Despite limited cap space, Steelers get high mark for free-agent signings

Signing safety Morgan Burnett highlights a changing of the guard for the Steelers' secondary. Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

A breakdown of the initial wave of free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Overall grade: B-plus. The Steelers entered free agency with minimal cap space and still got two starters to fill defensive needs, each for less than $7 million per year -- a classic navigation of free agency's second wave. They also released three veteran defensive backs to signal improvements are coming. But staying away from the top inside linebackers could hurt the defense if the Steelers don't get the right player in the draft.

Most significant signing: Safety Morgan Burnett. The long-time Green Bay Packer brings polish and versatility to a secondary that needs it. Burnett was one of the biggest free-agent signings in a sagging safety market, and the Steelers proved they are serious about improving the position by committing three years and up to $14.5 million. Burnett can cover in the slot, play either safety position or line up at linebacker if needed.

Most significant loss: Right tackle Chris Hubbard. The Cleveland Browns showed Hubbard's worth by signing him to a five-year, $36.5 million deal on the first day of free agency. Hubbard turned a swing-tackle role into 10 starts in the 2017 Steelers offense and a mega-deal. With five starting offensive linemen under long-term contracts, the Steelers knew they couldn't match Hubbard's market. But he will be missed.

Player they should have signed: Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger's one-year, $7 million deal with Houston signals a weak market that the Steelers could have attacked more aggressively. The Steelers got a great value deal with Burnett, committing $5.25 million in Year 1, so why not go all the way and get one of the most dynamic players at the position? The 25-year-old Mathieu has injury concerns and is undersized, but he's a splash playmaker.

What’s next: The Steelers sound optimistic they will re-sign slot receiver Eli Rogers once he clears medical hurdles coming off a torn ACL. And the team could add a veteran or two. But they are strapped against the cap and have Le'Veon Bell's $14.5 million franchise tag to handle. They won't be major players in the second or third waves of free agency.

Additions: S Burnett, LB Jon Bostic, RB Fitz Toussaint, DT Dan McCullers

Losses: RT Hubbard, S Mike Mitchell, S Robert Golden, CB William Gay