More on the Steelers’ Free Agency Moves, or Lack Thereof

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Matt Freed, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

My husband and I had dinner the other night with some friends from our days in New Mexico. I was very much looking forward to the dinner and catching up with them, at least until they arrived and the first words out of Richard’s mouth were “Gosh, my team has been uncharacteristically active in free agency this year.” My heart plummeted as I remembered he was not only a Patriots fan but one of the smug kind. (Actually, those are pretty much the only kind of Pats fans I’ve met. Are there any other kind?)

It was too late to bail on the dinner arrangements, and besides the restaurant we met at is an old favorite, one that I seldom get to enjoy anymore, since it is now about 1500 miles away from my house. So I gritted my teeth and merely responded that I realized it was uncharacteristic, and assumed it must be because Bill Belichick has discovered some new loophole or other. Richard said “Oh, I hope so.”

He also offered me condolences on the AFC Championship game, which were, of course, completely lacking in any sincerity whatsoever. Luckily, I like his wife a lot, and she doesn’t care about football as far as I know.

A quick perusal of the latest free agency moves reveals that the Steelers have done precisely nothing since signing Landry Jones and David Johnson. I’m almost glad to be away from Pittsburgh at the moment so I don’t have to hear the constant laments on sports radio. Some of them are from the hosts, not just the callers.

But isn’t it almost always like this? Steeler fans check out the splashy moves being made by other teams, and their fans gloat about their team signing Albert Haynes or Eric Decker or Nnamdi Asomugha or Mario Williams or whoever. Steeler fans are left to counter with “Well, we re-signed our long snapper for another year.” Or brought back William Gay, who many Steeler fans deplored on his first stint with the team. Or signed Cam Thomas from the Chargers.

Well, okay, I admit the last example was not the Steelers’ finest hour in free agency. But we might just as well face the facts. The Steelers are never going to win the Super Bowl in March.

Have the Patriots won the Super Bowl this March? To listen to the sports commentators around town, we might just as well pack up next February’s Lombardi and deliver it to Foxborough, because nobody else has a chance. Or at least the AFC Championship Trophy…

Except that this isn’t how football works. Yes, the Patriots are a well-run and well-coached and well-quarterbacked team, but a lot can happen between now and next January. “But…” I hear the Greek Chorus of Gloom proclaiming, “the Patriots have just gotten better while the Steeler sit on their hands.” All I can say is, time will tell.

And speaking of “time will tell,” check out this grade of a Steelers move in the 2012 off-season, from Walter Football [they updated the signing as they occurred:]

Steelers extend WR Antonio Brown (5 years, $42.5M; $8.5M signing bonus): B Grade

Umm… wasn’t the other Steeler receiver supposed to receive the extension? This is a huge slap in the face of Mike Wallace, who has been pining for a long-term deal all spring and summer. If Pittsburgh had to pick one wideout, however, it certainly chose the right one. Antonio Brown may not be as fast as Wallace, but he’s the better overall player. He was going to be a restricted free agent next offseason, so the Steelers would have been in the same position then as they are with Wallace now.

I like this contract, but I’m giving this a B grade because it creates a really bad situation with Wallace, who may now hold out well into the season.

The guy did at least admit that Brown had the bigger upside, but who can look at how both receivers turned out and say the Steelers did anything but make a spectacularly canny move? They had one of the best receivers in the league for a bargain rate.

The problem is, it isn’t very exciting to sign one of your own, as the Steelers typically do. They tend to just fill in the chinks with bargain bin free agents. For fans, the trouble with the guys you know is that you know them. You tend to either overvalue them (if you really like them) or undervalue them (if you don’t.) It’s harder to see the warts on other people’s players.

And admittedly some of them don’t have much in the way of warts. They are solid players, and go on to give good value to the team who signed them. I expect the Andrew Whitworth signing by the Browns to be in that category. They are paying him a lot of money, but they have a lot of money to spend, and Whitworth is a big upgrade for them. But often signing a big free agency contract appears to spell the beginning of the end for a player.

So, fellow fans, be patient and wait to see how things play out. I would even say this when the Steelers do, against type, spend more money than usual on a free agent. The Mike Mitchell signing comes to mind. Certainly Mitchell was nothing to write home about for the first year, but after the fact Steeler Nation discovered that circumstances beyond his control (two torn groin muscles that he played through anyhow) were effecting his play.

I feel as if that experience should give us a bit more patience with Ladarius Green as well. He certainly looked intriguing the few times he was on the field. If the problem was really ankle-related, and if it is resolved, he could be a pretty exciting addition to the lineup. Of course, if the problems were more concussion-related, I hope he retires for his own sake.

And since possibly the Steelers’ biggest free agent, Lawrence Timmons, has signed elsewhere, I will take this opportunity to wish him well, and to hope his new situation is agreeable.  I will watch his progress in Miami with interest. All the best, LawDog!

4 comments

  • Timmons leaving makes me sad.

    Like

    • roxannafirehall

      Me too. I have loved him from the start. Vince is a high motor player, but I am uncertain whether he can fill LT’s shoes. Rarely injured, never any drama, 94 will be missed.

      Like

  • Thanks Rebecca, you’ve made a point that needs to be made, remade and reinforced.

    I’ll share a story which I shared yesterday on another site. All of this “The Sky Is Falling” talk brings me back to 1993, the first year the NFL had free agency.

    The Steelers lost a lot of players. Everyone thought they were doomed. Nonetheless, they replaced the departed Jerrol Williams with Kevin Greene (gee, that was a good move), resigned Neil O’Donnell (matching a restricted free agent offer), and reupped Greg Lloyd.

    The internet was in its embryonic stages then, but a friend of mine had an AOL subscription, and it was at his house that I learned of the Dawson renewal.

    He showed me the responses to the move on the message board. One irate fan’s response caught my attention, and it went something like this: “Someone needs to sit down and explain to Dan Rooney that the purpose of free agency is to make your team better by signing guys from other teams, not from your own….”

    I remember shaking my head then in disbelief. But that attitude was more understandable then than it is now.

    Case in point, later on that year, the Steelers also renewed Rod Woodson’s contract.

    So in otherwords, the Steelers signed contracts with three Hall of Famers that year. Not bad.

    Like

  • Not concerned about signings at all.

    My delusional belief is that if Le’Veon Bell and Cam Heyward were healthy, and/or Martavis Bryant weren’t in exile over hypocritical concerns about drug abuse, for the AFCCG, the Steelers would be polishing that seventh Lombardi in their lobby as we speak.

    Hard to imagine that we could pick the pieces that would adequately compensate for losing Timmons and Wheaton. That’s the part of free agency that sucks.

    Like

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