NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 15 at 4 p.m. ET. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.
Though normally quiet in free agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers were active on the first day of the legal tampering period March 13, when they agreed to terms with veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson. The 32-year-old Peterson, who recorded five interceptions in his second season with the Minnesota Vikings in 2022, will help Pittsburgh overcome the loss of Cameron Sutton, who agreed to a deal with the Detroit Lions earlier on Monday.
On March 14, the Steelers agreed to terms with guard Nate Herbig, formerly of the New York Jets, also re-signing safety Demontae Kazee and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi.
The team agreed to deals with a pair of linebackers on March 16 and 17, with former Commander Cole Holcomb and ex-Dolphin Elandon Roberts brought in to help bolster the defense.
On March 18, Pittsburgh further bolstered its offensive line by inking veteran guard Isaac Seumalo to a three-year deal.
The team made a pair of moves on March 25th, re-signing tight end Zach Gentry and inking veteran tackle Le'Raven Clark to a one-year deal.
Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free-agent signing by the Steelers, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Breiden Fehoko, defensive tackle
What it means: Fehoko projects to be a depth piece on the defensive line. The LSU product spent the last three seasons with the Chargers and appeared in nine games last season with four starts. He has 36 combined tackles and one tackle for a loss.
What's the risk: Depth is important for a trench position where injuries can pile up quickly. Fehoko doesn't figure to be a significant part of the defense, but he could add quality depth.
Keanu Neal, safety
Neal signed a two-year deal.
What it means: The Steelers added Neal for depth at safety, but the 2016 first-round pick by the Falcons has experience as a starter. He started 48 games in Atlanta before one-year stints in Dallas and Tampa Bay. A free safety who also has experience as a linebacker, Neal figures to slot into the role Marcus Allen held most recently as a hybrid inside linebacker/safety with a prominent role on special teams.
What's the risk: The Steelers seemingly opted to bring in a new option to fill Allen's role rather than retaining the free agent. And while Allen's immaturity sometimes cost the Steelers on the field, he did know the system, and Neal will have to start from scratch. Still, it's a low-risk signing and one that gives the Steelers starter-capable depth, something they've been vocal about wanting this offseason.
Le'Raven Clark, tackle
The Steelers signed the ex-Colts, Eagles and Titans lineman to a one-year contract on March 25.
What it means: Another lineman with Eagles ties, Clark is the first tackle signed by the Steelers in free agency. He's not likely to threaten Chukwuma Okorafor or Dan Moore 's starting job, but he has some experience as a starter since being drafted by the Colts in the third round of the 2016 draft. He's started 18 games over a six-year career, including a handful between one-year stints with the Eagles and Titans.
What's the risk: Clark is depth and a potential swing tackle signing after the Steelers lost Trent Scott in free agency when he signed with the Commanders. There's little risk here, and it's yet another sign of former Eagles' evaluator Andy Weidl's influence in the Steelers' free agency moves.
Zach Gentry, tight end
The Steelers brought Gentry, their 2019 fifth-round draft choice, back for a fifth season on March 25.
What it means: In bringing Gentry back for another year, the Steelers are keeping their tight end tandem together. While Pat Freiermuth was the more prolific threat, the Steelers used Gentry plenty as a blocking tight end -- often in two-tight end packages. He played 50% of offensive snaps last season, along with 72% of special teams snaps.
What's the risk: There's little risk here. Gentry is a solid complement to Freiermuth, and he's only gotten better since arriving in Pittsburgh as a fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft. He's also a former quarterback, giving the Steelers the potential for some trick plays when he's on the field.
Isaac Seumalo, guard
Seumalo, a seven-year NFL veteran with 60 career starts for the Philadelphia Eagles (2016-22), agreed to a three-year deal on Saturday.
What it means: The Steelers upgraded their offensive line in a big way by signing Seumalo, who started every game for the Eagles last season -- including the Super Bowl. It's also the second Steelers free agency signing with Eagles ties, signaling assistant GM Andy Weidl's influence in the decision-making. Seumalo played left guard for most of his career, but switched to right guard last season after missing most of the 2021 season with a Lisfranc injury. A 2019 third-round pick, Seumalo started more than 60 games in Philadelphia and was a quiet leader in the offensive line room. As part of a group that finished second in ESPN's run-block win rate, Seumalo's addition should bolster a Steelers run game that didn't get going until the second half of the 2022 season.
What's the risk: Seumalo is a solid signing, but he did miss significant time with injuries in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, he missed more than eight weeks with a knee injury that required in-season surgery. The following season, he played just three games and sustained a season-ending Lisfranc injury that also required surgery. In two seasons, he played just 12 games. But he played 20 games for the Eagles in 2022, and the old injuries appear to be behind him.
Elandon Roberts, linebacker
Roberts, a seven-year NFL veteran formerly with the Dolphins (2020-22) and Patriots (2016-19), agreed to a two-year deal with the Steelers on Thursday.
What it means: Roberts, a two-time Super Bowl champ with the Patriots and former sixth-round pick, spent the last three seasons in Miami, starting 43 of 47 games he played. He had a pick-6 and two forced fumbles in 2021 and recorded 251 tackles -- including a career-high 107 last season -- in his career with the Dolphins. In addition to being an aggressive, physical linebacker, Roberts is also a special teamer and could help replace Marcus Allen, who is an unrestricted free agent. Shortly after agreeing to terms with Roberts, the team cut starting inside linebacker Myles Jack, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter. The move created $8 million in cap space.
What's the risk: Neither Roberts nor Holcomb are known for their pass coverage, a consistent weakness of Steelers' inside linebackers, but both possess a coveted run-stopping ability. The pass-defending reality could potentially place more pressure on the secondary, including safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (whose contract was restructured Thursday, per ESPN's Field Yates) and newly acquired cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Cole Holcomb, linebacker
The four-year NFL veteran Holcomb agreed to a three-year, $18 million deal with the Steelers.
What it means: The Steelers had an imminent need at inside linebacker and it only became more pressing after ILB Robert Spillane signed in Las Vegas leaving just Mark Robinson and Myles Jack as the two significant inside linebackers under contract for 2023 (update: Jack was released on Thursday). Before a foot injury last season, Holcomb posted 69 tackles in seven games. In signing Holcomb, who wore the green dot for the Commanders, to a three-year deal, the Steelers are signaling an intention to make the inside linebacker a significant part of their future.
What's the risk: Holcomb missed more than half of the 2022 season with a foot injury that required surgery, but the injury is not expected to have a long-term impact. A four-year starter, Holcomb was a significant piece of Washington's defense in his last two years and was a solid three-down linebacker. The signing is a good start to restock the cupboard, but there's more work to be done.
Larry Ogunjobi, defensive tackle
Ogunjobi re-signed to the Steelers on a three-year, $28.75 million deal
What it means: The Steelers had to address the defensive line this offseason, and they do it in a big way by retaining Ogunjobi after a one-year stint where he was a crucial run-stopper. The Steelers signed Ogunjobi on a one-year discount -- $8 million -- last offseason after his deal with Chicago fell through as the result of a failed physical from a foot injury. He played well for the Steelers with 7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hits -- well enough to get a big payday in Pittsburgh.
What's the risk: The Steelers are giving Ogunjobi a $28.75 million deal with most of it -- $21.75 million -- coming in the first year. It's a big hit for a guy who was plagued by nagging toe, knee and back injuries last season. Even so, Ogunjobi still played 16 games and was effective in the middle of the line. In front-loading the deal, the Steelers are betting that he's completely healthy entering 2023.
Damontae Kazee, safety
Kazee will re-sign to the Steelers on a two-year deal.
What it means: The Steelers kept one of their own in retaining Kazee. He missed nearly half the season after sustaining a wrist injury in the final preseason game, but he was a versatile and productive depth piece when healthy. He had two picks, started four games and allowed the Steelers to deploy a three-safety package at times with Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds.
What's the risk: There's not much risk in signing Kazee, who was productive in limited work. The biggest thing to monitor is what the Steelers do with Edmunds, who is set to hit free agency after returning on a one-year deal in 2022. Kazee is either in line to return as the No. 3 safety, or he could be elevated to No. 2 if the Steelers don't bring Edmunds back. Fitzpatrick and Kazee already have a rapport from the 2022 season, making the pairing an ideal one.
Nate Herbig, guard
Herbig agreed to a two-year deal worth $8 million, including $4 million guaranteed.
What it means: New assistant general manager Andy Weidl is plenty familiar with Herbig after the Eagles signed the guard as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Primarily a reserve, he wound up starting 17 games in Philadelphia and 11 with the New York Jets last season. He's a versatile interior lineman with the bulk of his snaps coming at right guard. Herbig appears to be a solid depth signing, but he could push Kevin Dotson for a starting job.
What's the risk: With just $4 million guaranteed, Herbig is a relatively low-risk signing. The Steelers can always use versatile interior linemen, and it doesn't preclude them from adding more in free agency or the draft. The Steelers line struggled early last season, but had the benefit of cohesion and was a serviceable unit by the end of the year.
Patrick Peterson, cornerback
Peterson agreed to a two-year deal including a $5.85 million signing bonus and $1.3 million in 2023 salary, both fully guaranteed. Peterson's 2024 figures include a $5.15 million salary and a $3 million roster bonus, both non-guaranteed. The 12-year veteran and three-time All-Pro is tied for the lead among active NFL players in interceptions, with 34.
What it means: The Steelers started out the legal tampering period by losing its top corner Sutton to the Detroit Lions, but netting Peterson on a two-year deal later in the day instantly infuses the Steelers with a veteran leader in an otherwise young room. After Sutton's departure, the Steelers cornerback room was reduced to Levi Wallace, James Pierre and Ahkello Witherspoon -- and both Pierre and Witherspoon were benched at times. Peterson helps solidify the group, but the Steelers shouldn't be done adding to the position.
What's the risk: Turning 33 before the 2023 season, Peterson is in the final years of his Pro Bowl career. His effectiveness declined in his final seasons in Arizona's man defense, but his production picked back up over his last two seasons in Minnesota's zone-heavy scheme. Peterson grabbed five picks in 2022, his most since recording seven in 2012 -- his second year in the league. The Steelers play a mix of zone and man, and they'll have to find the right fit for Peterson within that to maximize his versatility and skill set in the late stages of his career.