Free Agent Focus: Wide Receivers

With February here, it's time to begin talking about who could be available when the free agency period begins in March.

Here's the first in a series about the free agent market as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Today: Wide receivers

Ben Roethlisberger caused a stink recently by saying he'd like the Steelers to add a tall wide receiver.

But is that what the team really needs?

The Steelers' return game was among the worst in the NFL in 2007 and let's face it, a tall receiver isn't likely to change that.

With Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, the Steelers are set for starting receivers, so they're not going to chase a big-money free agent such as Randy Moss or Bernard Berrian, who head a less-than-stellar group.

But the team may look on the market for a veteran to challenge Willie Reid and/or Cedrick Wilson for their spots.

The Steelers signed receiver/return man Jeremy Bloom near the end of the season and put him on their practice squad. But the expectations are low for the former Olympic skier.

They also have Dallas Baker and Matt Trannon, a pair of big receivers, but neither of whom is going to give the team the boost it needs as a returner.

With that in mind, a modest mid- to lower-level veteran return man might be something this team looks for in free agency.

There are a few available if the Steelers want to bring in more of a sure thing than Reid, Bloom, or another rookie.

Andre Davis had a career resurgence last season with Houston, catching 33 passes and averaging 30.3 yards on kick returns – including three returns for touchdowns.

But the six-year veteran may be looking to cash in after his solid 2007 season, particularly after spending each of the past four seasons with four different teams.

Cheaper options would include Cincinnati's Antonio Chatman or Detroit's Troy Walters.

Chatman has experience and isn't likely in Cincinnati's plans after two less-than-stellar seasons with the Bengals.

The 5-8, 182-pound five-year veteran has averaged 22.3 yards per kick return and 7.7 yards on punts in his career, with his best seasons coming with Green Bay. Those are modest numbers, but are still better than what the Steelers got from Allen Rossum last season.

Walters, an eight-year veteran, is never going to put up impressive numbers as a receiver, but he's still got the wheels to be a good return man.

Walters averaged 7.9 yards per punt return for Detroit in 2007, while also returning eight kickoffs for a 21.5-yard average.

For his career, the 5-8, 171-pounder owns a 22.2 average on kickoffs and 8.9 yards on punts.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


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