The Steelers couldn’t lock up Victor Butler and lost him to the Saints. Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The city of Pittsburgh for the last couple of years has been named and garnered the reputation of being the Most Livable City in the United States. Apparently, NFL free agents fail to comprehend that notion because they keep visiting the Steelers camp and then leave without a contract. Just a nice place to visit, perhaps? What’s going on over there at the South Side facilities that they can’t land free agents?
As the free agency period unfolded and the weeks went by with key Steelers either being released or signed by other teams, the picture became clear to what positions the Steelers needed to be aggressive with in free agency – all of them. At least it feels that way. The Steelers had three opportunities to lock up three separate positions over the last two weeks – Victor Butler (OLB), Ahmad Bradshaw (RB), and now James Sanders (S). All three have come to Pittsburgh with Butler and Bradshaw taking physicals, and all three have left without signing a deal.
Certainly the Steelers are strapped for cash, and the reality is that they could only afford one (maybe maybe maybe two) of these guys. The Steelers will get more cash to spend but not until after June 1st when they can get $5.5 million by releasing Willie Colon. The open market will be a dry well by that point, and that money will more than likely get spent on locking up tenders, current players waiting on deals (like Doug Legursky), or save it for their newly drafted players. So why couldn’t the Steelers at least lock up one of these guys?
The need is clear at OLB. James Harrison will not be coming back despite the rumor that he is willing to come back. Jason Worilds could step up, but Butler posses more intangibles and has better stats despite playing fewer games. The Steelers head scratching’ly spent money on re-signing Larry Foote. So why didn’t they lock up Victor Butler after his two visits to Pittsburgh? Butler probably wanted a bit more than the Steelers were willing to pay for a guy who may or may not start over their current LB’s. But they certainly could have used the insurance. Butler signed a two year deal with the Saints. Perhaps part of the draw to New Orleans was that Butler would be rejoining his former coach Rob Ryan. Maybe the Steelers couldn’t compete with the monetary compensation Butler would want to not be back with his old coach.
The need is clear at RB. Mendenhall is gone. That’s not really where the need falls. Mendenhall was useless last season anyways, so the need at RB has been around for a couple of seasons. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman tried to step up as the featured back, but both were plagued by minor injuries, fumbles, and an offensive line that decided run blocking wasn’t important at times. Dwyer and Redman will still be very useful. But, as of Friday, Redman has yet to sign his offered tender by the Steelers. Despite that being a strange decision on Redman to wait it out longer than he has, the Steelers need someone who can compete for the starting roll and still act as a solid ‘1-2 punch’ with Dwyer or Redman or both. Ahmad Bradshaw makes sense based on his size and speed. Bradshaw came to the ‘Burgh on Thursday and even had a physical. Physicals usually mean that a deal is just about done, and the team just wants to make sure all the parts and pieces are working ok. However, Bradshaw left without signing a deal and the Steelers pretty much said they wanted to see what was under the hood and would keep their options open.
The need is clear at safety. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are getting up there in years. They’ve stood tough since eclipsing the age of 30, but eventually will need to call it quits. The long term plan for the Steelers would be to draft a safety or two and get them game ready in the next year or two. Ryan Mundy left early on and no one in Steeler Nation
cared worried. Will Allen left for the Cowboys this week and that got the attention of a lot of people. Now the team is looking to Damon Cromartie-Smith and Ross Ventrone as the safety backups. Ruh-roh. The team quickly brought in a safety free agent – and a fairly decent one at that. Former Cardinals and Patriots safety James Sanders sat with the team on Thursday. Sanders would be a solid backup to Clark and Polamalu. He’s certainly a better option over Cromartie-Smith and Ventrone, and he has Will Allen’like stats and abilities. Yes, Sanders will be 30 soon. But if the long term plan (God I hope that’s the plan) is to draft the next Polamalu and Clark, then you only need Sanders to stick around for a two or three year deal anyways. Sanders doesn’t want and has no right asking for big money. The Steelers could have locked him up. Yet once again, another player visits and leaves without laying ink to paper.
Of course not every player that visits a team gets signed, but teams don’t invite players to a visit unless they are serious about bringing them on board. So what’s going on down there on the South Side? Are the Steelers getting incredibly picky in their options? Money is precious so it’s no wonder they being stingier than the old man on a car lot. But, it can’t be sitting well with Steeler Nation and even the team if the team can’t shore up some of the needs via free agency. The draft won’t solve everything, and the roster needs help if the team wants to get back to being playoff contenders in 2013.
So is there a plan in Pittsburgh? Has Colbert lost his touch? Or is he so brilliant that no one but him can comprehend what he’s doing?