After winning the AFC North in 2016 with an improved record over 2015 (going 11-5 all season compared to 10-6 in the previous campaign) and reaching the playoffs for the third campaign in a row, capitulating to eventual Super Bowl winners New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, it might seem a little unfair to suggest that Pittsburgh Steelers still have work to do to in the NFL.
However, with the Steelers fourth in the running for Super Bowl LII, at 11.00 with Bet365, a spare player at cornerback wouldn’t go amiss.
While the Steelers isn’t a name commonly associated with free agency, the team preferring to stump up big money to fill voids rather than take a punt on an unknown (consider the arrival of Ladarius Green to cover retired tight end Heath Miller as evidence of that particular point), Pittsburgh has used a top draft pick on a back fielder the last three years in a row, bringing in Mike Mitchell from Carolina in 2014, for example.
With Miller gone, the Steelers were hurting in offense at the beginning of the last campaign – the fact that Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant both got themselves suspended didn’t help matters – but Pittsburgh came through that mess, adding Xavier Grimble and David Johnson, and starting the season with 22-year-old Jesse James at tight end. James ended the campaign with 39 catches for 338 yards and three touchdowns.
With the offence sorted, things are a little different this time around. Pittsburgh has been restructuring its backline for the best part of three seasons, prompted by the retirement of Troy Polamalu. The cornerback position has solid representation in Artie Burns with Senquez Golson at reserve but the latter player provides a perfect case for adding depth at cornerback; the Mississippian injured his foot in August last year and missed the season.
So, free agency it is. The obvious candidate for cornerback is Stephon Gilmore, an experienced player who has spent his entire pro career at the Buffalo Bills. One of the most promising candidates of the 2012 Draft, and one that continues to live up to expectations (Gilmore is a 2016 Pro Bowler and found a career-high five interceptions last year), the 26-year-old is nevertheless one of the more expensive options Pittsburgh could go for.
Names like A.J. Bouye (Houston Texans), Captain Munnerlyn (Minnesota Vikings), and Nolan Carroll (Philadelphia Eagles) have been thrown around in relation to the Steelers this winter but expense may be a turnoff for Bouye in particular, despite the fact that he’s almost guaranteed to leave the Texans in free agency. Dre Kirkpatrick, another player the Steelers should have had their eye on, is being courted by the Buffalo Bills as we read on NYup.com.
If Pittsburgh don’t mind taking on a veteran, picking up Jacksonville Jaguar’s Prince Amukamara is a no-brainer. The 27-year-old has postseason experience, playing in Super Bowl XLVI with the New York Giants, but the Steelers will need to gamble on a lack of interest in Amukamara from other clubs – at $44m over four years, the cornerback is expensive. His injury-proneness should lower that price late in free agency though. Amukamara, who didn’t record a single interception last season, is realistic: “I’m just happy to be able to play ball”.