With the official start of the 2020-21 NFL season year, the frenzy of free agency is in full effect.
Over the past two days, the Pittsburgh Steelers have made several moves - restructured contracts, signings, and releases - with general manager Kevin Colbert at the helm as the black and gold look to build a strong roster for the upcoming season and team's future. Under Colbert, who became the team's general manager in 2000, there have been a solid number of signings of free agent players that had great careers after they joined the Steelers.
Today, we look back at those players (in order of year they were signed) that were the biggest hits (in a good way) for the Steelers in the Colbert era.
Minkah Fitzpatrick (2019)
When the Steelers signed former Alabama and Miami Dolphins (1st-round 2018 NFL draft) defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick on September 16, 2019, there was a lot of buzz among Steelers Nation. While many fans were unhappy that Pittsburgh had traded away their 2020 first-round, 2020 fifth-round, and 2021 sixth-round picks for the young defensive back, the mood changed when Fitzpatrick debuted for the Steelers in Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers. Fitzpatrick grabbed an interception off of Jimmy Garoppolo and forced a fumble from Raheem Mostert. In Week 9, Fitzpatrick intercepted a Brian Hoyer pass and returned it for a 96-yard touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts; it was the third-longest interception return for a touchdown in Steelers history (the second-longest during a regular-season game).
Fitzpatrick's presence on the field and his five interceptions for 130 total return yards gave the Steelers defense a much-needed boost in their backfield and helped Pittsburgh improve its turnover ratio into a major positive.
Joe Haden (2017)
Although he was technically a 'divisional rival', Steelers fans seemed to take to Joe Haden quickly after the Steelers signed him just a few hours after he was released by the Cleveland Browns on August 30, 2017. Haden was one of the most reliable players on the Steelers' defensive roster during the 2019-20 season, finishing with five interceptions (tied for fourth in the NFL), 65 total tackles (59 solo), 17 passes defensed, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. His play earned him entry into the Pro Bowl. In three seasons with Pittsburgh, Haden has logged eight interceptions, 36 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one sack, and 148 tackles.
Ryan Clark (2006)
With the departure of Chris Hope, the Steelers picked up Ryan Clark from the Washington Redskins on March 15, 2006. In that first season, paired with Troy Polamalu, Clark made 72 tackles at free safety, grabbed one interception and three fumble recoveries. Known as a 'thumper', a guy who wasn't afraid to make a mid-field tackle or a hard hit, opposing offenses learned to keep an eye on where Clark was on the field, especially receivers. Clark was with the Steelers during Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers. Clark finished his career in Pittsburgh with 12 interceptions, six fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, and two sacks.
James Farrior (2002)
Although he was drafted by the New York Jets and spent five seasons with the team, his signing with the Steelers on April 5, 2002, really kicked off James Farrior's career. A leader on two Super Bowl-winning Steelers defenses, the linebacker logged 1,078 combined tackles in his ten seasons (154 games) with the Steelers; that number ranks as the most tackles in franchise history (since stat became official in 2001). Farrior wasn't necessarily the flashiest of players but he was able to log 30 sacks, eight interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries and defensed nearly 50 passes during his career in Pittsburgh.
Jeff Hartings (2001)
When the Steelers signed the former Penn State product and former first-round pick of the Detroit Lions on March 8, 2001, they needed someone to fill the big shoes of Dermontti Dawson, Mike Webster, and Ray Mansfield as the anchor of their offensive line at center. Hartings didn't shy away from the tall task. In his first Steelers season, Hartings, who had played guard for Detroit blocking for Barry Sanders, helped give Jerome Bettis running lanes on his way to being named Second-Team All-Pro. Hartings made the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2005, as well as earning a spot as a champion in Super Bowl XL.