's No. 1 target in free agency despite his conviction in Colorado last month on charges stemming from a drunk driving incident. That was seen as an isolated incident for Haggans, the Steelers special teams captain last season.

Perhaps it's because there's a comfort level there between the coaching staff and Haggans, or perhaps its because the Steelers feel Haggans is finally ready to break out, but he is the player they have targeted to challenge 2003 second round pick Alonzo Jackson for Jason Gildon's outside linebacker position.

The Steelers would also like to retain the services of fullback Dan Kreider and safety Mike Logan, but aren't going to go overboard with offers for the duo.

With an offense not centered around Bettis, the need for a fullback isn't as great as it was in previous years. And fullback just isn't a position that teams spend a great deal of money on any longer.

Logan, meanwhile, will be replaced at strong safety by Troy Polamalu in 2004, but could be brought back to battle Chris Hope and Brent Alexander for the starting free safety spot.

While it's doubtful cornerback will be a position the Steelers will chase in free agency, if they do, Buffalo cornerback Antoine Winfield will be at the top of their list.

Though Winfield is just 5-9, he is as tough a coverage cornerback as there is in the NFL. He'll also come up and smack people in the mouth in the running game, something the Steelers insist their corners do.

But the market for Winfield and the other big-name corners on the free agent market this year will likely push beyond what the Steelers want to spend, making that a position the team will look to upgrade in the draft.

But if the Steelers are unable to bring Logan back at a reasonable price, Cincinnati free safety Mark Roman may draw their interest.

The fourth-year pro is well known to new Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and wouldn't be challenged to come in and play right away. He's also played some corner during his career, which would give the Steelers some added flexibility in their secondary.

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