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Pittsburgh Steelers free agent targets who can help team flip the switch in 2023

The Pittsburgh Steelers faced a distinct and unfamiliar circumstance heading into the 2022 season, as it was the first time in 18 years the storied franchise would begin an NFL season without Ben Roethlisberger as its starting quarterback.

Looking back, Big Ben’s nearly two-decade-long run under center for the Steelers almost feels somewhat minimized in part because 45-year-old Tom Brady just completed his 23rd NFL season, setting an entirely different kind of standard. One that very few quarterbacks will likely ever duplicate.

Nonetheless, switching gears in a major way and expecting the next man up at quarterback to instantly become “The Guy,” as Roethlisberger did, is not something fans could ever expect to happen overnight.

Outside of the Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers handoff — along with the seamless transition of Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck — we rarely see such a thing happen with an NFL franchise.

As a result, the 2022 season was a clunky combination of newly acquired quarterback Mitch Trubisky and rookie Kenny Pickett. While Pickett got the lion’s share of starts (12), he wasn’t exactly putting on a laser light show, failing to eclipse 200 yards passing in six of his final eight starts.

But, in typical fashion, the Steelers played tough enough to land right in the middle of the pack with a 9-8 record, including a four-game winning streak to close out the regular season. While that’s great, finishing the year in such a fashion still left them out of the playoffs and also set the Steelers back in the 2023 NFL Draft, as they currently sit in the No. 17 slot.

To make matters somewhat worse, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot of cap space ($11.10 million) to work with for the 2023 NFL season.

However, before Steelers fans collectively sound the alarm, plenty of steps can be taken in order to create additional cap space. We can probably expect to see some type of contract restructuring take place, something that several teams have been doing heading into the NFL free agency period on March 15.

Right here is where we address some of the Steelers’ key needs, with the presumption they’ll be able to free up some additional cap space in order to properly fill the gaps.

Related: Top NFL free agents of 2023: Ranking the best players available from 1-400

Bobby Wagner, inside linebacker

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Rams
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams released linebacker Bobby Wagner after just one season, freeing him up in late February in a clear salary-slicing move.

By now, Wagner and his agent probably have a clear picture of the free-agent market when it comes to linebackers, as well as the likely teams vying for his services.

A reunion with the Seattle Seahawks — where Wagner spent a decade playing — would make perfect sense for their noted defensive needs and is very much on the table. The familiarity and given that this next contract might be the final run for the 32-year-old, tends to lean towards returning home.

Then again, Wagner hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down.

The reliable veteran played in all 17 games for the Rams last season, finishing with a nicely balanced 2 interceptions, 6 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and 10 QB hits.

This type of versatility would suit the Steelers well and help ease some of the frustrations from head coach Mike Tomlin.

Related: Bold predictions for 2023 NFL free agency: Destinations for more than 50 top players

Orlando Brown Jr., offensive tackle

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There would simply be no better way to shore things up at left tackle than signing Chiefs free-agent offensive lineman Orlando Brown Jr.

Kansas City didn’t place the franchise tag on him, so Brown is free to go where he pleases with no strings attached in terms of an offer being matched. That could very well be a pipe dream, though, because outside of the 49ers — who are set with Trent Williams — the list of teams willing to throw money at a left tackle like Brown is probably among the longest among all NFL free agents.

Still, the Steelers aren’t going to find out until they make the call.

Related: 40 most-likely NFL salary cap casualties with updates on each move

Kyzir White, linebacker

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles free-agent linebacker Kyzir White initially came out of West Virginia as a safety but switched positions going into his second season in the NFL.

That’s not unlike the career arc of 49ers All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner, which is the exact type of comparison Steelers fans would like to hear, assuming the goal is to have an athletic linebacker capable of doing an abundance of things in keeping an offense off-balance.

For crying out loud, the guy was out there covering stud receiver CeeDee Lamb in the slot last season.

At 26 years old, the only thing that seems to be in order is a healthy increase in his snap count, and White will be off and running.

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Kelvin Beachum, offensive tackle

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Arizona Cardinals
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In the event that Orlando Brown Jr. and his asking price prove to be a budget-breaker, Cardinals free-agent Kelvin Beachum would be a tremendous stop-gap option and perhaps a much more realistic “get” in the eyes of Pittburgh’s number-crunching front office.

Regardless of the route they take, it would be wise for the Steelers to act on this one as quickly as possible since reliable, above-average left tackles always come at a premium. Beachum will turn 34 in June, so that could work in Pittsburgh’s favor.

Another element that might favor the Steelers is the fact that Beachum began his NFL career there. Finishing things off where it all began with one of the most decorated franchises in NFL history might tug on enough nostalgic heartstrings to bring him home.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft rumors: Latest news from the NFL Combine

Jarvis Landry, wide receiver

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Kenny Pickett — predicted by some to have a breakout sophomore season — needs a reliable veteran wide receiver in place to lean on in those key third-and-short (but long enough to pass) situations.

Having a guy like nine-year mainstay Jarvis Landry to serve as the balancing act between second-year stud George Pickens and the 26-year-old Diontae Johnson would be an ideal get for the Steelers, in part because he can probably be had on the cheap.

With Landry in the slot, it would likely free up more favorable matchups for Pickens and Johnson, particularly in the end zone.

That notion alone is probably a breath of fresh air for Steelers fans, who watched Diontae Johnson haul in 86 receptions last season for a grand total of zero touchdowns.

Related: Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly interested in signing All-Pro defender this offseason

Poona Ford, defensive tackle

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A 5-foot-11, 310-pound defensive tackle named Poona Ford just sounds like the type of run-stuffing lineman that belongs in a Steelers uniform.

Ford, who spent his first five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, is another young one (27) like the aforementioned Kyzir White, who seems like he will only be improving in this next stretch of years.

At his listed size, Ford has always displayed a serious burst of athleticism to complete the package.

It might depend on how much of a priority Seattle is making in retaining Ford, but this could be a big under-the-radar get for the Steelers.

Now, before we close, another thing to keep an eye on is the Steelers locking up a veteran quarterback to help guide Pickett in his second season.

Someone like 35-year-old journeyman QB Andy Dalton feels like the appropriate party to serve in that capacity. Dalton is also solid enough should his services on the field be needed.