A week into free agency Steelers have lost Alan Fanaca, resigned Big Ben, and picked up Mewelde Moore. Fanaca’s departure was expected as was resigning Ben. While Pittsburgh continues to talk to low-level free agents, they have made it clear they will not be shooting for any big-game free agents. Which begs the question, why and when did they change their approach to free agency?
No, that last line was not a misprint.
Thankfully, Dan Rooney will never be confused with Daniel Snyder when it comes to free agency. The Steelers have always spent money wisely, and their success vindicates them.
During the 1990’s the Steelers were pioneers to free agent/salary cap success. Sure, the naysayers made hay when the Hardy Nickersons, Eric Greens and Yancy Thigpens departed for greener pastures, but the Steelers were already ahead of the game. They identified the players they needed to win, and they locked them up before they hit the market.
This approach generated little ink, but it worked. Another oft ignored, by equally important, fact was that the Steelers did dabble in the free agency market.
No, they never entered inane bidding wars for high profile free agents, but they did selectively target and sign impact free agents. Just who were these “impact free agents?”
In the 90’s free agency brought in players like Kevin Greene, Will Wolford, Erric Pegram, Todd Kalis, Ray Seals, and John L. Williams. These guys had big salaries, but all were impact players.
The inauguration of Heinz Field intensified the Steelers focus on keeping their own. Yet, during the early part of this decade, Pittsburgh continued making impact signings with players like Jeff Hartings, James Farrior, and Duce Stanley.
Since the signing of Duce Stanley in 2004, the Steelers have not signed, or even seriously attempted to sign, an impact free agent.
Why the change?
It’s impossible to say. Steel Curtain Rising posed this question to Ed Bouchette at the end of the season, but he declined to answer (in all fairness, it was at the tail end of the chat.)
A possible explanation is that salary cap dynamics have changed. There are “middle class” or even “upper middle class” NFL free agents. Case in point, when the Steelers lost Plaxico Burress, they signed Cedric Wilson. Plaxico’s signing bonus was bigger than Wilson’s entire contract.
Another reason could be that coming off of 15-1 and Super Bowl seasons, the Steelers didn’t feel they needed fresh blood.
While these are plausible answers, they are purely speculation. This is a story that needs to be told, and Steel Curtain Rising calls on the Pittsburgh media and/or fellow members of the blogesphere to tell it.