Steelers: Who should be Pittsburgh’s top free agent target?


The Pittsburgh Steelers will have plenty of available cap room going into 2016. Why not swing for the fences?

Conventional wisdom around the NFL says that great teams build through the draft and bad ones through free agency. While it is important to develop your own talent, letting playmakers who hit the market walk by without taking a shot is never a good idea.

With Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley’s contracts coming off the books, Pittsburgh should have a whole lot of dough to throw at a top free agent target this offseason. Who should they make their number one priority?

You’ll get a chance to see him play in Super Bowl 50.

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It’s no secret that the Steelers’ greatest weakness is their secondary. Their offense is as potent as any in the NFL, they stop the run, and they rush the passer. If only they could get lockdown coverage from their defensive backs they might become one of the league’s most complete teams.

The best cover corner who is about to become a free agent is Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers.

Norman was always a solid cornerback but this season he pushed his game to the elite level, and now he’s in the conversation with Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis as to who is the best in the game.

For the season Pro Football Focus rated 13th overall at his position, but that was dragged down by a dismal run defense grade. When it comes to pass coverage, he’s as good as anybody. (PFF ranked him fourth in coverage.)

Norman started out the year red hot as a number of quarterbacks tried to test him. He tallied four interceptions in his first four games and appeared to be an early frontrunner for the NFL’s defensive player of the year award. As the season went on opposing offenses started going out of their way to avoid him, though.

He didn’t get any more picks, but Norman still defended 18 total passes in 2015. Only seven players around the league defended more.

Adding Norman to the Steelers secondary would immediately turn a major weakness into a major strength. Norman is good enough to shut down top wide receivers on his own and his presence would allow Keith Butler to get more aggressive with his playcalling, which is what Pittsburgh’s defense is all about.

Of course signing Norman is easier said than done. He’s currently rated the number two free agent by and a number of teams are likely to come calling with big offers, if the Panthers are dumb enough to let him test the market. The Steelers have a unique advantage on all those clubs, though. The history and winning culture in Pittsburgh is something he won’t find anywhere else among the teams who are likely to bid for his services.

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Norman will not come cheap, either. He is expected to earn a maximum type deal that compares favorably with the other top cornerbacks. That may put his annual salary around $15 million a year.

While that sounds steep, winning has never been cheap. Signing Norman would be a home run at almost any price.