The Steelers made splashy moves in free agency. Don't bet on a return to normalcy in the NFL draft

PITTSBURGH (AP) — There used to be a time — say the vast majority of the franchise's first 92 seasons — when the Pittsburgh Steelers would rely almost exclusively on the NFL draft to address whatever holes they might have on the roster.

Those days appear to be over.

The Steelers went through a very unSteeler-like March in which they signed Russell Wilson, traded for Justin Fields and gave inside linebacker Patrick Queen the biggest free-agent contract in team history.

It shortened Pittsburgh's shopping list when the draft begins April 25. It did not eliminate the list entirely.

“Obviously, the more that you’re able to address in free agency it lessens narrow mindedness in draft prep,” longtime head coach Mike Tomlin said.

The “Tomlin-ism” translation: the Steelers could go several different ways with the 20th overall pick in the first round.

The offensive line could use an upgrade and the wide receiver group needs another big-time threat to line up opposite George Pickens. Queen's arrival gives the Steelers at least one fixture at inside linebacker for the next three seasons, but after a trying season in which the position was essentially a rotating door because of injuries, finding another young player wouldn't hurt.

And who knows, considering what Pittsburgh did during that dizzying stretch in which it signed Wilson to a team-friendly one-year deal, made the low-stakes acquisition of Fields and traded away Kenny Pickett less than two years after taking him in the first round, maybe the Steelers take another big swing at the most important position in the sport.

OK, so maybe that last one is probably a non-starter. Probably.

If the past few months have proved one thing, it's that anything is on the table for a franchise trying to do things differently as it tries to end its longest playoff-victory drought since Franco Harris pulled in “The Immaculate Reception” 52 years ago.


The Steelers added depth along the defensive line by re-signing Montravius Adams and bringing in veteran Dean Lowry. Still, some fresh legs would help.

Cam Heyward is nearing the tail end of a brilliant career and turns 35 in May. Larry Ogunjobi will be 30 in June and has played more than 5,000 snaps. Keeanu Benton looked promising at times as a rookie, but Demarvin Leal could be trending toward “bust” territory after being a healthy scratch at times.

Broderick Jones shows all the signs of being the cornerstone offensive tackle the Steelers envisioned when they took him in the first round a year ago. Still, he's going to need some help. Pittsburgh cut center Mason Cole and while Nate Herbig or James Daniels could be short-term options, the Steelers could use someone they can plug in and stop worrying about the position for a decade, something they haven't had since Maurkice Pouncey retired following the 2020 season.


Pittsburgh has one of the best running back tandems in the NFL in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, both of whom topped 1,000 all-purpose yards last season.

The biggest question at the position as the draft approaches is whether the Steelers will pick up Harris' fifth-year option. Tomlin has done nothing but praise Harris at every turn during his three seasons in the league, though Tomlin also did the same for Pickett before making a series of moves that all but guaranteed Pickett would want to go elsewhere.

Outside linebacker is also in relatively good shape. T.J. Watt is in the prime of a career that is tracking toward the Hall of Fame. Alex Highsmith looked every bit worth the hefty investment the team made him last summer and Herbig showed flashes during a promising rookie season.


Given the number of quality wide receivers in the top end of the draft, it will be very tempting for general manager Omar Khan to make a splash at a position of need.

Yet given how well selecting Jones a year ago seems to be panning out, it's far more likely they grab a bookend and select Jones' former Georgia teammate Amarius Mims with their first-round pick. If West Virginia center Zach Frazier is there in round two, it might be difficult for the Steelers to resist someone who played just an hour down the road in Morgantown.



Will Graves, The Associated Press