Steelers likely not going to splurge in free agency

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Steelers have money to spend heading into free agency and there are roster needs aplenty with nearly two dozen players set to hit the open market.

Just don't expect general manager Kevin Colbert to start tossing around mega contracts to virtual strangers.

That's just not how the Steelers go about their business.

''We want to stay the course as best we can,'' Colbert said on Tuesday. ''If there's a guy from the outside that makes sense, we'll plug him in.''

Fresh off an 11-7 season in which Pittsburgh came close to beating the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, Colbert remains bullish on his club's talented core even with significant holes to fill, particularly in the secondary and along the offensive line.

The Steelers finished with the AFC's best offense despite playing the majority of the season without All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, star running back Le'Veon Bell and left tackle Kelvin Beachum. The defense produced sacks and turnovers at its highest rate in six years, but also ended up 30th in the league against the pass.

Colbert sees the 2016 draft as deep, particularly in the secondary. Pittsburgh has the 25th overall pick and six selections total, with the possibility of adding a compensatory selection in one of the later rounds.

In a way, Colbert figures the Steelers already have one of their 2016 picks on the roster. Last year's second-round pick, cornerback Senquez Golson, arrived at training camp and didn't play a snap all season.

Golson will be healthy heading into organized team activities and Pittsburgh needs him to be ready to play as it figures out which defensive backs it wants to re-sign.

Cornerbacks Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin and safety Will Allen will all become free agents next month. Colbert didn't rule out making a run at keeping any or all of them and isn't closing the door on Cortez Allen either.

Allen has three years left on the $25 million deal he started on the eve of the 2014 season opener, but has struggled with inconsistency and injuries from the moment the ink was dry on the contract.

The Steelers could find some additional cap relief if they designated Allen for a June release, but Colbert didn't rule out keeping Allen around.

''We haven't written off any of those guys,'' Colbert said. ''But we want to add to it as well.''

Something Pittsburgh did in 2014 when it landed hard-hitting safety Mike Mitchell. Colbert opted against blaming most of Pittsburgh's defensive issues on the back end, calling it a collective effort.

Still, he liked what he saw from young linebackers Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones. All three will be asked to take another step forward next fall.

''The young guys have to continue to improve,'' Colbert said. ''The progression has to out-pace the regression of the older guys.''

Some other things Pittsburgh's front office is focused on before it meets with prospects at the combine next week.

HARRISON'S RETURN: Colbert anticipates linebacker James Harrison returning for a 14th season. Harrison, who turns 38 in May, had five of Pittsburgh's 48 sacks in 2015. Colbert credited Harrison for providing ''quiet inspiration'' for many of his teammates.

TWO KICKERS: Chris Boswell filled in capably for the injured Shaun Suisham, making 29 of 32 field goals and showing off some serious range at notoriously tricky Heinz Field. Though Suisham is recovering from a left knee injury and is considerably more expensive than Boswell, Colbert believes the Steelers will take both kickers to training camp before sorting out the situation.

HOLD THE LINE?: Kevin Beachum and longtime right guard Ramon Foster are both headed to free agency. Beachum was blossoming into one of the league's better blind-side protectors when he injured his left knee against Arizona in October. It's unclear how the injury will affect Beachum's value. He would prefer to remain at left tackle, but has played center and guard during his brief career.

BETTER FINISHERS: Regardless of who is on the roster next fall, Colbert stressed the Steelers need to develop a more effective killer instinct. There were several games throughout the season - notably an overtime loss to Baltimore in October and the divisional playoff setback on the road against the Broncos - where Pittsburgh appeared in control until things went awry late. ''When you look back on our losses, we didn't close the game out when we had an opportunity to do so,'' Colbert said. ''We won more than we lost but the ones that we lost, we just didn't finish it. That's the key to our improvement next year.''


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