As the Steelers continue attempting to rebuild on the fly, they know that they must swap in emerging talent for over-the-hill veterans and that they need to get their salary cap in order. GM Kevin Colbert succeeded on one of those two fronts Tuesday with his signing of safety Mike Mitchell.
The 26-year-old is coming off a breakout season with the Panthers, his first there after playing in Oakland from 2009-12. Mitchell finished with eight pass break-ups, four interceptions, 3.5 sacks and 66 tackles -- all career highs -- behind a dominant front seven.
Can he carry over that performance to 2014, without the aid of the Panthers' D-line and linebackers?
The Steelers better hope so after signing Mitchell to a five-year deal worth $25 million. That's a hefty contract for a team that has struggled to get under the salary cap each of the past two offseasons. As is most often the case in the NFL, the guaranteed money could tip the scales here, one way or the other. Malcolm Jenkins, who inked a three-year contract Tuesday worth between $5-$6 million per season, received $8.5 million guaranteed from Philadelphia. Anything more than that for Mitchell might be egregious.
Finances aside, the Steelers had to find someone to replace Ryan Clark alongside Troy Polamalu in the secondary. Mitchell brings a style not unlike Clark's with him to Pittsburgh -- aggressive and heavy-hitting -- though Clark is better as a deep pass-defender than his replacement. Mitchell's youth alone makes the Clark-for-Mitchell swap an appealing one for the Steelers.
That is, if Mitchell can prove he is more than a one-year, Carolina-created wonder. Grade: C-plus. Bumped this up a little after the fact because Mitchell's $25 million contract contains less than $6 million in guarantees, meaning it should not be too debilitating for the Steelers' cap situation. The young safety still has plenty to prove outside of Carolina. The fit here is not as snug as it was with the Panthers.