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5 Free Agents the Pittsburgh Steelers Must Target

The Pittsburgh Steelers were uncharacteristically bold in free agency last season, and they got burned.

No one needs to be reminded of the LeGarrette Blount saga. Safety Mike Mitchell, signed to a five-year, $25 million contract, broke up three passes and intercepted none after breaking up eight and intercepting four with the Panthers in 2013. Pro Football Focus ranked Cam Thomas dead last among all 3-4 defensive ends last season. Lance Moore caught 14 passes and Darrius Heyward-Bey caught three.

Arthur Moats and Brice McCain made some nice contributions. Both started nine games. Moats had four sacks and McCain made three interceptions.

Moats and McCain are the types of under-the-radar free agents the Steelers traditionally sign. They need to return to that philosophy in 2015. The big-name signings didn’t work out so well.

The free-agent signing period for the 2015 NFL season officially begins at 4 p.m., on March 10.

The Steelers are projected to be about $4 million over the salary cap, according to Spotrac. They have to dump salary over the next four weeks to make room for a few role players in free agency.

Here are some players who should get a look.

Knowshon Moreno, RB

OK, there’s some name recognition here. But the Steelers need a legitimate backup if Le’Veon Bell is injured again or if he’s suspended for a game or two because of last year’s pot arrest.

The Steelers are 0-4 without Bell and could start next season 0-1 or 0-2 if he’s suspended.

They need another starting-caliber running back who doesn’t have the baggage that LeGarrette Blount brought.

Knowshon Moreno’s “baggage” is his injury history. He hurt his elbow with the Dolphins last season and went down with a torn ACL in Week 6. He ran for 1,038 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, with 10 touchdowns in 2013. He also caught 60 passes in his only full season.

Moreno played in eight games in 2012 and finished 2011 on injured reserve. The 5’11”, 218-pounder will be 28 next season and his body can’t handle a full season as a starting running back. But the Steelers wouldn’t need that from him. They just need a back who can give Bell a breather every now and then and start a game or two if called upon.

The Steelers signed Blount to a two-year, $3.85 million contract last year. They probably can sign Moreno for less than that, and hope that they don’t watch him celebrate a championship with another team.

Jarrett Boykin, WR

On the surface, it might seem the Steelers are set at wide receiver after their breakthrough offensive season in 2014.

Antonio Brown’s 129 receptions were the second-most in the history of the NFL. Markus Wheaton took a big step forward in his second season with 53 catches. Martavis Bryant is on the verge of being the Steelers’ best fourth-round draft pick since Ike Taylor.

But the Steelers need a No. 4 receiver who can readily move up the depth chart in case of injury. Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey combined for 17 receptions, and Moore didn’t even play on special teams. Justin Brown caught 12 passes, but didn’t see any action after Week 6.

Jarrett Boykin would be a No. 4 receiver who’s serviceable on special teams and could fight for the Steelers’ No. 3 wide receiver spot. The 6’2″, 218-pounder caught 49 passes for the Packers in 2013, but suffered a groin injury and lost touches to rookie Davante Adams in 2014. He caught just three passes all year. The 25-year-old is a restricted free agent, so the Packers could match any offer the Steelers make. But if the Steelers can get him cheaply and he approaches his 2013 numbers, he’d be a wise investment.

Ron Parker, S

Troy Polamalu might have played his last game as a Steeler, and in two seasons Shamarko Thomas has shown little evidence that he’s ready to start in his place. Thomas played just two defensive snaps in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Steelers dipped into free agency to replace Ryan Clark last year, signing Mike Mitchell. This year, they could find a starting strong safety in Ron Parker.

Unlike Mitchell, Parker also can play cornerback. The Steelers could use a little versatility in the secondary after ranking 27th in pass defense last season.

Undrafted in 2011, Parker played for three teams in his first two seasons, including three tours of duty with the Seahawks. The 27-year-old finally found a landing spot in Kansas City, where he’s played the last two seasons.

Parker led the Chiefs with 84 solo tackles in 2014 and broke up 12 passes, including one intended for Sammy Watkins that would have given the Bills a lead with 2:31 left in a Week 10 game at Buffalo. With Parker’s help, the Chiefs held on for a 17-13 win.

Parker started 11 games at safety and four at cornerback in 2014, according to the Kansas City Star. He’s expected to ask for more money in free agency than the $25 million over five years that Mitchell is getting from the Steelers. If another team is willing to pay Parker that kind of money, the Steelers are probably out of the running. But if the market dries up after the initial free-agent feeding frenzy and Parker is still looking for a team, the Steelers should give his agent a call.

Jaiquawn Jarrett, S

The Steelers still need depth at safety even if Troy Polamalu returns next season.

Will Allen and Robert Golden both are free agents and Ross Ventrone is strictly a special-teams player.

Jaiquawn Jarrett had the game of his life in the Jets’ 20-13 win over the Steelers in Week 10. The 25-year-old intercepted two passes and broke up two passes. Those were the only two interceptions and pass breakups of his career. He also forced a fumble.

Even though Jarrett looked like vintage Polamalu the day the Steelers visited MetLife Stadium, the Steelers wouldn’t expect that from him on a regular basis. He can be an inexpensive backup safety who’s not limited to special teams and can start when needed. He’s started nine games in his career. That’s seven more than Thomas.

Jarrett is a restricted free agent. If the Jets make him a tender offer, the Steelers would have to send them a draft pick as compensation if they sign him. If the Jets don’t tender him, he’s worth a look.

Jason Fox, OT

Nothing earth-shattering here. Fox could be a bargain upgrade from Mike Adams as the Steelers’ backup swing tackle.

Fox, who turns 27 in May, played the first four seasons of his career with the Lions. He entered 2013 as the starting right tackle, according to Pro Football Talk, but suffered a groin injury and started just three games.

The 6’6″, 310-pounder went to the Dolphins last year and played both right tackle and left tackle. He started and took every snap at right tackle in the last two games of the season. He’s allowed one sack in 423 career snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Adams, meanwhile, has yielded 13 sacks in 1,354 snaps. That’s an average of one sack every 104 snaps.

A little depth on the offensive line wouldn’t hurt. It would be interesting to see what Fox can do under Mike Munchak.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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