Former Steelers who could find their way back to Pittsburgh in 2024

I recall writing an article similar to this last offseason, detailing how many former Steelers would not be returning to the black and gold in 2023. This offseason, I find myself revisiting the concept, but with a new perspective, as I see several names scheduled to hit free agency that could provide depth for the Steelers.

While most of these still fall under the category of unlikely to happen it’s still a fun exercise to see where former players could be brought in to help current ones.

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Terrell Edmunds

The former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2018 pursued greener pastures last offseason, signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles would trade Edmunds to the Tennessee Titans during the season, where his skill set was on better display.

Edmunds would post a career-high 2.5 sacks and also pick off a pass in nine games with the Titans. He also added two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.

The reason Edmunds makes sense for the Steelers is his age and experience with a defense lacking in the secondary as the offseason looms. Edmunds’ replacements, Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee, may be questionable to return despite being under contract. Neal has a long injury history that makes puts his availability in question while Kazee turns 31 in June and could save the Steelers $3 million if released.

Edmunds’ previous deals with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were for $2.5 and $2 million each.

31-year-old Eric Rowe did well in spot duty, but only had one game to evaluate his play alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick. It’s unknown if he will pursue another season with the Steelers as he’s currently a free agent.

The 27-year-old Edmunds still has a lot of football left and could be used as a spot starter or larger defensive back to guard against tight ends. Patrick Peterson is due to be 34 in July and has been rumored if he will move to play safety. With a $9.7 million cap hit, that’s a risky bet with Peterson, which could make Edmunds a wiser target, and one who has lots of starting experience alongside Fitzpatrick.

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Bud Dupree

After flirting with a reunion in the Steel City last season, Dupree took his talents to Atlanta, where the former 2014 first round pick of the Steelers still wrecked havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Dupree was able to stay healthy for 16 games and would total 6.5 sacks, along with eight TFLs and QBHs each. Two forced fumbles and a trio of pass deflections show the 31-year-old still has some gas left in the tank as a potential backup for T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, in much the same was Markus Golden was utilized in 2023.

Dupree signed for a mere $3 million in 2023 and would be a bargain if the soon-to-be 33-year-old Golden doesn’t re-sign for 2024.

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Joshua Dobbs

With all of the chatter about signing, trading, or drafting a quarterback to play alongside with (or compete with) Kenny Pickett, Dobbs’ name isn’t one that has come up frequently, but should be linked to the Steelers.

Pittsburgh had traded Dobbs away once, before bringing him back into the fold in 2020 during the COVID plagued NFL season. He would be placed on IR for the 2021 campaign when it was clear he wasn’t going to beat out Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins for a roster spot. Yet, Dobbs was always seen on the sidelines with a tablet aiding Ben Roethlisberger, when injured players are seldom invited to attend games – especially on the road.

In a player-coach type of mold, Dobbs could return after bouncing around from Cleveland, Tennessee, Arizona and Minnesota. He added 14 career starts since leaving Pittsburgh, which could prove valuable. However, I would only consider Dobbs as a distant third quarterback and not a profound backup. His play has been erratic (15 touchdown to 13 interceptions) to be the first option behind Pickett.

But as an emergency third quarterback who could step in on short notice? Absolutely sign Dobbs to add his intelligence plus team-first attitude to the quarterback room.

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Braden Mann & Brad Wing

The Steelers have finally parted ways with inconsistent punter Pressley Harvin III, leaving a void on the roster that the team will need to fill via free agency or the draft.

Mann and Wing both represent former Steelers who could be called upon to compete for that open starting spot during training camp.

Mann, who is set to become a free agent, made the Steelers 53-man roster to open the 2023 season. But with two punters on the roster (Harvin also made the team) his tenure in Pittsburgh was short-lived. Without at trade partner, GM Omar Khan released Mann before Week 1. He would land with the Philadelphia Eagles and became their starter in October.

When Harvin was injured in-season, the Steelers called upon Brad Wing, who hadn’t played in the NFL since 2017. Wing performed respectably, and perhaps better than Harvin, but the latter retained his job when he was once again healthy. However, Wing was added to the Steelers practice squad ahead of their Wild Card game against the Buffalo Bills, citing that the team still has confidence in his ability to do the job.

Either player could wind up back in Latrobe this Summer and give special teams coach Danny Smith better options than he’s had in years.

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Le’Veon Bell

Re-signing Le’Veon Bell is one of the more preposterous ideas I’ve seen floating around the Internet, yet, I’m here for it.

I’ve done a 180 on the 32-year-old running back, because I can’t name who the Steelers have on the roster other than Najee Harris or Jaylen Warren. The question is, can Bell get back to form and is he willing to contribute on special teams?

If he’s willing to run back kicks and be used for the occasional subpackage (remember him as a WR2?!) then I could see Bell’s veteran leadership and experience being a boon for the Steelers. He’s floundered around the NFL since leaving Pittsburgh for more money, but I can’t honestly recall any other non-contract shenanigans that makes Bell a liability. (Read: he’s not Antonio Brown.)

It appears Bell has matured and realized his mistake of missing out on being one of the Steelers greats. He appears to have opened lines of communication with former teammates and possibly the organization, patching up any open wounds. If his heart is set on playing football for a minimum deal at his age, and helping the team improve, then please put his locker next to some of the younger players who can learn from his success and mistakes.

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Cross these names off of the list

Sorry folks, but I just don’t see a reunion in the works for several other former Steelers floating around as potential free agents come March. Among those names to cross of the “sign” list would be CB Artie Burns and LB Devin Bush. Despite still being south of 30 years old, these veteran players never lived up to expectations in Pittsburgh and were not a fit for the scheme or system.

Two other cornerbacks formerly with the team, Steven Nelson and Ahkello Witherspoon, fall into the same “ship sailed” category when it comes to fit and future with Pittsburgh.

Some other names that popped up on my radar include tight ends Kevin Rader (previous pun intended) and Nick Vannett. Vannett was not only bad, but bad-mouthed the team on his way out of town, while Rader was a practice squad and fringe roster player who is approaching 30 years of age and has had to fight to remain on several NFL rosters.

On the offensive line Matt Feiler and Chris Hubbard, also both north of 30 years old, will be available, but Pittsburgh appears to be content with the interior linemen when it comes to starters and depth, so adding an aging veteran is probably out of the discussion.

Tanner Muse, Gunner Olszewski, Desmond King and others who had a cup of coffee with the Steelers should also be disqualified from further conversations.

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