The 5: Steelers free agent moves in the making this week

SCU’s periodic column “The 5” keeps tabs on current events with “5” Steelers to watch who are making news this week.

New Steelers General Manager Omar Khan alongside new Assistant General Manager Andy Weidl have been busy reshaping the team’s roster this offseason.

Three weeks into free agency, tidbits continue to come out about moves – no matter how major or minor – that the duo continues making.

Here are some of the names popping up as part of those moves this week.

Embed from Getty Images

Zach Gentry

Though no official signing has happened yet, it has been reported that the Steelers have come to terms with backup tight end Zach Gentry.

Gentry, who converted from quarterback to tight end in college, was drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He has since developed into a credible blocking tight end with the chops to scoop up chain-moving passes when called upon.

Appearing in 40 games overall in four years, the bulk of those – 34 games – represent every Steelers game over the last two seasons. Over that span Gentry has 38 receptions for 299 yards, 17 of those for first downs.

Gentry also serves as part of the special teams kickoff return team. His re-signing fills a role next to starter Pat Freiermuth and has been described by our SCU team as “Matt Spaeth 2.0” as part of his largely unnoticed, but meaningful contributions.

Embed from Getty Images

Bud Dupree

Dupree was finally back in Pittsburgh, but as of publishing, it was only for a visit and a physical – though this precludes that the former 2015 first-round pick of the Steelers is set for a reunion sooner than later.

Dupree would fill a vital depth role behind 2021 NFL Defensive MVP T.J. Watt, and Alex Highsmith, the latter of who took over for Dupree and had 14.5 sacks last season.

Without Watt or Highsmith, the Steelers pass rush, as well as their run defense, has suffered. Dupree was a stiff customer in his six seasons with the Steelers, stacking 19.5 sacks in his final 27 games in Pittsburgh. He was also successful at forcing fumbles, with 8 of his 10 career pokes coming in a black and gold uniform.

Dupree left following the 2020 season as the Steelers couldn’t afford to match the five-year, $82 million contract the Tennessee Titans offered him.

At age 30, Dupree could find a way to extend his career as a rotational player while offering the Steelers what they didn’t have over the last two seasons when players such as Melvin Ingram and Malik Reed failed to adequately fill in at the outside linebacker position.

Embed from Getty Images

Keanu Neal

Neal is a seven-year veteran who turns 28 in July. He was the 17th overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, but was bitten by untimely injuries in years three and four with Atlanta before signing with the Dallas Cowboys – who moved him to playing linebacker.

That too wasn’t a fit, as Neal would move back to safety with Tampa Bay last season.

With 61 career starts, Neal is a willing tackler when healthy. His three injury-free seasons with Atlanta all yielded over 100 tackles. He also had a penchant for knocking out the football earlier in his career, with 8 forced fumbles in his first two seasons as a pro – one in which earned him a Pro Bowl nod in 2017.

Neal projects to be a chess piece with the Steelers as a hybrid player who can cover tight ends or receivers as necessary in subpackages, filling a “three safety” look that Teryl Austin deployed last season with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, and Demontae Kazee.

With Edmunds leaving for the Eagles his offseason, the assumption is Kazee will take his spot, with Neal becoming the subpackage DB.

Embed from Getty Images

Breiden Fehoko

A large undrafted nose tackle who played three seasons for the Chargers, Fehoko was signed as depth component behind Montravius Adams, as 36-year-old Tyson Alualu remains unsigned.

Fehoko started three games for the Chargers last season, registering 23 tackles after not playing in the team’s first seven games. He would close out the season playing roughly 50% or more in each of LA’s next nine games.

Embed from Getty Images

Patrick Peterson

Peterson’s name popped up on the radar this week as Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin was interviewed during the owners and coaches meetings. A little panic set into Steelers Nation as Edmunds signed with the Eagles, leaving what appeared to be a hole in Pittsburgh’s secondary.

When asked about the situation, Tomlin noted that he already had “discussions” with the 33-year-old Peterson about fulfilling safety duties as part of coming to Pittsburgh.

This lit ablaze speculation that Peterson, a surefire Hall of Fame cornerback, could make the transition to playing safety such as other famous cornerbacks (like Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson, and Ronnie Lott) had.

With Neal’s signing and the potential versatility of Peterson, the Steelers should be able to weather any storm that surfaces in their secondary.

Suggested articles from our sponsors