Steelers, Texans together in free agent inactivity

Justin Hunter is the only outside free agent that the Steelers have signed since free agency began on March 9. AP Photo/James Kenney

PITTSBURGH -- With most of the Top 150 free agents under contract and NFL rosters coming into focus, at least three teams must really, really like the way they draft.

Despite a ballooning salary cap, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers and Houston Texans are the only three teams to sign one external free agent or less since the league year opened March 9. Houston's trading of Brock Osweiler was a deft salary dump and grabbed the rest of the league's attention, but as it stands the Texans haven't signed a single free agent coming from another team.

A modest free agency plan isn't uncommon for a team like Pittsburgh, which traditionally eschews the early-March sweepstakes and prefers to re-sign its own players. The Steelers' only signing outside its locker room is journeyman receiver Justin Hunter on a one-year deal.

But the $167 million cap -- a $47 million increase since 2011 -- has enticed 27 of 32 teams to sign or trade for at least three new members. The Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals have signed two new players and re-signed many others, while the Chargers spent $25 million guaranteed on left tackle Russell Okung, their only signing. The Chargers also released two key offensive linemen.

Through 11 days, the per-team average is 4.4 new players signed. The San Francisco 49ers basically turned over nearly 30 percent of their team in less than two weeks, acquiring 14 new players this month.

Though inactivity in the new landscape is a bit surprising, the list of teams being inactive are not. The Chargers, Steelers and Texans have drafted well in recent years and are considered to have pretty deep rosters. That's why they are choosing to re-sign their own players, which the Steelers have done with Antonio Brown and James Harrison, among others. Houston, for example, can let cornerback A.J. Bouye walk because first-round pick Kevin Johnson is coming back from injury.

The Chargers were considered one of the most attractive head-coaching vacancies this offseason because the roster was talented and underachieving.

These teams probably aren't done adding, especially with an expansive bargain bin of serviceable veterans. But Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert hinted at a slow process back at the NFL scouting combine.

"We've always been a draft, develop, keep our own [team]," Colbert said. "I think you're seeing more teams doing it. And as a result, you're seeing less and less quality free agents. There's an inherent danger in that because some of the players who are hitting the market with the number of dollars that are available might not be quite worth what they're going to get paid because of the supply and demand...I think that it reinforces that you want to sign your own and keep your own. You have to be careful about the free-agent market and not overpay for maybe an average player."