Steelers’ Moves Encouraging But There’s Much More To Be Done
Free agency has helped solidify things, especially at inside linebacker. But it hasn’t altered what they’re still going to have to find in the draft.
The Steelers got what they needed in the early days of free agency but they’ll need more of the same in April.
They still have to draft a cornerback.
They still have to draft an inside linebacker.
They still have to draft a defensive lineman.
They might have a little more flexibility in terms of how they approach getting them, but the need at those three positions, in particular, hasn’t changed.
At cornerback, the Steelers in effect traded Cam Sutton for Patrick Peterson when they let the former leave for Detroit and signed the latter from Minnesota.
Peterson is much more decorated but he’ll turn 33 before the Steelers next see Latrobe. And while he’s a three-time All-Pro, he hasn’t been that since 2015.
Bringing Peterson in at this stage of his career is similar to the Pirates bringing back 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen in 2023.
There’s value in doing but not what it used to be, far from it.
Sutton is the younger player, the more versatile player and the better player.
That explains why Sutton was also the more expensive player. But if the money saved at the cornerback position helped the Steelers keep Larry Ogunjobi and Damontae Kazee and acquire Nate Herbig and Cole Holcomb on the open market, then Sutton-for-Peterson was a transaction worth making.
Draft a cornerback at 17th overall, and it’ll be much less apparent what the Steelers lost in Sutton and what they didn’t find in Peterson, what they still don’t have in their cornerbacks room.
Any one of the three perceived best at the position (Devin Witherspoon of Illinois, Christian Gonzalez of Oregon or Joey Porter Jr. of Penn State) would go a long way toward filling the corner void. Finding cornerback/safety Brian Branch of Alabama still available would be like hitting the lottery.
Retaining Ogunjobi didn’t eliminate the need to get younger and deeper along the defensive front, but at least that deficiency wasn’t exacerbated by letting him get away via free agency. Ogunjobi didn’t play as well for the Steelers last season as he had for the Bengals the season before. But he’s an experienced veteran who was seemingly all-in on the Steelers’ culture after previous stints in Cleveland and Cincinnati. When he’s on his game (a condition not unrelated to Ogunjobi’s ability to practice) he’s impactful, and he’s still on the right side of 30 (Ogunjobi will turn 29 on June 3).
If the Steelers can keep him healthy he can be part of the solution, but they still need to draft a defensive linemen, probably at No. 32 overall (Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore would justify the effort it’ll take for everyone to learn how to spell and pronounce his name).
Retaining Kazee, likewise, was significant because he’s a good player who didn’t get as much of an opportunity to show it as the Steelers would have preferred because he missed eight games due to injury. Keeping Kazee will prove critical if fellow safety Terrell Edmunds ends up elsewhere.
Inside linebacker Cole Holcomb was the legal tampering period/free agency prize as of the news of his signing from Washington on Wednesday.
Robert Spillane playing 100 percent of the defensive snaps over the final four games was an indictment of all the Steelers didn’t have at inside linebacker. The Raiders did the Steelers a huge favor by taking Spillane off their hands (whoever Spillane is now covering for Vegas is perpetually open).
Holcomb is a massive upgrade, even though he only played seven games last season (foot surgery). He’s an ascending, three-down player on a second NFL contract who plays a position of dire need. But Holcomb, free agent-addition Elando Roberts (who signed on after Myles Jack’s release) and Mark Robinson (he flashed potential as a rookie but when last spotted wasn’t ready to contribute significantly) are not enough.
That 49th overall selection needs to be invested in an inside linebacker (Trenton Simpson of Clemson? Nolan Smith of Georgia?), or at the very least the 80th overall pick in the event the Steelers opt for an offensive tackle with their third selection of the draft.
A tackle in the second round would provide what free agent Nate Herbig presumably will at guard (a depth player capable of filling in when needed while pushing for a starting position).
The Steelers will need a couple of those because the offensive line staying as healthy as it did last season was an outlier.
So there’s significant work yet to be done.
But at least as far as offseasons go, the Steelers are off and running.