Roster Recap: Free agency approaching

The offseason has meant some changes to the Steelers roster, as well as changes to the coaching staff.

A lot has happened, so here is a chance to catch up not just on the player side of things, but the coaching side as well.

Since the first roster recap of the offseason the Steelers have signed four more of their own players, including Pro Bowler Roosevelt Nix, who would have been a restricted free agent come March 14 had he not be signed. Nix was inked to a new four-year contract, keeping him in the black and gold.

"I am just glad to be here," said Nix. "I am glad we could get it done early. It feels good to feel wanted and to be a part of what we are building here. Now I can start offseason training and things like that with this off my plate, a little less on my shoulders.

"This is a beautiful place. I like how it starts at the top and goes all of the way down. We are all cool. Everyone, in every position in this building, is beautiful and you don't feel uncomfortable talking to anybody."

Jordan Berry, who also would have been a restricted free agent, signed a one-year extension. Berry is coming off a 2017 season where he averaged 43.2 yards per punt, with a net of 39.8 yards. He had 26 punts hit inside the 20-yard line.

"It's pretty exciting to get it all finished, get it all sorted out, and get it done early," said Berry. "I love being in Pittsburgh so I am excited to have it done. I don't have to think about it. I can just focus on training and getting ready for next season, which is the most important part of everything."

The team also signed two players who were exclusive rights free agents, B.J. Finney and Matt Feiler, to one-year contracts.

Finney, who will be entering his third season, played in 27 games in two seasons, starting seven of them. In 2017 he started four games, a career-high, one as a blocking tight end, two at left guard when Ramon Foster was injured, and one at center when he started against the Browns in the season finale when Maurkice Pouncey was rested. He was part of an offensive line that gave up just 24 sacks, which was tied for third fewest in the NFL this year.

"Being here in Pittsburgh one more year is always a plus," said Finney. "I am excited about it. I love the city, I love playing for the Rooney family, Coach (Mike) Tomlin, and Coach (Mike) Munchak. What is there not to love about it? The city's diehard fans, always coming to the games. You can't get a better organization than what the Rooney family has built. Coach Tomlin being a player's coach, laying everything out. Coach Munchak, a Hall of Fame player and one of the best coaches I have played under. What is there not to love?"

Feiler played in five games in 2017, including starting the Steelers Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns at right guard, his first NFL start.

"It was cool. Just getting the first start under you belt, it's a milestone in my career," said Feiler. "It's something to look back on and grow off of. It was a good experience.

"And any time you can get some playing time and experience on the field, it's good. I feel like I learned a lot of things already. I learned technique things, when and when not to do things against certain opponents. I am hoping for more opportunities and learn from them."

In addition, the team placed the franchise tag on Le'Veon Bell. This is the second consecutive year that Bell has had the franchise tag placed on him, therefore the tender differs from those previously announced by the NFL. Bell will receive a one-year tender worth a reported $14.544 million, a percentage increase over his $12.12 million tender in 2017. The Steelers have until July 16 to reach a long-term contract with Bell, at which point he would have to play under the one-year tender.

On the coaching side of things, it got started on the offensive side of the ball when Randy Fichtner was named offensive coordinator, replacing Todd Haley whose contract wasn't renewed.

"We have a tremendous roster, and it will be my charge to continue putting our offensive players in position to succeed and score points," said Fichtner. We have the nucleus to be successful, and I am thrilled about the chance to lead the offense as we have already started preparing for the 2018 season."

Darryl Drake was hired as receivers coach, replacing Richard Mann who retired. Drake has spent 14 seasons as an assistant coach in the NFL, most recently with the Arizona Cardinals. Before coming to the Cardinals he was the receivers coach for the Chicago Bears from 2004-2012. While with the Bears he worked with Brandon Marshall, who set Chicago team records with 118 catches for 1,508 yards in 2012. The team also added Blaine Stewart as a coaching assistant.

There were changes to the defensive coaching staff as well. Carnell Lake stepped down to spend more time with his family in California, and Tom Bradley was brought in as the defensive backs coach. Bradley, a former defensive back at Penn State University, joined the coaching ranks in 1979 as a graduate assistant at Penn State, and over 30 years at the school worked his way up to defensive coordinator from 2000-2011, and the interim head coach in 2011. 

"I want to thank Coach (Mike) Tomlin and the entire Steelers organization for this opportunity," said Bradley. "I am excited to be a part of such a rich tradition here. We have a great nucleus in the defensive backs room, and my goal is to help this group continue to grow and develop as we all work toward one goal."

John Mitchell's title changed from assistant head coach/defensive line, to assistant head coach, where he will assist Tomlin with an array of duties. Karl Dunbar, who was selected by the Steelers in the eighth round of the 1990 NFL Draft out of LSU, was named the defensive line coach.

Tomlin is familiar with Dunbar as the two worked together on the staff of the Minnesota Vikings. Dunbar was the defensive line coach in 2006 when Mike Tomlin was defensive coordinator.

"It's awesome to be back," said Dunbar. "This team drafted me out of college. Just to be back and the nostalgia of Pittsburgh, the mystic of Pittsburgh, the workman's mentality. Hopefully I can bring that to the team.

"Having the relationship with Mike and some of the coaches on the staff. Knowing Coach Mitchell, who was a coach at LSU when I played. A lot of things he did, I do. I will lean on him to help me get to know the guys in the defensive line room and hopefully make it a great transition."

Take a deep breath, because free agency hasn't even begun. The team's unrestricted free agents include: Arthur Moats, Chris Hubbard, Justin Hunter, Vince Williams, Stevan Ridley and Sean Spence.

The restricted free agents are Chris Boswell, Anthony Chickillo, Greg Ducre, Eli Rogers and Fitzgerald Toussaint.

The team also still has one exclusive rights free agent remaining in Mike Matthews, who spent last season on injured reserve.

The team also signed three additional players to reserve/future contracts, adding to the 12 previously signed. Added on were Trey Griffey, Tevin Jones and James Summers.

A look at what has happened with player signings since the season ended:

Le'Veon Bell - Placed franchise tag on him.

Jordan Berry – Signed a one-year contract extension.

Kameron Canaday – Signed a one-year contract extension.

Jordan Dangerfield - Signed to a reserve/future contract. Dangerfield was waived/injured prior to the start of the 2017 season, but signed to the practice squad in Oct. Dangerfield made the 53-man roster in 2016, playing in 14 games and starting two. He finished the season with 16 tackles. Dangerfield spent time during the 2014 and 2015 seasons on the Steelers practice squad.

Matt Feiler – Signed a one-year contract extension.

B.J. Finney – Signed a one-year contract extension

Matt Galambos – Signed to a reserve/future contract. Was originally signed after he came to rookie camp this year on a tryout basis. Was released on the final roster cut, and signed back to the practice squad. Was later released from the practice squad, brought back, but got injured and finished out the season on the injured reserve list.

Malik Golden – Signed to a reserve/future contract. The former Penn State standout was originally signed by the Steelers last July, but released prior to the start of the 2017 season. Was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie free agent in May, 2017, but released before training camp.

Trey Griffey – Signed to a reserve/future contact. The son of Hall of Fame baseball player Ken Griffey Jr., he played collegiately at Arizona. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2017, but was waived/injured before training camp started. He was signed by the Miami Dolphins during camp, but released prior to the season.

Xavier Grimble – Signed a one-year contract extension.

Mike Hilton – Signed a one-year contract extension.

Lavon Hooks – Signed to a reserve/future contract. Originally signed by the team last February, but was released before the start of the season. Spent the 2017 season on the team's practice squad. Prior to joining the Steelers he spent time with the Green Bay Packers.

Farrington Huguenin – Signed to a reserve/future contract, the second straight year that he was signed to one by the Steelers. Spent the 2017 season on the team's practice squad. He entered the NFL as a rookie free agent in 2016, signing with the Miami Dolphins, but was released before that season began.

Tevin Jones – Signed to a reserve/future contract. Entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Houston Texans in 2016. Was released by the Texans before the season started, but added to their practice squad late in the season. Was signed by the to a reserve/future contract in Jan., 2017, but waived that spring. Signed by the Kansas City Chiefs that summer, but was released prior to the start of the season. 

Keith Kelsey - Signed to a reserve/future contract. Joined the Steelers an undrafted rookie free agent following the 2017 NFL Draft. Was released prior to the start of the season, but was brought back to the practice squad.

Darnell Leslie – Signed to a reserve/future contract. Originally signed by the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie free agent in 2017 after coming in on a tryout during their rookie minicamp.

Jake McGee – Signed to a reserve/future contract. McGee was originally signed by the team on Aug. 2 and spent the entire season on the practice squad. He was on the Chargers practice squad in 2016, and also spent time with the Raiders and Panthers in the 2016 offseason.

Roosevelt Nix – Signed a new four-year contract.

Dashaun Phillips – Signed to a reserve/future contract. Phillips was acquired by the Steelers via a trade with the Washington Redskins on Aug. 23, after he spent his first two seasons with them. Was released on the final roster cut, and signed back to the practice squad where he spent the season.

James Summers – Signed to a reserve/future contract.

Justin Thomas – Signed to a reserve/future contract. Originally signed with the Steelers on Aug. 23, but released on the final roster cut. Spent time on and off the practice squad throughout the 2017 season.

Marcus Tucker – Signed to a reserve/future contract. He signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2016, was released before the season started, and brought back to the practice squad later that season. Was signed to a Reserve/Future contract last season as well. He spent the 2017 season on the team's practice squad.

Matt Wile – Signed to a reserve/future contract. Originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Carolina Panthers in 2015. Spent time with the Arizona Cardinals (2016) where he punted 10 times for a 37.5-yard net average, and Atlanta Falcons (2016) where he punted twice for a 52-yard net average. 

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