´ Steel Curtain Rising: February 2013

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Steelers Must Resign Isaac Redman

Three summers ago, Isaac Redman entered Steelers training camp St. Vincents as an after thought. Redman left Latrobe as one of Steeler’s Nation’s cult heroes.

To fully grasp of the enormity of that feat, consider the depth chart he was up against:
  • Willie Parker author of the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history
  • Rashard Mendenhall, first round pick from the Steelers 2008 Draft
  • Mewelde Moore, one of the unsung heroes of the Steelers 2008 season and Super Bowl XLIII
  • Frank Summers, aka Frank “The Tank” Summers, a perhaps the most ballyhooed fifth round draft pick in Steelers history
  • Carey Davis, nobody’s world beater, but someone the coaches liked enough to phase out legendary unrestricted rookie free agent Dan Kreider
Redman also had to contend with Stefan Logan, whose CFL exploits earned him the nick name “Joy Stick.”

Yes, he deck was stacked against Isaac Redman. But he succeeded.

Never Underestimate Those 4th Quarters of Preseason Games

Faithful Steel Curtain Rising readers know that yours truly misses preseason (they don’t show preseason games in Buenos Aires, Argentina). One reason is that during the much bemoaned 4th quarter of preseason games, you absolutely know that the guys on the field are playing giving ounce they have to give.

Such was the case with Isaac Redman when he scored not once, but twice vs. the Arizona Cardinals in the Steelers first preseason game.

  • Playing well in preseason when you get your shot in the 4th quarter vs. jobbers is one thing. Doing it against hardened starters remains a different question. 
Never one to let rookies dazzle him, Mike Tomlin had a bigger test for Redman in mind….

The Goal Line Drill

…NFL training camp isn’t what it used to be. In Tom Landry, Don Shula and Chuck Noll’s heyday two-a-days were standard operating procedure, full contact drills the norm and not the exception, and players were often forbidden to drink water between activities.

As salaries have risen, NFL owners and coaches have become gun shy about risking injuring their stars in training camp.
  • But at least one exception remains -- the goal line drill.
Mike Tomlin wasted little time testing HE Isaac Redman of the preseason glory, against likes of James Harrison, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior.

Redman embraced the challenge with relish. Now such attitude is common place among unknown rookies – results are an entirely different thing (click here a priceless story a rookie who spent his 15 Minutes of Fame challenging Jack Lambert in the summer of ’78 at Latrobe.)
  • Redman delivered results scored in goal line drills. 
However, he struggled in the Steelers next two preseason contests vs. Washington and the Bills, but came back to score a touchdown vs. the Panthers in the preseason finale.

It didn’t matter. The Steelers cut “RedZone Redman” and put him on the practice squad. In fact the Steelers signed and released Redman several times in 2009.

Pundits in the press suggested that the fact that no other NFL team took Redman showed he was expendable. (Never mind that NFL personnel men had made the same mistake with James Harrison….)

From Cult Hero to Tireless Gamer

Redman earned a roster spot in 2010 and saw spot duty through out the year, the highlight of which included Redman’s willing himself into the end zone for the go ahead touchdown vs. Baltimore.

Isaac Redman’s took over the primary back up rolle in 2011 and while he lacked the speed or raw talent of a Rashard Mendenhall, Redman showed himself to be a bruiser, whose legs never stopped moving until the whistle.

When Mendenhall tore his ACL in the season finale vs. Cleveland, Redman delivered, as he did again in the Tebowing the Steelers suffered in Denver.
  • By the end of 2011 Redman had clearly established he was a legitimate NFL running back.
Rougher sailing lay in wait for Redman in 2012, as injures hampered his effectiveness in the game first six weeks, but he exploded for 147 yards vs. the New York Giants.

He never returned to that level during the rest of the year, but he excelled in 3rd and 4th and short occasions and was easily the most consistent back of the year.

Steelers Need to Reup Redman

Isaac Redman is a restricted free agent, but because the he was undrafted, the Steelers only retain the right of first refusal if they offer him the lowest tender. Indications are that the Steelers may do just that due to salary cap restraints.
  • Regardless of how he does it, the Kevin Colbert needs to ensure that Isaac Redman is a Pittsburgh Steeler in 2013
It also says here that reports that the Steelers will give Redman a low-ball tender should be taken with a grain of salt, especially if they follow through on rumors not to tender Jonathan Dwyer at all.
  • Would the Steelers brass really commit themselves to matching any offer a team threw at Redman Doubtfully.
Like fellow restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, if the Steelers can find salary cap space to make it work, they’d be wise to ink Isaac Redman to a long term deal.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Steelers Must Look Past Doubts on Jonathan Dwyer

Jonathan Dwyer entered the 2010 NFL Draft after a very distinguished career rushing at Georgia Tech. Yet concerns about the style of offense he ran there caused his stock to drop, and when he fell to Pittsburgh in the 6th round many people considered the pick a steal by the Steelers.

At the Steelers 2010 OTA’s Dwyer continued to impress with the standard caveat that OTA’s are nothing more than playing catch with a helmets on.

When training camp rolled around the Steelers got another surprise – he was extremely overweight so much that only some strong late preseason performances saved his spot on the roster.

As a consequence, Dwyer was inactive for the 2010 Steelers first 15 games, only seeing mop up action in the season final vs. Cleveland. He failed to get a carry in any of the Steelers three games during the 2010 post season.

2011 brought the lockout and higher expectations for Dwyer. Unfortunately, Dwyer again showed up at St. Vincents overweight and Baron Batch’s torn ACL is what likely saved Dwyer a roster spot. But Dwyer got into shape and again impressed towards the end of the preseason.

Injuries pushed Dwyer into the starting lineup on week 5 vs. Tennessee, and Dwyer shocked everyone with a hundred yard performance that included a 76 yard scramble. Nonetheless, Dwyer only saw spot duty the rest of the year, until injuries suffered in the Steelers December victory over Cincinnati landed him on injured reserve.
Dwyer did show up in shape and got his first significant NFL action, rushing for 628 yards and two touchdowns.

Steelers Only Part Ways with Dwyer at Their Peril….

Dwyer’s rushing numbers were good enough to earn him a 4.0 yards per carry average, which is very respectable. Rushing averages are not everything – Frank Pollard has a better carrer average than Franco Harris.

To that end, Mike Tomlin opened the door for Dwyer to claim the role as starter and by any measure he failed to do that. The word out of the South Side is that the Steelers are disappointed enough with Dwyer that they might not consider offering him a restricted free agent tender.
  • The Steelers doubts about Dwyer are justified, but they would be making a mistake in letting him go
Jonathan Dwyer has been inconsistent. He ran for back-to-back 100 yard games vs. Cincinnati and Washington, but he struggled when the Steelers need him to deliver vs. Dallas and Cincinnati – among other occasions. It takes an effort to lose to the Oakland Raiders, and his inopportune fumble was one of the more egregious “contributions” of many that afternoon.

While Dwyer’s inconsistency cannot be overlooked, nor can it be the only measure applied to him. Steel Curtain Rising has made this point before and will make it again:
Without Willie Colon the offense just wasn't the same so much so that at mid season Dwyer was drawing comparisons to Jerome Bettis.

In fairness, Dwyer isn’t and probably never will develop into a Jerome Bettis. The Steelers are facing a salary cap crunch, and the logic goes that Dwyer doesn’t deserve the money that the Steeler would have to lay down by offering him a restricted free agent tender.
  • So it’s a numbers game...
...But the numbers game cuts both ways and the operative number here is “one.” That’s the total number of running backs, not including Will Johnson, that the Steelers have under contract.

That one back is Baron Batch who, for all his inspiring story, has 25 carries to his name for an earth shattering 49 yards. Oh yes, Batch also has 4 catches for 31 yards.

Even if we can assume that the Steelers will bring back Isaac Redman, and they will, that would give them two backs. The Steelers will probably draft a running back in the 2013 NFL Draft, but does Pittsburgh really expect to field a competitive running game with a backfield comprised of Redman, Batch and some untested rookie?

Given Dwyer’s past training issues, perhaps Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin know enough to question whether he’ll ever have the commitment to do what it takes to succeed in the NFL.
  • So be it if that’s the case.
But from the perspective of an educated fan, the Steelers need to plan to bring Dwyer back for 2013.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Steelers Restructure Contract with Lawrence Timmons

And so it begins.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have restructured the contract of Lawrence Timmons who was Mike Tomlin's first first round draft pick in the 2007 draft. Timmons renewed his contract with the Steelers in 2011 and had four years remaining on it.

The restructure will not require Lawrence Timmons to lose money, but rather converts a large portion of his 2013 base salary into a bonus and then pro rates it over the remaining years on the contract. Its been reported that the Timmons restructure will save the Steelers 5 million dollars against the salary cap.
  • Prior to restructuring Timmons' deal the Steelers were reportedly 14 million dollars over the NFL salary cap
This is the first of many coming restructurings. The Steelers are expected to restructure the deal of LaMarr Woodley and Heath Miller's name has also been mentioned

Roethlisberger to get Restructured Not Extended....

Also scheduled for a restructure is Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. There had been speculation that the Steelers might extend Ben Roethlisberger's deal to gain additional cap relief but they are not taking that move.

Ben Roethlisberger has 3 years remaining on the deal he signed in 2008 and the Steelers typically do not extend deals of players before their final contract year, although they do make exceptions for quarterbacks, as they did with Tommy Maddox in 2003.

Steelers Talk with Bill Praise, James Harrison's Agent

The Steelers have also formally begun to talk with James Harrison about altering his deal. Harrison is due to cost the Steelers 6.57 million against the salary cap this year and the Steelers need space.

No one is sure what, if any, agreement the two sides will reach. Harrison's agent Bill Praise has said that Harrison will not accept a reduced salary for 2013, which is what agents are supposed to say.

While there are incentives for both sides to reach a deal, the Steelers could release Harrison outright if an agreement cannot be reached.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Pittsburgh Steelers All Time Free Agent Offense

The Pittsburgh Steelers have never been big players in free agency.  It’s just not their style. Part of “The Steelers Way” is to build from within, via the draft.

Free agency was supposed to doom the Steelers. Younger fans might find this difficult to believe, but for a long time any free word association game that involved the the word "Dan Rooney” would likely elicit a response of "cheap."

And if Steelers Nation did suffer through the agony of watching Pittsburgh draft and develop promising stars such as Chad Brown or Willie Williams only to lose them to free agency, Dan Rooney also pioneered the concept of locking up key stars before their contracts became due.

And, contrary to popular perception, they’ve deftly dipped into the free agent market to fill much-needed holes or reinforce key roster areas. Here is a look at the Steelers All Time offensive free agent team.

To be eligible to make this list, the player must have been a "Plan B free agent" or a post Freeman McNeil unrestricted free agent prior to joining the Steelers – unrestricted rookie free agents are not eligible, having been duly recognized in a previous edition of the Colbert Record.

The Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Free Agent Offense:
(Click on the highlighted titles to go directly to position area)

Quarterbacks – Tommy Maddox, Charlie Batch
Running Backs – Duce Staley, Erric Pegram
Fullbacks – John L. Williams
Offensive Tackle – Flozell Adams, Oliver Ross
Guard – Duval Love
Center – Jeff Hartings
Guard – Rick Tylski
Offensive Tackle – Will Wolford
Wide Receivers – Yancey Thigpen, Courtney Hawkins, Jerricho Cotchery
Tight End – Mike Mularkey

Steelers All Time Free Agents: Quarterbacks

Tommy Maddox
Tommy Maddox failed to realize the greatness he flashed in 2002. But Maddox saved that season, and gave Pittsburgh one of its most electrifying playoff wins in history.

Clearly, one of Kevin Colbert’s most astute free agent pick ups.

Charlie Batch
Detroit surprised the NFL in July 2002 by cutting Charlie Batch, but Kevin Colbert wasn’t caught napping, snapping him up instantly. Since then Batch has helped stabilize the Steelers depth chart at quarterback for a decade.

Honorable Mention:  Mike Tomczack

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Steelers All Time Free Agents: Running Backs

Erric Pegram
The name “Erric Pegram” likely elicits a response of “who?” It shouldn’t.

When Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe cast off the formidable but flaky Barry Foster they brought Pegram in from Atlanta as an insurance policy.

When Bam Morris became more interested in illegal activities than winning football games, Cowher and Donahoe’s investment handsome dividends to the tune of 831 yards in just 11 starts as Pegram saved the season.

Duce Staley
When Amos Zereoue decided he couldn’t share the backfield with Jerome Bettis, the Steelers brought in Duce Staley. Staley started the season like gang busters until injuries got the better of him.

Injuries aside, Staley teamed with Bettis to give the Steelers Nation a glorious afternoon of smash-mouth football vs. the Jets in the 2004 Divisional Playoffs.

Perhaps his biggest contribution came in 2005, when he came off the bench, along with Charlie Batch, to lead the Steelers to victory over the Packers – a victory that became crucial to the Steelers ability clinch a playoff spot and proceed to Super Bowl XL.

Honorable Mention:  Mewelde Moore

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Steelers All Time Free Agents: Fullback

Bill Cowher’s arrival signaled a sea-change in the Steelers rushing philosophy. Prior to 1992, both the fullback and the halfback carried the ball. Bill Cowher and Ron Erhardt changed that, much to Merril Hoge’s frustration.

John L. Williams
But the ball carrying fullback saw an Indian summer during 1994 and 1995 as John L. Williams took over the position. Williams ran the ball 69 times in 1994 – an astronomical number for a fullback in the post-Noll era.  Injuries dropped Williams numbers in 1995, but they didn’t prevent John L. Williams making several critical plays.

The 1995 Steelers mid-season rally began the Jacksonville Jaguars traveled to Three Rivers Stadium and ended in Super Bowl XXX. The Jacksonville game was also the day that John L. Williams rejoined the line up. Those two events are no coincidence.

Williams also make some critical catches in the AFC Championship game that the Steelers won by the skin of their teeth. Again, no coincidence.

Honorable Mention:  Tim Lester

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Steelers All Time Free Agents: Offensive Tackles

Oliver Ross
Oliver Ross will never be considered a “world beater” and in fact struggled when injuries forced him into the starting line up in 2003. But Ross rebounded to start 16 games on the 2004 squad that won 16 straight games.
Flozell Adams
When Willie Colon was injured in the 2010 off season, Flozell Adams was the best free agent on the market. The Steelers approached him. At first he said "no." But Flozell wanted a shot at a Lombardi, and Mike Tomlin convinced him the Steelers could get him that. The Steelers signed Flozell Adams. They didn't get him the championship, but together they got close.

Will Wolford
Will Wolford was in fact brought in to play guard following the departure of Leon Searcy and the retirement of Tom Newberry after Super Bowl XXX. Wilford played his best football at guard and was supposed to stay there when the Steelers let another offensive tackle, John Jackson, go via free agency the thought was that Jamain Stephens, Paul Wiggins, or Chris Conrad could take his place.

But by the middle of the 1998 preseason it was clear none of these men were up to the task, and Will Wolford stepped in at left tackle, providing the Steelers with some stability at this much-needed position.

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Steelers All Time Free Agents: Guards and Centers

Duval Love
Duval Love is the first of two the Steelers “Plan B Free Agents” to make this list. Signed following the 1991 season as a stop gap measure in light of Terry Long’s substance abuse problems, Love bolstered an offensive line on an upswing and blossomed into a Pro Bowler in 1994. A great, below the radar screen pick by Tom Donahoe.

Rich Tylski
The departure of John Jackson, the injury to Justin Strzelczky and the total bust that was Jamain Stephens threw the Steelers offensive line into havoc in 1998 and 1999.

One of the moves that Kevin Colbert made to add some stability to the line was to sign guard Rich Tylski. Tylski only played for two years and only started for one full year, but the Steelers offensive line was markedly improved in 2000-2001 and Tylski helped make that happen.

Honorable Mentions:  Tom Newberry and Todd Kalis

Jeff Hartings
It is not easy to follow in the footsteps of Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, and Dermonti Dawson, but Jeff Hartings came from Detroit, switched from guard to center, and not only lived up to the Steelers legacy there, but added to it winning Pro Bowl honors in 2004 and 2005.

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Steelers All Time Free Agents: Wide Receiver

Yancey Thigpen
Most people think Yancey Thigpen is a home grown Steeler, but Thigpen was actually drafted by and played for the San Diego Chargers in 1991. In 1992 Thigpen got cut in training camp, cleared waivers and was on the street when Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher brought him in during the middle of the 1992 season.

Thigpen played on special teams in 1992 and it was only in 1993 that he got to play sparingly at wide reciever only catching 9 balls. Funny thing was, 3 of them were for touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt and receivers coach Chain Gailey didn’t find that to be a coincidence Thigpen ascended into rotation on the starting lineup in 1994 and became a full time starter before year’s end.

Thigpen had standout seasons in 1995 and 1997 although injuries marred his 1996 effort, as they did the rest of his career in Tennessee.

Courtney Hawkins
Courtney Hawkins. This is one player who drew his share of ire form the fans because he wasn’t a particularly good starting wide receiver. The rub is that he was never supposed to be a starter. Brought in 1997 from Tampa Bay to replace Andre Hastings, Hawkins performed admirably that year as third down receiver – the role he was brought into play.

In 1998, with Thigpen gone, Charles Johnson under achieving, and Will Blackwell failing to live up to his potential, Hawkins became the number one receiver. Hawkins contributed as a part-time starting in 1999 and took over when injuries ended Plaxico Burress rookie season in 2000.

Jerricho Cotchery
This selection is one of the Steelers most recent free agent selections, arriving during 2011 training camp. He hasn’t compiled a ton of eye catching statistics. He hasn’t started many games. But Jerricho Cotchery has responded when called upon, making tough catches and otherwise coming up with the ball when the team needs him.

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Steelers All Time Free Agents: Tight End

Steelers fans under 30 no doubt only remember Mike Mularkey from his “Inspector Gadget” tour as offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2003. However Mularkey was the Steelers first “Plan B Free Agent” signing in 1989, when Tom Donahoe brought him in from Minnesota. Mularkey only caught 22 passes in the Steelers storybook 1989 season, but that was 20 more than his predecessor had caught.

Mularkey played a strong number two tight end to rookie Eric Green in 1990, but his knees began to get the better of him, and he was out after 1991. Still, Mularkey was a great pick up on Donahoe’s part.

Honorable Mention:  Jonathan Hayes

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Thanks for visiting. Click here for more of Steel Curtain Rising, here for our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus or here for the Colbert Record.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Steve McLendon: Why the Steelers MUST Keep Him

The 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers, sans Ben Roethlisberger, surpised the NFL by beating the Atlanta Falcons on opening day.

Lost amidst the glare created by Troy Polamalu’s dramatic interception and Rashard Mendenhall’s 50 yard touchdown was the bad news that the Casey Hampton was injured, and unavailable to play vs. Tennessee.

Chris Hoke had shown himself to be an able replacement, but he was the only nose tackle on the roster. An injury to Hoke would give Chris Johnson a beeline through the middle of the defense.

The night before the game the Steelers announced that they had (temporarily) cut Byron Leftwich an activated a previously unknown nose tackle from the practice squad.

That nobody was none other than Steve McLendon and he just happened to have a hand in what was one of the greatest defensive games infranchise history. In fact, he recovered a fumble and helped neutralize Johnson.

McLendon appeared in 7 other games in 2010, played in all sixteen during the 2011 season, and 14 during the 2012 season. His numbers are pedestrian with 3 sacks and only 17 tackles in three seasons, but statistics can be misleading.

Resigning Steve McLendon Must be a Priority for the Steelers

Casey Hampton, long the anchor of the Steelers defensive line, is a free agent and expected to depart. Alameda Ta’amu needs to hope that if he’s lucky enough to report for training camp and not prison later this year that he draws attention to himself for something more than hurting his foot walking to Walmart. 
  • That makes McLendon the only viable option at nose tackle.
But that’s not the reason why the Steelers must resign him. The Steelers need to resign restricted free agent Steve McLendon because he has the look of a stud who is on the verge of budding.

Many fans felt that McLendon had earned the right to start over Casey Hampton on the strength of his preseason performance. While Hampton improved as the season progressed, McLendon simply made plays whenever he got onto the field by:
Steve McLendon has drive, fire, and an ability to disrupt opposing offenses.

There’s been talk that the Steelers will offer him a low-ball restricted free agent tender – salary cap realities might dictate that, but…
  • The Steelers need to keep Steve McLendon no ifs ands or buts
Ed Bouchette has said that the success of the 3-4 defense rises and falls on the knees of the nose tackle. The Steelers need a gamer there and McLendon looks poised to size that role.

There’s been talk that the Steelers might flip flop McLendon with Ziggy Hood. If the coaches want to make that move, so be it, allow them to make it. Either way must ensure that Steve McLendon is part of their front seven on opening day 2013.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why the Steelers Must Sign Emmanuel Sanders

The Steelers drafted Emmanuel Sanders in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft and for much of his rookie year he was one of “two dogs vying for the same bone” to quote Steelers standard bearer Mike Tomlin.

The other dog of course was Antonio Brown with whom Sanders was competing for a roster spot.

That situation lasted until about the mid season spanking administered by the New England Patriots, when Tomlin decided that his two rookies had clearly outplayed veteran Antwaan Randle El.
  • Tomlin’s decision paid big dividends as the receiving tandem helped the Steelers reach Super Bowl XVL where Sanders injured his foot.
Recovery was slow, keeping Sanders out of 11 games and allowing Antonio Brown to leap frog him on the depth chart. Although Sanders missed the last three regular season games, while Mike Wallace was dropping passes in Denver, Sanders made a statement by catching everything thrown his way, finishing the night with six catches for 81 yards.

2012 was a rough year for the Pittsburgh Steelers receiving corps however for Sanders it did not start that way. Through most of the first half of 2012 Sanders quietly began making a name for himself as the kind who just happened to manage to come up with the ball when the Steelers needed a third down conversion or in similar situations.

The numbers back that up. Throughout his career, Sanders has caught extremely well on the road and likewise has made the majority of his catches when the Steelers are tied or behind.
  • It is not too much of a stretch to say that early in the season, Emmanuel Sanders was looking very much like Hines Ward had early in his career.
Then the malaise that infected the rest of the receiver corps got to Sanders. He fumbled twice in Cleveland (who didn’t) another time in Baltimore, followed by a lack luster performance vs. San Diego (did anyone play well that afternoon?) suffered some injuries, and finished the season with a wimper.

Steelers Need to Stand Pat with Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders has had injury issue with the Steelers and his play was inconsistent late in 2012. But Sanders is still an asset to the Steelers now and an investment in him now can pay long-term dividends.
  • Expect the Steelers to give Sanders and original round tender
The Steelers can safely offer Sanders and original round tender. It is highly unlikely that any team would be willing to give up a third round pick for him, and if they did it would not likely be so high that the Steelers couldn’t match it.

The Steelers are in an advantageous spot with Sanders. He’s show enough for them to know that, when healthy, he can be a legitimate starting NFL wide receiver, but his body of work is not such that he can yet command a large salary.

Salary cap space allowing, the Steelers should seek to sign Sanders to a long term deal once the draft and free agency have sorted themselves out.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Steelers Free Agent Focus: Justin Kapinos

Justin Kapinos lost his roster spot to rookie Drew Butler at the end of the Steelers 2012 preseason. The Steelers waived the injured Kapinos, and when no one claimed him his rights reverted back to the Steelers making him a restricted free agent.

What does all that mean?
  • Absolutely nothing.
The Steelers should not and most assuredly will not offer Kapinos a restricted free agent tender.

Make no mistake. Kapinos did a stint with the Steelers in 2010 and punted well enough then that it was surprising that he was available when Daniel Sepulveda got injured again in 2011. Which is not to say he was the second coming of Josh Miller.

Taking Kapinos to training camp would be a wise move. Tying up salary cap space, even temporarily, in order to do that would not.
  • Expect the Steelers to do the wise thing with Kapinos.
Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Restricted Free Agent Stevenson Sylvester Unlikely to Get Tender from Steelers

Stevenson Sylvester provides a perfect example of why it takes a few years to judge a draft. Sylvester was taken in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL draft.

He didn’t get much action in at inside linebacker, but he did play well on special teams, including a forced fumble in the Steelers surprising upset of the Tennessee Titans.

Generally when a rookie defender excels at special teams that’s a sign of good things to come.
  • However, Sylvester’s progress since then has stalled nonetheless.
Sylvester got one start in place of injured James Farrior in the Steelers regular season upset of New England, but was quickly pulled from the game. With injuries forcing Lawrence Timmons to move outside for portions of the mid-season, Sylvester figured to get more time. He apparently hadn’t shown coaches enough and only saw spot duty.

Stevenson Sylvester didn’t fare much better in 2012, and was part of a special teams unit known more for nullifying big plays with penalties than anything else.

Will the Steelers Tender Sylvester?

Stevenson Sylvester is a restricted free agent, meaning that the Steelers can retain their rights to him by offering any number of tenders.

Given his playing history, the Steelers would normally offer him the lowest tender, entitling them to a fifth round pick were he to be signed.
  • Indications are that the Steelers are leaning towards not tendering Stevenson Sylvester. 
That does not mean he will not be back.

In fact, the Steelers are likely to roll the dice that they can get Sylvester back at a lower, non-guaranteed salary, hoping that NFL teams won’t exactly be lining up to offer him a contact, even if they can get him without having to give up compensation.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Free Agent Focus: Steelers on Firm Footeing with Larry...

When injuries prevented Kendrell Bell’s from starting the Steelers 2002 season, Steelers Nation expected Bill Cowher to turn to linebacker John Fiala. Fiala had worked his way the Steelers via special teams and many felt he had the look of a Jerry Olsavsky type player.

Cowher instead handed the baton to that year’s 4th Round pick Larry Foote, who started three games that year, and while he did not become cement his first string status until 2004, Foote went on to start Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.

Unable to beat out James Farrior and feeling Lawrence Timmons breathing down his neck Foote went to Detroit in 2009 only to return a year later. He backed up Farrior and Timmons in 2010 and 2011 and played well when his number was called. James Farrior's departure after 2012 paved the way for Foote to return to his starting role in 2012.

Steelers Likely to Put the Best Foote Forward

Larry Foote came close to leading the team in tackles in 2012 and had his best year ever in terms of sacks. He also played that immeasurable role in getting the defense lined up properly.

But Foote had difficulties in coverage and was a half step behind at times. Foote is not the future in at inside tackle in Pittsburgh but he clearly has something left.
  • Expect the Steelers to find the salary cap space to sign Foote
“Having something left” is something that Foote shares with fellow free agents Max Starks, Ramon Foster and Casey Hampton, yet none of these men is expected back.

Why is Foote different?

First, Larry Foote can likely be signed for the veteran minimum, or close to it.

Second, Foote knows how to get everyone on the defense lined up correctly, which is not something to underestimate in a Dick LeBeau defense.

Third is the depth chart. Stevenson Sylvester hasn’t shown much since he was a rookie, and there’s no way the team can bank on contributions from Sean Spence. Chris Carter has potential which quite frankly means one thing for someone coming off an NFL rookie season, after that the word begins to take on additional meaning.
The bottom line is that the Steelers clearly will benefit from the depth and experience at inside linebacker and Foote is the only one who can deliver.

Scenario that Sees the Steelers Stumbling over Foote

The Steelers have salary cap issues, and the NFL cap is not expected to rise much for even in 2015. Larry Foote could get caught up in a numbers game if say the Steelers keep James Harrison but at a higher salary than anticipated.

Or a free agent signing elsewhere could become available that makes Foote expendable.

Or the Steelers could simply decide for a more thorough renewal of their roster. But that’s not likely as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the Steelers are already in talks with Larry Foote about coming back.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Confounding Case of Willie Colon

Pittsburgh Steelers starting left guard Willie Colon is not a free agent. In fact Colon has three more years left on the 29 million dollar contract he signed in 2011. And that’s a problem.

When healthy, Willie Colon is one of the Steelers best offensive lineman. The operative words in the preceding sentence are "when healthy."
Back of the envelop calculations show the Steelers paying Colon an average of 1 million dollars per game over the last three years.

Willie Colon is slated to earn salaries in excess of 7 million per year for the next three years, can the salary cap strapped Steelers afford to pay that kind of money to a part-time player?

The Case for Willie Colon

There’s one undeniable fact in Willie Colon’s favor.

Much has been made of the Steelers disappointing running game, and rightly so. But all criticisms of the running game are tempered by the caveat, “with the exception of the three game stretch in the middle of the season.”

That three game stretch occurred after Willie Colon got comfortable at guard and before he injured his knee. In fact, you can pinpoint the precise moment it began (available as of 2/19/12):

From that moment on, and for the next several games onward, the Steelers flashed the beginnings of a dominant offensive line.

The absence of veteran depth and leadership was an issue in 2012 and if the Steelers lose Colon, they also will be losing their only tenured veteran on the line, if Ramon Foster and Max Starks can be assumed to sign elsewhere.
  • Simple math also works in Colon’s favor. 
As Steel City Roller from Behind the Steel Curtain points out, with the way Colon’s deal is structured, cutting him this year only saves the team 1.2 million dollars against the 2013 salary cap because the team would have to eat the dead money from his contract now. (Full disclosure, I also write for BTSC.)

Why the Toalla Terrible’s Might Soon Look Prophetic

Shortly after Willie Colon signed his contract, this site’s alter ego La Toalla Terrible fired off one of his missives predicting that the Steelers would cut Colon in two years.

The piece was more of a commentary on the Steelers recent penchant for signing offensive lineman to long term deals, only to cut them in mid-contract. (Yes, folks, it happened with Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Sean Mahan, Jeff Hartwig, and Kendall Simmons - click here to read La Toalla's full rant.)

Now it is looking like the La Toalla Terrible might be on the money.
  • Lot’s of rumors indicate that Colon is likely to be cut, but let’s start something that came out of a computer on the South Side. 
After praising Colon for his switch to guard, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola had this to say:
…But Colon is too heavy. Torn tendons and knee problems can be a result of too much weight on a body, and Colon has landed on injured reserve three straight years with those kinds of issues. He is listed at 315 on the roster, and if Colon played at that weight he might end up in the Pro Bowl
Labriola is frequently criticized for shying away from uttering nary an ill word about the Steelers, but he is clearly pulling no punches here.

The addition of new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. also may not bode well for Colon’s future with the team, as Gerry Dulac explained recently in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bicknell, who worked with Todd Haley in Kansas City, is interested in installing a zone blocking technique in Pittsburgh and as such wishes to build his line with smaller, more athletic offensive lineman. Clearly, Colon does not fit this mold.

And then there are injury issues. Even if the salary cap savings are minimal for the Steelers, is it wise for them to project a roster spot for someone who cannot stay healthy?

Decision on Colon Expected Soon

The Steelers need to be under the salary cap by mid-March, and when they need to let someone go, they generally do it in advance, to give the player time to find another opportunity.

Clearly, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have some difficult choices to make. Its possible their decision on Willie Colon could come in a few days….

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Steelers Free Agent Focus: Doug Legursky

Doug Legursky came up through the ranks the hard way, making the Steelers practice squad in 2008 and then landing on the Steelers roster in 2009 when Darnell Stapelton’s knees gave out.

Legursky’s first action with the Steelers was to serve as a reserve FB, and he did a commendable job run blocking in that role.

In 2010 he started to showcase his versatility, getting significant time at guard and starting at center in Super Bowl XLV when Maurkice Pouncey was injured.

In 2011 Legursky started at both guard positions in addition to starting at center late in the season. In 2012 Legursky severed as the number one back up at guard, although he did start at center will Pouncey filled in for Willie Colon

Steelers Finding Love for Legrusky

The Steelers have seen enough of Legursky to know that he’s never likely to develop into an all-world offensive lineman. They don’t need him to be. Legursky is an excellent number one center-guard back up, versatility that should not be undervalued. And the Steelers likely will not.
  • Expect the Steelers to find the salary cap space to resign Legursky
Legrusky is probably one of those players who is more valuable to the Steelers than he would be to someone else, and most of the rest of the league will likely see it that way.

Scenarios that Could see Legursky saying “So Long” to the Steelers

Offensive lineman do not grow on trees and teams are of course always on the look out to beef up their roster with good ones.

There are plenty of teams, including the division rival Browns, who have salary cap space to spare and are familiar with Legursky’s body of work. The Steelers will indeed try to resign Legursky, but they will not delve into a into bidding war.

Such a bidding war erupting is not probably, but it certainly is possible.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Steelers Free Agent Focus: Ramon Foster

Ramon Foster joined the club as part of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 rookie free agent class and since then has developed into another shining example of Kevin Colbert’s unrestricted rookie free agent success.

Foster got a baptism by fire, starting in the Steelers 2009 away loss to Baltimore Ravens on the night when Dennis Dixon was their lone starting quarterback, which was also the first time that season where no sacks were allowed. Foster would go on to start vs. Green Bay, Baltimore, and Miami that season.

In 2010 Foster began the season on the bench, but began starting vs. New England when Chris Kemoeatu was injured, and started the second half of the seasons and all of the post-season.

Despite that, he started 2011 on the bench, but injuries and Kemoeatu’s ineffectiveness led Foster to start 14 games that year.

The arrival of David DeCastro was supposed to relegate Foster back to the bench, but David DeCastro’s injury and Foster’s solid play kept him in the line up. He, along with Max Starks, were the only offensive lineman to start all 16 games, although Foster did do double duty at tackle.

Steelers Likely to Say Farewell to Foster

Under normal circumstances, with that pedigree, the Steelers would be looking to lock up Foster to a long term deal.

However, that is unlikely to happen. Like fellow unrestricted free agent Max Starks, Foster is likely to fall victim to the Steelers salary cap crunch. Unlike Max Starks, Foster is now breaking into his prime years as an athlete and his prime earning years.

He has far less incentive than Starks to offer a “home town discount,” and even if he were its hard to imagine that another team will not reward him far more lucratively that the Steelers can.
  • Expect Ramon Foster to play in colors other than Black and Gold in 2013 and beyond
This is unfortunate, but most probably a mathematical necessity.

Scenario for the Fixing up the Steelers with Foster

There’s a big X Factor for Foster’s future with the franchise, and that comes by the name of Willie Colon.

Once Willie Colon successfully transitioned to guard he transformed the entire line. But he got injured, and finished his third straight year on IR. A decision by the Steelers to cut Colon would clear the way for Foster’s return.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

In Memory of Rita McGinley, Part Owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Long time Pittsburgh Steelers minority owner Rita McGinley has passed away.

Rita McGinley was the daughter of Barney McGinley who bought out Bert Bell’s shares of the Steelers when Bell became NFL commissioner. She was related to the Rooney’s by marriage as her brother Jack McGinley was married to Art Rooney Sr.’s sister Marie.

McGinley Loyal to Her Community and Her Team

McGinley was a graduate of Carlow College (then known as Mount Mercy) where she earned a degree in biology, graduating in 1940. She went on to teach at Braddock High and Woodlawn Hills High.

Rita McGinley was not a silent partner in the Steelers. In her obituary on Steelers.com Art Rooney II went at great pains to say that she watched games at Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field for as long as she could, always attended shareholder meetings, and was a frequent presence at training camp.

Like her brother before her, Rita McGinley was fiercely loyal to both the Rooney’s and the Steelers.

During the Steelers ownership restructuring of 2008, it became known that shortly after the death of Art Rooney Sr. a representative of an investor approached Jack McGinley asking him if he would be interested in parting with his shares of the Steelers. (Sorry, no link available.)

McGinley promptly told the said representative that his patron could keep his money and while he held on to his share of the Steelers. After McGinley passed away in 2006, a similar offer was made to his heirs.

That suitor was none other that Stanley Druckenmiller, who of course emerged in 2008 with his attempt to buy out the shares of Tim, John, Pat, and Art Rooney, Jr. after Roger Goodell ordered the Rooney family to divest itself of either the Steelers or its horse racing interests.
  • For a time there it seemed like the Rooneys could lose control of the Steelers.
But Rita McGinley made it clear in an interview that she was not parting with her shares of the team, no matter what price was offered to her.

True to her word, she retained her 10% stake in the Steelers when the ownership restructuring was complete. It is unknown who now inherits those shares.

Friend to Carlow College and St. Vincents

While part ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers may have earned Rita McGinley notoriety, “The best description of her is that she was a teacher and philanthropist who happened to have an interest in a football team,” explained her Jack McGinley in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

McGinley was generous with her wealth, donating 5 million dollars to Carlow College where she founded the Rita McGinley Center for Student Success. Mary Hines, President of Carlow College, told the Tribune-Review that was a very dear friend of the university who truly exemplified what a Carlow alum is and what they value.”
  • She also endowed a chair at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe to help perpetuate the legacy of Pittsburgh icon Fred Rodgers.
St. Vincent’s College is well known to Steelers Nation for the obvious reason, but Carlow College might very well be new for many. Situated on “17 glorious acres  in the Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, Carlow is a small, traditionally female, Catholic liberal arts school sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy.

In the generations when female higher education was the exception and not the rule, Carlow severed as a gateway to a college degree to thousands of young women in Western Pennsylvania, including my aunt and my mother.

Thanks, in part, to Rita McGinley’s generosity that door will remain open, and perhaps that will be her most enduring legacy.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Steelers Free Agent Focus: Max Starks

Sometimes it is hard to say goodbye.
  • Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Max Starks can relate.
The Steelers have wanted to part ways with Max Starks since 2010, but injuries to Willie Colon and the debacle in Houston convinced them to bring him back in 2011.

This past season, the Steelers thought they might get by with Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams as their starting tackles – Starks was signed in camp as an insurance policy but stayed on and started.

Prior to that the Steelers attitude towards Max Starks could have best been characterized as “I don’t know why you’re saying goodbye, I’m saying hello” as the timeline below reveals.

Max Starks Timeline with the Pittsburgh Steelers:
The disconnect between the front office and the coaches was real. Bruce Arians was reportedly not fond of him, which would explain his repeated vetoing of Willie Colon’s move to guard.

Likely Scenario Sees Steelers and Starks Parting Ways for Real in 

Even though the Steelers have never had a clear head about what they want to do with Max Starks, he’s managed to make himself as a bedrock of the offensive line. He bailed them out in 2008, 2011 and in 2012 he was the only lineman to start every game in the same position. In spite of that...
  • The odds strongly go against Starks being available to do that again in 2013.
The Steelers have invested heavily in their offensive line, picking Marcus Gilbert in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and Mike Adams in the second round of 2012. You draft men to start in those rounds, and now is the time for the Steelers to find out if those men can fulfill their promise.

Beyond that, the Steelers have serious salary cap issues. Every dollar is precious, and that means that they probably cannot afford Starks even if he comes back at the veteran minimum, an unlikely prospect in and of itself.

Scenario that Sees Starks Sticking with Steelers

How could Max Starks return to Pittsburgh? For that to happen the 31 NFL teams would have to pass on a proven left tackle with two Super Bowl rings who has started 28 games in two years and 96 games overall.

That is an highly unlikely, however, it has happened before.

Before the Steelers resigned him in 2011, the Minnesota Vikings worked Starks out but said “no thanks.” Starks literally came off the street and started 12 straight games for the Steelers.
  • Starks got no real takers as a free agent in 2012 either.
Even if the Steelers improbable run of luck with Starks’ availability were to hold up, something else would have to change for Starks to return, as he just doesn’t seem to be in their plans.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.