Pittsburgh Steelers free agency preview: Decisions to be made on defense

BY Ross Jones • February 26, 2015

The Pittsburgh Steelers must re-tool a defense that has four key unrestricted free agents, three of which were starters last season.

With longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau resigning in Pittsburgh, it's a period of transition in the Steel City. Keith Butler, the team's new defensive coordinator, must mix and match a unit that has veteran experience and blossoming talent.

For a franchise that has spent three of its last four first-round picks on the defensive side of the ball, Butler must squeeze out the potential of each player. Addressing the secondary looks to be the biggest priority this offseason and Mike Tomlin, a former cornerbacks coach, certainly has an eye for the guys that fits what they do. 

How they finished?

2014: 11-5 -- Loss in wild card against Baltimore

2013: 8-8 -- No postseason

Projected salary cap space as of Feb. 1 (per Spotrac.com): 27th most with -$4.1M

Potential free agency targets: The Steelers' No. 1 need is getting a cornerback who can jam receivers off the line of scrimmage. It has been widely considered that they will address that in the draft, but the learning curve for rookie cornerbacks has proven to be steep. Instead of dumping a ton of money into one player, general manager Kevin Colbert will look to make a savvy, under-the-radar acquisition. San Francisco's Chris Culliver and Green Bay's Tramon Williams are two big-bodied cornerbacks who work well off the jam.

Potential cap casualties: The end could be potentially near for veterans Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel. Polamalu, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, has an $8.25 million cap number and has said that he may have played his last NFL game. Team owner Art Rooney II said in January that he wants Polamalu to "retire a Steeler" and could restructure his deal. For Keisel, he's evaluating his future after undergoing surgery to repair his shoulder.

Extensions? The Steelers picked up the fifth-year option on Cameron Heyward's deal, but it would benefit them to lock up the defensive end this offseason. While Heyward didn't get much playing time in his first season, his 12.5 sacks the past two years make him one of the defense's most valuable pieces. Heyward continued to get better and has plenty of untapped potential. For a team that is traditionally built on defense, Heyward is likely the centerpiece to this unit's future.

Offseason needs: CB, S, DL

Notable free agents:

OLB Jason Worilds

OLB James Harrison

OLB Arthur Moats

CB Brice McCain

CB Ike Taylor

S Will Allen

WR Darrius Heyward-Bey

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