Lack of Depth Due to Steelers Off Field Decisions May Haunt 2013 Season

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Aug 12, 2013; Latrobe, PA, Steelers guard David DeCastro (left) and center Maurkice Pouncey (53) and tackle Mike Adams (76). Adams might be pondering that if only the front office had re-signed Max Starks for that side of the line the offensive line depth wouldn’t be so worrisome. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to games, seasons and personnel decisions it is always easy to say after the fact what the Steelers should have done. With one pre-season game already in the books I didn’t want any more to go by before I gave my thoughts of the 2013 Steelers. Although I am hopeful and excited for the new season I can’t help but think that the off field decisions made this past spring are going to haunt the 2013 Steelers and possibly beyond.

Injuries/Lack of Depth

I thought the Steelers front office planned poorly for the past free agent period and because so—the 2013 Steelers are going to suffer due to a serious lack of depth. Injuries are very common in the NFL. Just about every team suffers major and minor injuries causing their players to miss three, four or five games at a time, sometimes even the rest of the season. The Steelers are paper thin at many positions in 2013 and I feel this is going to cost them dearly. I will explain how this could have been easily avoided.

Former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis (23) should have been the Steelers #1 priority this off season as he was set to be the Steelers next #1 corner for the next 5 to 7 years. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers Own Free Agent Targets

I am going to work off of the same philosophy as the Steelers generally do and work around what the Steelers did or had the opportunity to do this off-season.

First I would have targeted three of the Steelers own free agents to re-sign: Keenan Lewis, Max Starks and Ramon Foster in that order. Foster as it turned out was signed with ease. Starks would have been easy to sign and would have come cheap.  Keenan Lewis would have been little more difficult but the way free agency played out and according to Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette, Lewis would have stayed had the Steelers matched the offer Lewis was given by the Saints (26 million over 5 years). The Steelers however did not make an offer to Lewis even though his cap number according to the Steelers Depot in New Orleans for 2013 is 2.2 million. Keenan Lewis was arguably the Steelers best corner last year. That was their first mistake as Lewis should have been the #1 off season priority. Not resigning Max Starks was mistake #2.

San Diego Chargers tackle Max Starks (70) should have retired as a Steeler. Starks gave far more to the organization than he received back. Not having Starks to bail them out this year might finally catch up to the Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Jody Gomez-USA TODAY Sports.

It was a good decision for the Steelers to part ways with Mike Wallace  for the type of money the Dolphins gave him and for other reasons which I previously wrote about (click here). I did like the signing of Plaxico Burress but he would have come after the main three targets Lewis, Starks and Foster. The Steelers bid against themselves on Larry Foote who I would have only re-signed for the veteran minimum and not until after seeing how the draft played out –and – definitely not a 2 year contract.  I would not have re-signed Sylvester Stevenson.

Transition Tags

I thought it was a bad decision to give nose tackle Steve McClendon and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, two of their younger and important starters, 3rd round tenders: this was another glaring mistake which was not well thought out. Without a doubt both players should have been given 2nd round tenders. Trying to save a few hundred thousand dollars on these two younger players ended up costing the Steelers much more in dollars but it would have been even more damaging had they lost both young starters.

Instead of trying to go cheap on the tenders they should have asked some of the older veterans to take pay cuts-which they didn’t. Luckily they were able to match Sanders offer from New England and signed McClendon to a 3 year contract after his visit to Green Bay.

The Steelers lost a lot by not working out a deal with linebacker James Harrison (92). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pay Cuts

If there was ever a time to ask players to take pay cuts this was the year in free agency to do so. It was a buyers market, the Steelers held all of the leverage and the players knew it as most free agents league wide were signing for veteran minimums or slightly over. Ike Taylor even said that he would have taken a pay cut. The only player who may have balked at this would have been Troy Polamalu who might be the type to retire rather than take a pay cut. Polamalu (10.2 million cap hit, 7.5 million base) would have been tricky to negotiate a reduction.  Otherwise I think other Steeler veteran players would have taken pay cuts. I would have targeted around 20% in base salary cuts with the exception of Colon. Because of Colon’s injury problems I would have taken about 4 million off of his 5.5 million cap figure which is essentially what he signed with the Jets for at 1.3 million dollars. I would have negotiated the following players to take pay-cuts in the following amounts:

Taylor           (9.5 million cap hit.  6 million salary taken to 4.5 million; Savings 1.5 million)

Keisel         (4.9 million cap hit.  2.8 million base salary to 2 million; Savings 800 thousand)

Harrison     (10  million cap hit.  6.5 million base salary to 5 million base; Savings 1.5 million)

Polamalu    (10.2 million cap hit.   7.5 million salary.  Refused to renegotiate a cut in salary.)

Colon  (7.65 million cap hit.   5.5 million salary taken to 1.3 million base; Savings 4.2 million)

It is easier to take smaller amounts from several players than ask for a lot as they did from James Harrison. Losing James Harrison was mistake #3.  (Click here to read the many reasons why.)All of these key veteran Steelers players would still be paid more with these reductions than they would have gotten elsewhere if cut. These reductions would have freed up about 8 million in cap space without any restructuring or pushing dead money into future years.   In doing so it would have saved money salary cap wise but more importantly would have been the key to providing great depth for the 2013 Steelers.

NFL Free Agents

Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (58) who was available cheap in free agency would have brought more youth and nastiness to the Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I liked that they signed Gradkowski and I would have targeted another quarterback with NFL starting experience in free agency to compete with Gradkowski for the back up such as Brady Quinn.  I would not have rushed to sign William Gay because my main target was Keenan Lewis whom I would have matched the offer from New Orleans. I would not have signed Matt Spaeth at all. Free agency came to a crawl after the first 10 days and neither Spaeth or Gay was going to be sought after. I liked the Brian Moorman signing for punter.

The only player of any significance I would have targeted  who the Steelers could have gotten for a little more than they gave Larry Foote was Bengals inside linebacker Rey Maualuga who languished in free agency. Mauluga is much younger than Foote and would have provided the defense with more nastiness. I liked that they looked at Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (Colts) and I would have signed Bradshaw. I also liked the signing of LaRod Stephens Howling from the Cardinals. I would have also looked at signing Oakland safety Michael Huff (Ravens) and Oakland receiver Darius Heyward-Bey (Colts). For this article I will say that I missed out on Huff,  Heyward-Bey and Maualugu as he decided to go back to the Bengals, but I did sign Bradshaw and Stephens-Howling.