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Status report: Offense's depth chart

Posted Mar 18, 2014

Free agency is one week old today, and this is how it has impacted the team's depth chart on offense.

Free agency will be one week old come 4 p.m. today, and it has been quite a hectic period around the NFL. Which is exactly what the league loves, that being to have its sport hogging the spotlight two months before the 2014 draft, a full six months before a meaningful game is to be played.

The Steelers got some things done – and had some things done to them – during the opening week, and the following is a position-by-position chronicling of how the moves so far have impacted their offense:

QUARTERBACK
Offseason activity: None
UFAs at this position: None
The depth chart here today is identical to the depth chart the Steelers had here to end the 2013 season: Ben Roethlisberger; Bruce Gradkowski; Landry Jones.

Ben Roethlisberger is signed through the 2015 season, and he and Art Rooney II both have said the plan is for him to play his entire career with the Steelers. Talks towards that end will happen when they happen. There is no immediate urgency to getting an extension done with Roethlisberger, but no immediate urgency doesn’t mean it’s something that’s being kissed off or taken for granted.

The Skinny: As of right now – the third week of March – there is the pressing issue of constructing a roster around the franchise quarterback capable of contending for a championship this year.

RUNNING BACKS
Offseason activity: UFA Jonathan Dwyer signed with Arizona.
UFAs at this position: Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling
The Steelers’ depth chart is thin here, but what they have going in their favor is that there has been little league-wide activity with running backs to this point. Ben Tate, who had been a complement to Arian Foster in Houston, agreed to terms with the Cleveland Browns, and Donald Brown left Indianapolis and signed with San Diego, but that has been just about it as far as significant player movement.

According to reports, the Steelers were to host UFA James Starks this week, but the most recent update has Starks about to re-sign with the Green Bay Packers. Starks, 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, was 28 years old in February, and he rushed for 493 yards on 89 carries (5.5 average) with three touchdowns last season with the Packers. In 35 games over four seasons in Green Bay, Starks averaged 4.4 yards per carry and posted 12 runs of 20-plus yards.

The Skinny: As of today, the only backs under contract are Le’Veon Bell and Will Johnson. The Steelers will want to add to that before the draft, and based on the low number of teams signing free agent running backs so far, they should have a decent pool of players from which to choose.

TIGHT ENDS
Offseason activity: Signed Heath Miller to a three-year contract. UFA David Johnson signed with San Diego.
UFAs at this position: Michael Palmer
The Steelers have three tight ends under contract – Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, and David Paulson – and it’s not ridiculous to suggest that’s what their depth chart will look like at the position come the cut-down to 53 at the end of the preseason.

The Skinny: Maybe the Steelers don’t specifically stand pat at tight end, but it would be a surprise if the team ends up committing some of its precious cap space to a player here.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Offseason activity: UFA Emmanuel Sanders (pictured above) signed with Denver
UFAs at this position: Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery
The departure of Sanders was not a surprise, even if some of the details surrounding it – such as whether agent Steve Weinberg had given Kansas City a verbal agreement before shopping his client to the Broncos – were outside the norm. But the end result is Sanders is gone, and the Steelers were anticipating that outcome all along.

It long has been assumed the Steelers would reach an agreement with Jerricho Cotchery, because this pairing of team and player seems right for both sides. But just because something seems right doesn’t mean it will happen, and it seems as though both sides are exploring their options. Cotchery met with the Carolina Panthers on March 17, and the Steelers reportedly are hosting Lance Moore this week.

Moore, 5-9, 190, has played all of his nine seasons in New Orleans and is similar in many ways to Cotchery in terms of the on-field role he would fill in Pittsburgh. He will be 31 in August – Cotchery will be 32 in June – and in the four seasons from 2010-13 Moore had 220 catches for 2,888 yards and 24 touchdowns. Of those 220 catches, 156 were good for first downs.

The Skinny: Antonio Brown is the team’s top player here, and much is going to be expected from Markus Wheaton during what’s going to be his second NFL season. Adding a free agent, either Cotchery or Moore or someone comparable, would be a wise thing to do, because then it would free the Steelers to pick a dynamic player at this position early in the upcoming draft should the opportunity present itself.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Offseason activity: Re-signed UFAs Cody Wallace, Guy Whimper 
UFAs at the position: Fernando Velasco
The Steelers made their big move here in January when Mike Munchak was hired to coach the offensive line. Plainly, there isn’t a single player the team could’ve added who would have had the ability to improve the unit as much as Munchak will as its coach.

The unit’s top six players are Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, and Mike Adams. Foster, who turned 28 in January, is the oldest by two years. These guys are young, and four of them were either No. 1 or No. 2 draft picks. There is potential there, and the belief is that Munchak is the man to bring it out of them.

The Skinny: Following the re-signings of Wallace and Whimper, the Steelers have eight offensive linemen with starting NFL experience on their roster, with Whimper (31 in May) and Wallace (30 in November) as the graybeards. That’s about as good as it gets in terms of raw material along an NFL offensive line.

TOMORROW: A look at the defense

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