DK'S GRIND

Kovacevic: With circus gone, Steelers turn serious

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Donte Moncrief at practice in Jacksonville in 2018. - AP

The circus has left town, having now officially pitched its tent in Oakland.

The other clown had already left town, and he'll now take a lot less pay for a lot lesser team in New Jersey.

So, we finished with all that?

Wonderful, because the Steelers have work to do, and they don't have much time or cash: Before committing a three-year, $25.5 million contract to free-agent corner Steven Nelson a couple days ago, before committing to a two-year, $10 million contract with free-agent wide receiver Donte Moncrief in the wee hours of this very morning, before Bud Dupree's $9.2 million option became official at 4 p.m. yesterday, before four extensions within the past week -- Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, Anthony Chickillo, Jordan Berry -- they had an estimated $14.8 million in cap space. Now, depending on how Bud Dupree's option plays out, they might be scavenging for coins under the couch pillows.

I like the Nelson move. I'll get to that in a bit.

I love the Moncrief move:

OK, those are the stats, and those never lie. But this guy's only 25, he's 6-2, 216, and he can fly, having whipped through a 4.40 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine before the Colts drafted him in the third round. Among those 48 catches for the Jaguars in 2018, seven were for 20-plus yards, two for 40-plus yards, and this one for 80:

It's worth stressing that pass was lobbed by none other than Blake Bortles, who was cut just yesterday after five seasons in Jacksonville, notably a miserable 2018. Thus, it's also worth stressing that Moncrief and any receiver in that fold would have been the residual damage:

Put it another way: With Andrew Luck throwing him the ball in Indianapolis, Moncrief caught 84 passes on 141 targets, a 59.6 completion percentage, for 1,036 yards and 14 touchdowns. With Bortles throwing him the ball, Moncrief caught 32 passes on 65 targets, a 49.2 completion percentage, for 518 yards and three touchdowns.

With Ben Roethlisberger?

And a far superior supporting cast?

Time will tell, and it would be absurd to compare him to AB in any way, but that's a fine fit at a fair price.

Still, the fact remains that corner and wide receiver were only two of three glaring needs, and I'd argue they both ranked well behind a dynamic inside linebacker. Which now makes it feel like a foregone conclusion that priority No. 1 will have to be addressed via trade or, far more likely, the NFL Draft.

[caption id="attachment_791741" align="aligncenter" width="640"] LSU linebacker Devin White in Indianapolis earlier this month. - AP[/caption]

Inside linebacker's been the vexing issue ever since Ryan Shazier's injury, and there are three variably realistic options in Shazier's mold in the draft: LSU's Devin White would be a dream, but he'll go top-10. If the Steelers and Bills had completed their Antonio Brown arrangement, it might have been feasible, but it's a big stretch for a team stuck with the 20th pick. Michigan's Devin Bush might be a top-20, but he's no sure thing. And after Alabama's Mack Wilson, projected for early in the second round, the pool plunges in this regard.

Wide receivers are there, too, and the Steelers are pretty good at finding those, as even their most fired-up drafting critics will concede. If anything, coming up with JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round should buy a decade-long mulligan. On top of that, this class is seen as deep at the position through the second and third rounds.

What should be encouraging for all concerned is that we're talking about one position of need -- and I apply this term literally -- out of 22 starters. There's no shortage of NFL execs who'd throw themselves in front of locomotives for such a scenario.

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