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A Look Back at the Off-season as the Steelers Reload

By Carlos Goncalves (Litos)
www.SteelerNation.com

Remember yourself a few months ago, your beloved Steelers were heading to the offseason and you felt with an emptiness that wouldn’t be filled again until September. If back then you could have decided the perfect moves by the Front Office for the following months, what would they be? I can talk only for myself but my priorities to attack were OLB, CB, ILB, S, RB, TE. Back then I was hoping to:

– Sign a free agent Cornerback that could push the incumbent Ross Cockrell
– Pick an OLB high in draft day (round 1 or 2) to help and eventually substitute Mr. James Harrison and clean up the bad taste left by Jarvis Jones
– Pray that Ladarious Green gets healthy and be able to contribute
– Re-sign Le’Veon Bell to a win/win long term contract
– Bring a WR in case Martavis Bryant didn’t put himself together

Free agency starts and expectedly Bell gets the franchise tag, which is good as it gives time to work on a long term contract which I’m hoping will be around 12M per year tops, given Bell’s injuries and suspensions; also Cockrell gets an original Restricted Free Agent tender which surprises me a bit as I thought he had a decent season as the #1 CB and he would be quickly snatched away but I’m proven wrong as no one shows interest in him, I guess the F.O. learned from previous mistakes like Cortez Allen’s long term contract. We lose former 1st round pick and tackling machine Lawrence Timmons to the Dolphins who pay a hefty amount for the declining vet, this makes me add ILB to the positions needed to look for in draft day.

Then surprisingly the Front Office moves quickly to secure a former high pick WR, Justin Hunter, with great size and good athleticism to compete for the X spot with injured Sammie Coates and suspended Bryant. Hunter is not a proven starter and that’s why he was available but the talent is there and he came from playing with QBs that aren’t known for their accuracy or long ball abilities, so a change of scenario plus a HoF QB could seriously help him improve his numbers. The other “big” move the team makes is to sign former slot prodigy Coty Sensabaugh, who comes from a couple of bad seasons after being moved to outside CB. I think well, hope they are getting him to compete inside with aging William Gay because he is not starter material anywhere else so all and all I like the vet signing but nothing to call home about.

Then surprisingly comes the splash signing that no one was expecting, the Steelers sign DE Tyson Alualu, former high pick that fits nicely in our scheme of big guys up front, hey I know it isn’t a young Dontari Poe but he immediately gives very nice depth to a line that suffered injuries through all of the last couple of seasons. The rest of the period is as common as in previous years: small signings to fill out the roster, like Knile Davis, Landry Jones, etc.

So in conclusion, we got depth at WR, CB and DE while securing most of our own players, a typical Steelers free agency. I really wanted a Free Agent top CB because it’s so hard for a rookie to help from the start in this particular position, even last season’s 1st rounder and beloved Artie Burns showed growing pains that he still is polishing like secure tackling and correct angles towards the ball carrier. But let’s see who really was available to be signed and what did they get:

AJ Bouye: 5Y, 67,5M, 26M guaranteed, 13M avg. HE is good but he isn’t great yet, that’s a desperate kind of signing that the jaguars tend to make.

Stephon Gilmore: 5Y, 65M, 40M gtd, 13M avg. I mean, 40M guaranteed? Who the hell is he? Big Ben? It is mostly heavy up front in the first couple of seasons: almost 23M total each year. We didn’t have that kind of money available.

Logan Ryan: 3Y, 30M, 16M gtd, 10M avg. Too much money for a good CB but not a proven player (look how Patriots Defensive players do after they leave, make your own conclusions on what happens there)

Malcolm Butler: 1st round tendered by the Patriots, rather keep my draft pick than give it to that franchise. He’d also probably had demanded an over 12M/Y contract

Prince Amukamara: 1Y, 7M prove it kind of deal, as has been Prince’s life in the NFL due to injuries. I wanted this guy and 7M seemed doable but heck, I’m not losing sleep on it.

The rest were aging vets and unproven players, I guess knowing that they had to re-sign Villanueva, also hopefully Tuitt and work a deal with Bell they decided to keep their cap space and trust in Cockrell’s improvement plus a high pick in Free Agency to address the CB situation. To resume, the CB market sky-rocketed like Amazon shares and we couldn’t get any of the top guys, so is life within the Steelers.

Draft day comes and we are all biting our nails to get a Top CB or OLB with the top pick (some other good options there were FS, ILB, TE or even WR if the correct talent were available) and this is how it goes:

Round 1: OLB TJ Watt, high motor, high pedigree, quick learner and very good athleticism projected as a late 1st, early 2nd. The Nation rejoices as the top CBs were gone anyway.

Round 2: surprise pick JuJu Smith-Schuster the funky named law-firm the multi-talented WR that can play inside or out and also be a terror on the red zone. I’ll be honest, I wanted my FS or CB here but I get it, got to keep Big Ben happy and Bryant’s state is a question mark due to suspensions.

Round 3: CB Cam Sutton rebounding in his senior season from a previous season-ending injury. You could see in his film he wasn’t a 100% yet he still played, that shows love for the game, if you watch tape on his first couple of seasons in college you will find a very talented play maker that would have been a 2nd rounder in a normally talented draft in the position, this was heavy with CB talent. Also good for the FO to look farther than his final season tape and recognize talent.

Round 3 (comp): RB James Conner: see Cam Sutton but magnified, this kid beat cancer and came back to punish defenders, if you see his early tape you will find a Heisman nominee. Also a hometown player and Steeler fan so he becomes an instant fan favorite

Round 4: QB Josh Dobbs, I don’t know what his ceiling is but I doubt that it is proven starting caliber, hope I’m wrong.
– Then they got some depth at CB and OLB with athletic raw guys, good. And between them a Long Snapper that as I write this is already cut, no big loss but rather lose out in a position of bigger value.

So after draft day the team covered their most glaring needs except FS, especially because Mitchell is injured during all training camp. ILB depth doesn’t worry me much as I hope to see a lot of nickel with two OLBs and one ILB on the field. Also Vince Williams is a thumper and not as slow as some people say, he can defend himself against RBs so it’s all a matter of assignments (wink-wink Todd Haley).

As the off-season continues the Front Office gives LT Al Villanueva the long term contract we the people were hoping and expecting, now Big Al is protected and Big Ben feels safer, so there was much rejoicing in SteelerNation. The other side of the coin is that Le’veon Bell demands a RB + 2nd WR contract in the 15M ball park but Colbert doesn’t play ball and offers him a 12M avg contract with not much guaranteed and he declines it, now we have a ticking bomb but the good part is that he knows he need to work his ass off to get that kind of deal next season.

Before cut day the Front Office moves as quickly as Antonio Brown after a catch and trades their 2018 fourth rounder for TE Vance McDonald, a 2nd round pick himself who is known for his stretch-the-field capability, size and not so great hands. He definitely comes to substitute Ladarious Green oft-injured place in the roster, a rabbit out of the hat as the Nation was already settled on going to the season with not a single playmaker at the position. Let’s hope as with Hunter that with a better QB his numbers improve enough.

Cuts day comes and we get a mega-splash-no-kind-of Steelers-move when they grab a just hours ago cut Mr. Joe Haden, former 2 time ProBowl CB and injury plagued during his last couple of seasons that showed decent play even through injury last season. Still only 28 if healthy he can be expected to get back to ProBowl level or at least top 10 NFL CB, for only 7 Millons guaranteed this move looks like a master coup. I mean it seems like he hadn’t being pink slipped by the Browns and he already was looking to his life as a Steeler, got to love his interest in the franchise and Colbert’s sleight of hand. This is a move that the Nation dreams every year yet never happens and in the bottom knew that it wouldn’t happen. So there was way much more rejoicing. (if you hadn’t caught it yet you won’t, that’s a Monty Python reference)

The front office closes this long and very moved off-season with a couple of trades for late round picks, dealing away former starter Cockrell who went from top man to expendable because he was burned repeatedly during preseason and once Haden was secured. Personally I think Cockrell thought he could just go through the motions in preseason having a spot secured, he also might have been pissed that he didn’t get a contract or a high tender.

Only downside I can think of? Mitchell improved when healthy last season and I was hoping for a big campaign from him but nagging injuries have me really worried as his backup, Golden has regressed the last couple of seasons making the position a glaring weakness unless:
– they think on moving Sean Davis there and slotting Jordan Dangerfield at SS. [Editors Note: Dangerfield waived/injured]
– Count on Willie Gay as the top FS backup, not a crazy thought given Gay’s play recognition and nice hands.

To wrap this writing up if, you could go back to the end of last season knowing you would get a TOP vet CB, a Top rookie OLB, a highly graded rookie WR and also a playmaking TE as insurance and weapons for your HoF-thinking of retirement-QB, a 2nd round CB at the cost of a 3rd (let’s hope injuries don’t make him Golson part deux) and a bunch of depth at important positions, including unheralded players that worked their asses off in preseason to earn a spot, I think you would be just as ecstatic as I am for this upcoming season and hoping for the 7th ring, a well-earned A grade Mr. Colbert, congratulations on your extension too.

Salute the Nation

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One Comment

  1. G Stryker

    September 6, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    nice writeup Litos!

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