How Has Free Agency Affected The Steelers’ Chances Of Landing Either Justin Gilbert Or Mike Evans?

While opinions continue to differ about who the Steelers should draft with their first round pick, the two names that appear to be at the top of many fan’s wish lists are Mike Evans and Justin Gilbert. This is especially true after the team addressed their safety and nose tackle needs in free agency with the additions of Mike Mitchell and Cam Thomas, respectively, essentially taking both Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louis Nix off our radar.

Of course, the fourteen other teams picking ahead of the Steelers were likewise shuffling players and now that we’re almost a week into free agency, it seems like a good time to reassess the likelihood of either Evans or Gilbert falling to us at #15.

It’s never smart to make assumptions when it comes to the NFL draft, but I’m going to do just that in assuming that Clowney, Bridgewater, Bortles, Manziel, Robinson, Watkins, Mack and Matthews make up eight of the fourteen picks before Pittsburgh is on the clock. Don’t know exactly where they’ll go, but I think it’s a good bet they’re gone.

In almost all the mock drafts I’ve seen, the earliest anyone has either Evans or Gilbert going is Minnesota at #8, so let’s start there and look at the relevant free agent additions and departures the teams picking 8 -14 have made:

2014 free agent movesNote that these are not ALL the free agent moves these teams have made but, rather, the ones I thought relevant to Evans and Gilbert. Moves highlighted in green are ones that I think benefit the Steelers in terms of landing either player, while the ones highlighted in red are ones I view more negatively.

As you can see, there’s good and bad news here.

The good news is that teams like Minnesota, Detroit and Buffalo have all either added players that potentially satisfy their wide receiver or corner need or, in the case of Buffalo and Detroit losing safeties, created a need for a player (Clinton-Dix) that might cause them to pass on Evans or Gilbert. You could argue that the addition of Golden Tate doesn’t necessarily take Detroit out of the market for Evans,  but I think it at least lessens the chance they take him at #10.

The bad news is that Tennessee and the NY Giants both lost players that probably don’t help the Steelers’ cause. The loss of Alterraun Verner in Tennessee is likely the worst free agent move of any for the Steelers as it would probably be very difficult for them to now pass on Gilbert. As for the Giants, they  would probably have interest in both players, but keep in mind that they lost Justin Tuck and a guy like Anthony Barr is both a big need and probably a huge value if he is there at #12. Or at least that’s my hope.

St. Louis has not done much in free agency and they probably represent Pittsburgh’s final obstacle to having a crack at Evans, should he get past picks 9 – 12. This worries me greatly.

Chicago did resign Peanut Tillman and, while he’s getting up there in years, that probably lessens the need to draft Gilbert. The players I continue to see mocked to them at #14 are Pitt DT Aaron Donald or one of the top safeties, either Clinton-Dix or Pryor.

Bottom line, I feel like the free agency moves we’ve seen thus far have probably helped the Steelers’ chances of landing Evans, but it’s still FAR from a sure thing. Unfortunately, I think Tennessee’s loss of Alterraun Verner really puts Gilbert in their targets and it seems unlikely he gets to us at #15. Hope I’m wrong about that.

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Thanks for reading! – Mike

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