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Analysis: Steelers could fill needs with free agents while not spending big bucks

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 9:12 p.m.

Defensive end Mario Williams signed a $100 million contract with Buffalo as a free agent in 2012. Former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace agreed to a $60 million deal with Miami a year ago.

Since Kevin Colbert took over as the Steelers' general manager in 2000, his total expenditures during free agency don't equal Williams' deal, and he hasn't spent one-third of what Wallace got on a single player.

The Steelers' build-through-the-draft approach isn't likely to change much as the NFL free-agent market opens for business at 4 p.m. Tuesday. But contract restructurings of Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller, Antonio Brown and Ike Taylor got them below the $133 million cap and put them into position to do some business.

The question is: How much? With wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders likely leaving via free agency and Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Ryan Clark not expected back and LaMarr Woodley about to be cut, the Steelers need help almost across the board. Just don't expect them to pay above-market value for it.

Some potentially affordable free agents who might interest the Steelers:

• Nolan Carroll, CB, Dolphins or Tarell Brown, CB, 49ers. Sam Shields' $39 million deal with the Packers upped the ante for free agent corners and likely put Alterraun Verner of Tennessee and, possibly, Captain Munnerlyn of Carolina out of the Steelers' price range. But Carroll (three interceptions last season) or Brown (12 passes defended, 10 starts) might be a fit. If not, perhaps CB Corey Graham of Baltimore. He had four interceptions and a sack despite starting only five games last season, and he's a special teams ace. The question is whether he's affordable enough; a lot of teams apparently are beginning to push for him. And could he play for the Ravens' biggest rival?

• Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings. Looking for a real longshot? He barely plays behind Adrian Peterson so, at 27, he doesn't have the wear-and-tear issues of most backs his age. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry last season, and the Steelers are thin behind Le'Veon Bell, especially if Jonathan Dwyer doesn't return.

• Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers. Limited to six games last season by a back problem, but Steelers neurologist Joseph Maroon operated on him, so the Steelers won't have trouble getting an accurate medical update.

• Alex Carrington, DE, Bills. Missed all but three games with a quadriceps injury last season, so he won't cost a lot. Looks to have a lot of upside, and the Steelers soon might be precariously thin at his position.

• Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks. Fifty catches last season for the Super Bowl champions, and he's only 25. Could be a real asset, especially with Sanders all but gone and free agent Jerricho Cotchery's status up in the air.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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