Steelers Free Agency Outlook: Will team be a sleeper in running back market?

Steelers Free Agency Outlook (Offense)

Key Free Agents (UFA’s): Jerricho Cotchery, Max Starks, Trai Essex, Mewelde Moore, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon
Area of Needs: No. 3/No. 4 wide receiver, Backup quarterback, Guard, Offensive Line depth
Buzz: The Pittsburgh Steelers enter free agency with little to no money to spend.

Quarterback (1)

1. Ben Roethlisberger
*Reserve/Futures Contract: Jerrod Johnson, Troy Smith
UFA’S: Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon
Position Breakdown: The Steelers are hopeful to bring back Byron Leftwich as the team’s No. 2 quarterback and the team would also like to retain Charlie Batch for depth. Jerrod Johnson and Troy Smith will be given opportunities to battle for the No. 3 quarterback job.
The Steelers will not bring back Dennis Dixon.
1. Peyton Manning
2. Alex Smith (SF)
3. Jason Campbell (OAK)
4. Matt Flynn (GB)
5. Kyle Orton (KC)
Other Free Agent Quarterbacks: Vince Young (PHI), Charlie Whitehurst (SEA), David Garrard (FA), Byron Leftwich (PIT), Charlie Batch (PIT), Dennis Dixon (PIT), Chris Redman (ATL), Derek Anderson (CAR), Caleb Hanie (CHI), Josh McCown (CHI), Shaun Hill (DET), Drew Stanton (DET), Brady Quinn (DEN), Chad Pennington (FA), Jake Delhomme (HOU), Jeff Garcia (HOU), Dan Orlovsky (IND), Luke McCown (JAC), JP Losman (MIA), Sage Rosenfels (MIA), David Carr (NYG), Mark Brunell (NYJ), Kevin O’Connell (NYJ), Kyle Boller (OAK), Kellen Clemens (STL), A.J. Feeley (STL), Josh Johnson (TB)

Running Backs (5)

1. Rashard Mendenhall
2. Jonathan Dwyer
3. John Clay
4. Baron Batch
5. Chad Spann
UFA’s: Mewelde Moore
Exclusive Rights Free Agent: Isaac Redman
Position Breakdown: Coming off ACL surgery, Running back Rashard Mendenhall will enter the 2012 season on the pup list and team officials believe he won’t be fully healthy until November or December at the earliest.
Isaac Redman who received an exclusive rights tender, is currently penciled in as the team’s starting running back going into the season. The team is comfortable with Redman as the team’s starter but are expected to look around at bargain options in free agency.
Redman, 27, rushed for 479 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per game in 2011. When given a lead role, he performed extremely well in limited opportunites, rushing for 121 yards on 17 carries in the team’s playoff loss to Denver and had 92 yards on 19 carries in the regular season finale against Cleveland when Mendenhall was lost for the season.
How Redman handles a starters role over the course of a season will be an intriguing situation to watch. He had less than 10 carries in 13 of 16 games last season.
— The Steelers are very intrigued by the young depth in the system that includes Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch and John Clay.
Jonathan Dwyer is a player the Steelers feel could be a big factor in running game, handling 8 to 10 carries a game as the primary backup behind Redman, if he comes into the 2012 season with his head straight.
The most intriguing player though might be Baron Batch who missed last season due to a torn ACL. Batch was having a tremendous camp before his injury and has the tools and football IQ to be a complete third down back.
He excels catching out of the back field and in blocking situations. Todd Haley is an offensive coordinator who likes to use his running backs in the passing game which could see Batch having a vital part in the offense.
Despite indicating they are comfortable with their running back situation, could the Steelers be a surprise player in the running back market? There have been strong indications since the scouting combine,

that there is mutual interest between the Steelers and Chargers running back Mike Tolbert who went on radio Monday to proclaim the Steelers are a team he is interested in.
Tolbert, 26, rushed for 490 yards on 121 carries last season, scoring 8 touchdowns. A big powerful back at 5-foot-9, 243-pounds, Tolbert is extremely versatile and more than a power back. He is excellent catching out of the backfield, something that many feel will be a priority under Todd Haley. Tolbert had 54 catches for 433 yards and two touchdowns last season. Tolbert is regarded by many scouts as one of the top-50 players available and he will likely price himself out of the Steelers price range.
Meanwhile, there’s even been chatter in league circles that Jimmy Sexton the agent for Peyton Hillis is certain the Steelers will be looking into his client. Don’t count on that one. Mewelde Moore could emerge as an option later this spring if the Steelers don’t add in free agency or the draft.
1. Michael Bush (OAK)
2. Peyton Hillis (CLE)
3. Mike Tolbert (SD)
4. Cedric Benson (CIN)
5. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (NE)
Other Free Agent Running Backs: Ryan Grant (GB), Mewelde Moore (PIT), Chester Taylor (ARZ), Jerome Felton (CAR), Tashard Choice (DAL), Sammy Morris (DAL), Spencer Larsen (DEN), LenDale White (DEN), Maurice Morris (DET), Kevin Smith (DET), Derrick Ward (HOU), Jackie Battle (KC), Thomas Jones (KC), Le’Ron McClain (KC), Steve Slaton (MIA), Kevin Faulk (NE), LaDainian Tomlinson (NYJ), Rock Cartwright (OAK), Ronnie Brown (PHI)Owen Schmitt (PHI), Jacob Hester (SD), Justin Forsett (SEA), Moran Norris (SF), Jerious Norwood (STL), Cadillac Williams (STL), Earnest Graham (TB), Ahmard Hall (TEN)Tim Hightower (WAS)
Underrated Free Agent to Watch: Le’Ron McClain -The two-time pro bowl and one-time All-Pro fullback played under Todd Haley last season and he’s a name being connected to the Steelers. Pittsburgh is expected to use a fullback under Haley. McClain, 27, a former Raven, is one of the best in the league and made $1.5 million last season.

Wide Receivers (2)

1. Antonio Brown
2. Emmanuel Sanders
UFA’s: Jerricho Cotchery
RFA’s: Mike Wallace
Reserve/Futures: Derrick Williams, Tyler Beiler, Juamorris Stewart, Jimmy Young
Released: Hines Ward
Position Breakdown: Right now the Steelers only have two receivers under contract in Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. The Steelers have placed a first round tender on Mike Wallace and if Wallace returns and doesn’t get a big offer elsewhere (considered very unlikely), wide receiver will still be an area the Steelers look to add.
Whether the Steelers strike a long-term deal with Wallace remains to be seen. The Steelers view the wide receiver position as the easiest position to replace and have consistently let wide receivers seeking top money walk via free agency.
In the short-term, the team is looking to sign Jerricho Cotchery but Cotchery is eyeing long-term security on a three to four year deal. However, teams won’t be lining up at Cotchery’s door.
Signing a No. 3/No. 4 receiver at the right price is said to be the mindset of the Steelers right now going into the free agent market. A bargain deal will be out there due to a deep group. The wide receiver position is deep in free agency and is regarded by Steelers officials as one of the deepest positions in April’s draft.
There is a mutual interest between the Steelers and Cotchery but the term Cotchery is seeking could hinder a deal, sources say. Cotchery though is expected to give the Steelers an opportunity to match any deal and as mentioned above, there won’t be a strong market for him.
Will the Steelers look into Plaxico Burress for the second straight year? Some feel that opportunity has passed after Burress turned down a two year offer last summer. Burress, 35, is still factor in the redzone but can’t get open between the 20’s.
1. Vincent Jackson (SD)
2. Brandon Lloyd
3. Marques Colston (NO)
4. Reggie Wayne (IND)
5. Mario Manningham (NYR)
Other Free Agent Receivers: Pierre Garcon (IND), Robert Meachem (NO), Laurent Robinson (DAL), Plaxico Burress (NYJ), Eddie Royal (DEN), Ted Ginn (SF), Steve Smith (PHI), Deion Branch (NE), Early Doucet (ARZ), Jerricho Cotchery (PIT), Arnaz Battle (PIT), Mike Sims-Walker (STL), , Hines Ward, Harry Douglas (ATL), Eric Weems (ATL), Ruvell Martin (BUF), Roscoe Parrish (BUF), Lee Evans (BAL) , Legedu Naanee (CAR), Roy Williams (CHI), Andre Caldwell (CIN),, Jerome Simpson (CIN), Eddie Royal (DEN), Rashied Davis (DET), Maurice Stovall (DET), Braylon Edwards (FA), Bryant Johnson (HOU), Anthony Gonzalez (IND), Jerheme Urban (KC), Devin Aromashodu (MIN), Bernard Berrian (MIN), Greg Camarillo (MIN), Matt Slater (NE), Courtney Roby (NO), Domenik Hixon (NYG), Devin Thomas (NYG), TJ Houshmandzadeh (OAK), Derek Hagan (OAK), Chaz Schilens (OAK), Patrick Crayton (SD), Josh Morgan (SF), Mark Clayton (STL), Micheal Spurlock (TB), Donnie Avery (TEN), Kevin Curtis (TEN), David Anderson (WAS), Donte’ Stallworth (WAS)
Underrated Free Agent to Watch: Early Doucet (ARZ) – The 6-foot-0, 212-pound receiver was the Cardinals third round pick in 2008 with Todd Haley at the helm as offensive coordinator. Doucet has developed nicely in four years and had a solid 2011 season with 54 receptions for 689 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s a playler the Steelers like.

Tight Ends (2)

1. Heath Miller
2. Wesyle Saunders
RFA’s: David Johnson
Reserve/Futures: Jamie McCoy
Position Breakdown: David Johnson has been tendered and should be back behind starter Heath Miller as the team’s likely No. 2 or No. 3 tight end. Promising young player Wesyle Saunders is suspended for the first four games of the season.
If the Steelers make a splash at the tight end position, it will be in the second or third round of the draft not free agency.
What the Steelers though have coveted in free agency in years past is a strong No. 2 blocking tight end which saw the team make an offer to Daniel Graham last summer. They could be looking around again for a bargain.
1. Jeremy Shockey (CAR)
2. Dallas Clark (IND)
3. Kevin Boss
4. John Carlson (SEA)
5. Visanthe Shiancoe (MIN)
Other Free Agent Tight Ends: Martellus Bennett (DAL)Reggie Kelly (ATL), Kris Wilson (BAL), Scott Chandler (BUF), Kellen Davis (CHI), Bo Scaife (CIN), Donald Lee (CIN), Alex Smith (CLE), Daniel Fells (DEN), Dante Rosario (DEN), Joel Dreessen (HOU), Jacob Tamme (IND), Anthony Becht (KC), Leonard Pope (KC), John Gilmore (NO), Tory Humphrey (NO), Randy McMichael (SD), Justin Peelle (SF), Billy Bajema (STL), Stephen Spach (STL)


Left Tackle: 1. Marcus Gilbert; 2. Jonathan Scott | Right Tackle: 1. Willie Colon
Reserve/Futures: Chris Scott, Travis Turner
UFA’s: Max Starks, Trai Essex
Position Breakdown: The Steelers fully intend to move Marcus Gilbert to left tackle who the team feels could develop into a franchise type left tackle. At right tackle, Willie Colon is entrenched as the starter and the team hopes they can get a healthy season out of him.
Jonathan Scott has a high cap hit of $2.7 million for a backup, but with no depth after Gilbert and Colon, Scott is safe for now and is currently a swing option at left and right tackle.
Free Agency Outlook: The team has interest in retaining Trai Essex but Essex is seeking a starting position. Max Starks had ACL surgery in January and is not under consideration to be resigned at this point. The team could poke around for a No. 3/ No. 4 depth option.
1. Levi Brown (ARI)
2. Eric Winston (TEX)
3. Demetrius Bell (BUF)
4. Jared Gaither (SD)
5. Vernon Carey (MIA)
Other Free Agent Tackles: Jeff Backus (DET), Max Starks (PIT), Trai Essex (PIT), D’Anthony Batiste (ARZ), Brandon Keith (ARZ), Kirk Chambers (ATL), Mark LeVoir (BAL), Frank Omiyale (CHI), Anthony Collins (CIN), Dennis Roland (CIN), Oniel Cousins (CLE), Artis Hicks (CLE), Quinn Ojinnaka (IND), Guy Whimper (JAC), Barry Richardson (KC), Ryan O’Callaghan (KC), Pat McQuistan (MIA), Kareem McKenzie (NYG), Robert Turner (NYJ), Khalif Barnes (OAK), Stephon Heyer (OAK), King Dunlap (PHI), Tony Moll (SD), Adam Snyder (SF), Adam Goldberg (STL), James Lee (TB), Sean Locklear (WAS)
RFA’s: Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky
Released: Chris Kemoeatu
Position Breakdown: Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster have each received low round tenders of $1.26 million. Due to both players being undrafted, the Steelers will receive no compensation if either player signed elsewhere. Such a scenario is extremely unlikely.
Foster is the team’s best and most dependable guard who will only be entering his fourth NFL season. Hopefully, the Steelers don’t play games with him as offensive line coach Sean Kugler spent too much time watching tape during the lockout and went into training camp nitpicking at Foster’s game as borderline NFL players like Chris Scott were ahead of Foster on the depth chart.
This upcoming season that probably won’t be the case and Foster should be left alone at right guard. The Steelers though have long coveted a dominant left guard to team next to pro bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. That won’t be possible until the draft as the Steelers won’t be players for that type of guard in free agency.
Depth though is needed and someone through the draft or free agency will likely be brought in to battle Doug Legursky for the starting left guard spot.
1. Carl Nicks (NO)
2. Evan Mathis (PHI)
3. Ben Grubbs (BAL)
4. Steve Hutchinson
4. Chris Kemoeatu
5. Stacy Andrews (NYG)
Other Free Agent Guards: Deuce Lutui (ARZ), Mackenzy Bernadeau (CAR), Nate Livings (CIN), Mike McGlynn (CIN), Bobbie Williams (CIN), John Greco (CLE), Steve Vallos (CLE), Derrick Dockery (DAL), Montrae Holland (DAL), Russ Hochstein (DEN), Manuel Ramirez (DEN), Leonard Davis (DET), Mike Brisiel (HOU), Ryan Diem (IND), Jamey Richard (IND), Samson Satele (OAK), Dan Connolly (NE), Rich Ohrnberger (NE), Mike Gibson (SEA), Pat McQuistan (SEA), Chilo Rachal (SF), Jacob Bell (STL), Tony Wragge (STL), Jeremy Zuttah (TB), Jake Scott (TEN)
1. Maurkice Pouncey
Reserve/Futures: John Malecki
Position Breakdown: The Steelers are set at the center position with Maurkice Pouncey and a reliable backup in Doug Legursky who in all likelyhood will be back on his one year tender. A player in the mold of a Trai Essex could be brought in for depth purposes

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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