Here are the moves the Pittsburgh Steelers should consider when free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, March 14:
Sign an inside linebacker: The loss of Ryan Shazier makes the Steelers' need in the middle of their defense painfully obvious. Vince Williams is a good run-stopper and blitzer, but the defense is lacking the sideline-to-sideline brilliance Shazier provided. They won't find a Shazier duplicate in free agency, but there are plenty of three-down thumpers available for modest cash. Tennessee's Avery Williamson is a rangy athlete with an all-around game (three sacks and two forced fumbles to go with 92 tackles). Buffalo's Preston Brown has been a tackling machine (512 takedowns in four seasons) and doesn't come off the field. Dallas' Anthony Hitchens is a hitter who would improve a run defense that gave up 150-plus yards in three of the final six games last season (including the playoff loss to Jacksonville).
Sign for depth at offensive line or safety: With $1 million in cap space as of last week, the Steelers needed to release veterans or restructure contracts to simply sign one player in free agency. But whatever happens with the roster, the Steelers need depth and playmaking at safety and along the offensive line, where the loss of swing tackle Chris Hubbard will be felt. The Steelers could -- and likely will -- draft at least one of these spots. But quality veterans will be available in free agency's second wave. Take Tyson Alualu, whom the Steelers acquired for three years, $6 million last year. He acquitted himself well.
Continue to work toward a Le'Veon Bell signing: The standoff is set. Bell wants old running back money, and the Steelers don't want to set a pricey precedent for a stagnant positional market. But the sides aren't as far apart as it seems, and creating a long-term deal for Bell before the mid-July franchise tag deadline would provide 2018 cap relief (his current figure is $14.54 million). The Steelers want to sign Bell, who wants to retire a Steeler. This shouldn't be too difficult, assuming compromise is still an option.
Create salary-cap space for bigger moves: The imminent releases of cornerback William Gay and safety Mike Mitchell will shave nearly $7 million off Pittsburgh's cap. They can create more by restructuring at least one more contract (defensive end Cam Heyward and cornerback Joe Haden have double-digit cap numbers in 2018) with possibly more cuts to come. The Steelers value veterans more than most teams, but will have difficult decisions. Shedding contracts is simply the cost of doing business in the NFL.