PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers ended their offseason program on Thursday. Here’s a look at how they fared:
Offseason goals/grade: The Steelers set out to add much-needed depth in several areas, particularly on defense. They signed capable veterans on the defensive line and at cornerback. Draft picks T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cam Sutton should compete for playing time early. Antonio Brown's $68 million extension will hurt the salary cap but was a necessary move. The biggest victories were Ben Roethlisberger's decision to return for a 14th season and Martavis Bryant returning from suspension. Those realities are more important than any free-agent acquisition. The Steelers were relatively passive on the open market, but that's their style. They prefer to bet on their own stars and create new ones in-house. They sense the urgency of a championship window but won't overreact with overspending. Grade: B
Move I liked: Signing defensive lineman Tyson Alualu to a modest two-year deal. A top-10 pick in 2010, he is the ideal swing lineman for starters Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt. He can play either spot, and though he has never reached stardom, he's durable and is capable against the run or the pass. Alualu's presence allowed the Steelers to fill other needs in the draft. Add third-year player L.T. Walton and former undrafted tackle Johnny Maxey and a once-depleted position looks to be a strength.
Move I didn’t like: The lack of investment in high-level cornerback play could hurt in 2017. That's not a knock on free-agent addition Coty Sensabaugh, who signed a two-year, $2.6 million deal in March. But the team was clearly bargain-bin shopping. They showed interest in Cincinnati's Dre Kirkpatrick but ultimately deemed him too expensive. Though the decision may prove prudent, and Sensabaugh is a capable player, the pass defense could have used another long, rangy corner to provide matchup flexibility against elite quarterbacks.
Biggest question still to be answered in training camp: Is Watt the real deal at outside linebacker? Watt's athleticism and football savvy were on display during offseason workouts, where he showed signs he can fill the void 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones couldn't. But training camp will be his true test. James Harrison, who sat out most offseason workouts, will be more involved. The physicality increases. If Watt comes along and third-year pass-rusher Bud Dupree fulfills his enormous potential, the Steelers can apply serious edge pressure in 2017. The offense is proven, and the defense is improving overall. Sacking the quarterback more often can be the difference.
Salary-cap space: $15,067,448 (source: Overthecap.com)
Unrestricted free agents signed: DE Tyson Alualu, CB Coty Sensabaugh, WR Justin Hunter
Players acquired via trade: None