Free agency began in 1993, and while the Steelers have never been a team to rush to sign players right out of the gate, they definitely have found their share who have contributed to the success of the organization, including a few who helped bring a few more Lombardi Trophies to Pittsburgh.
So, with free agency set to start today, it’s time to take a look at key free agent signings in Steelers history.
(Listed in alphabetical order)
Ryan Clark – Free Safety
The departure of one often times opens the door for another and that is what happened with the signing of Ryan Clark. Chris Hope departed after the 2005 season with a Super Bowl ring, and Clark was signed to take his spot at free safety in 2006.
Clark, who was an undrafted rookie in 2002 when he signed with the New York Giants, went on to start for the Washington Redskins in 2004-05, before signing with the Steelers. Once in Pittsburgh and teamed with strong safety Troy Polamalu his career flourished, finishing his career in Pittsburgh with 12 interceptions, six fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, and two sacks.
James Farrior – Inside Linebacker
Farrior played 10 seasons for the Steelers after signing as a free agent in 2001 from the New York Jets. The Jets former No. 1 draft pick played in 154 games in Pittsburgh, with 30 sacks and 1,078 tackles.
Farrior was a key component in the Steelers run to Super Bowl XL, in particular his performance against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional playoffs when he recorded 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Farrior, who is considered by many the Steelers best unrestricted free agent signing, was also a leader both on and off the field.
“Our unquestioned leader is James Farrior,” said Coach Mike Tomlin in 2010. “If you polled anybody, player or coach, equipment man or receptionist, they realize he sets the tone for this outfit.”
Wayne Gandy – Left Tackle
Wayne Gandy used to call himself Jerome Bettis’ bodyguard. He wasn’t far off. Gandy blocked for Bettis when both were with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams. Bettis joined the Steelers in 1996 via a trade, and in 1999 Gandy was signed as an unrestricted free agent. Gandy played four seasons for the Steelers, missing just one game, and was a stalwart on the line.
Kevin Greene – Outside Linebacker
Kevin Greene was the second free agent ever signed by the Steelers, making the move from the Los Angeles Rams in 1993. In his three seasons with the Steelers he had 35.5 sacks and two Pro Bowl selections and was named AFC Linebacker of the Year by the NFLPA in 1994.
Greene, who left after the 1995 season, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2016.
Just for the record linebacker Greg Clark was the first free agent signed and didn’t last long, never playing for the team as he was released during training camp that year.
Jeff Hartings – Center
The center position is one steeped in tradition in Pittsburgh, with Hall of Famers Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson setting the standard. So when Jeff Hartings signed with the Steelers in 2001 from the Detroit Lions, the pressure was on for him to live up to the standard.
Hartings, a former No. 1 pick of the Lions who had only played guard, had blocked for a Pro Bowl running back in Detroit in Barry Sanders. When he came to Pittsburgh he moved to center and blocked for soon to be Hall of Fame inductee Jerome Bettis. And he did it in a way that would make his predecessors proud.
Norm Johnson – Kicker
Gary Anderson, who played for the Steelers from 1982-94, led the team in scoring with 104 points in 1994 but the team didn’t re-sign him after he made contract demands. Norm Johnson stepped in. Johnson, who was signed after playing for the Atlanta Falcons, set a Steelers record with 141 points and 34 field goals in 1995. Johnson played four seasons, converting 82.7% of his field goals.
Ray Seals – Defensive End
Seals came to the Steelers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and during the 1994-95 seasons had 15.5 sacks. Seals only played two seasons with the Steelers, being placed on injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff in 1996.
Kimo von Oelhoffen – Nose Tackle/Defensive End
When Kimo von Oelhoffen signed with the Steelers in 2000, he arrived as a nose tackle. After one season he was switched to defensive end, where his impact was felt immediately. He played six seasons with the Steelers, including 2005 when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.
He started 94 of the 95 games he played for the Steelers, finishing his time in Pittsburgh with 229 tackles, 171 of them solo stops. He also had 20 ½ sacks, six fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles with the Steelers.
John L. Williams – Fullback
Fullback John L. Williams also played two seasons with the Steelers, 1994-95, and averaged 4.7 yards a carry and led the team with 51 catches in 1994. He was a member of the Super Bowl XXX team, and retired after that season.
Will Wolford – Guard
After an All-Pro career at tackle for the Buffalo Bills he signed with the Steelers in 1996 and played three seasons in the black and gold, where he was a staple on the offensive line and helped lead the way for Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis.