The Pittsburgh Steelers historically have not been major players in free agency, preferring to focus their investment on retaining their own players above entering the market. In previous years, this has helped the team retain talent under what they could potentially receive on the open market.
While there have been some successful ventures, most notably:
- Kevin Greene
- James Farrior
- Wayne Gandy
- Jeff Hartings
- Joe Haden
The Steelers have mainly focused on developing their talent from within.
The 2002 Steelers were a unique team as they were coming off the 2nd best regular season in franchise history the year before and were a special teams play away from going to the Super Bowl. With the surprising play of 2002 Comeback Player of the Year Tommy Maddox, the Steelers added the element of the most potent passing offense since the days of Terry Bradshaw.
However, overall the team regressed due to the atrocious play of the secondary. All it took was going into a spread formation and the Steelers pass defense was exploited week after week. While they still won the AFC North, Kelly Holcomb and Steve McNair really gave the Steelers offense no room for error in the playoffs while Maddox did all he could to keep the team alive.
In an effort to solve the problem, the Steelers “panicked” were exploring the option of signing Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jackson was a mediocre safety coming off a career game in the Super Bowl, so his stock was high. Moreover, he was close to signing, even verbally agreeing to terms while walking through the Steelers facility when he received a call from his agent. The call was to let Jackson know the Arizona Cardinals made a better financial offer (reportedly $12M to $14M) and he quietly slipped out of the team facility and didn’t come back.
The unprofessional maneuver was the best thing that could have happened to the Steelers. They put their focus into the NFL Draft and came across a player they could not ignore, evening trading up 11 spots to ensure they would get him.
Jackson’s 2003 season in Arizona was anything but spectacular and was released at the end of the season. Troy Polamalu was the best player on the best defense of the 2000s, helping the Steelers win a pair of Super Bowls and earning 2010 Defensive Player of the Year and election as a first ballot Hall of Famer.
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