The manner in which memories get entrenched into one’s brain is fascinating. Science has indicated that smells are the primary catalyst for sparking a memory. For example, the mixture of cookies and pine trees often takes people back to when they were kids on Christmas Day. Sounds can have this effect, as well. For me, it is showers… specifically a shower from thirteen years ago.
I was in the shower, listening to local sports talk radio, when I heard the crushing news: Rodney Harrison had signed with the Patriots. I stopped lathering, and just stared at the fogged up mirrors. A tear may have escaped from the corner of my eye, but who really knows, as it would have been lost amongst the droplets of water careening off of my face.
Living in San Diego, I had watched Rodney Harrison play for nine seasons. It was a dream of mine that he would play for the Steelers… and not just because the Steelers were in desperate need of an upgrade at the safety position, but because despite being a Steelers fan, Rodney Harrison was my favorite player in the NFL. So much so, that I actually made myself a Steelers shirt (jersey) with the name Harrison and the number 37 on it.
I had always felt that this daydream was mere folly and that it would never come to fruition. Then came the 2002 season, wherein Harrison became the target of the San Diego media’s angst. The Chargers were having a subpar season, and for whatever reason, the scapegoat was Rodney. Mind you, San Diego was dealing with a plethora of issues, the most prominent being the edict from the NFL demanding that the Chargers get a new stadium or that it would be San Diego’s last time to host a Super Bowl. For whatever reason, an entire city’s ire was misdirected towards Rodney Harrison.
“Rodney is too old.”
“Harrison is tanking the season on purpose.”
“Hot Rod ? …more like Not Rod.”
Never mind that just one year prior, Harrison had been named to the All Pro team. Furthermore, the masses disregarded the fact that Rodney was dealing with a hamstring injury; he did not even start all sixteen games, and in the games that he did start, he was hobbled. Lastly, people ignored the distraction caused by the negotiations between the Spanos family and the city of San Diego. Instead, the media, the fans, and the city made Harrison the lightning rod (pun intended) for their disdain.
So when Harrison was released by the Chargers, I had it already set in my mind that he would simply sign with the Steelers and be the catalyst for winning multiple Super Bowls. It was too perfect: Bill Cowher was actively trying to upgrade the safety position and the best strong safety in the NFL was indeed a free agent. Adding one and two together, it was a foregone conclusion that Harrison would be wearing the black and gold for the 2003 season.
Then… Rodney signed with the Patriots, completely crushing my dreams.
The consolidation prize was Troy Polamalu. Obviously, if the Steelers had signed Harrison, they never would have drafted Polamalu; so, honestly, I cannot say that I was saddened for too long about missing out on Harrison. Mind you, Harrison was an All-Pro in both 2003 and 2004, but Polamalu is the best safety that I have ever watched play. Getting Polamalu turned out to actually be the better option for the Steelers.
Fast-forwarding to the current offseason, we once again see a phenomenal Chargers strong safety (Eric Weddle) somehow available in free agency. In fact, the parallels between Harrison and Weddle are eerily similar.
–Weddle was an All Pro in 2014, and is being allowed to leave after the 2015 season… just as Harrison was an All Pro in 2001, before being released in 2002.
–In 2015, the Chargers had stadium issues, which was a major distraction to the team… issues which were extremely similar to those that they experienced in 2002.
–Weddle was lambasted by the media and his coaches, so much so that he was made the scapegoat for the abysmal 2015 season… which sounds just like the situation that Harrison experienced in 2002.
–Weddle played through injuries in 2015… just like Harrison did in 2002.
–Weddle is my favorite non-Steeler… although, I never made a black & gold Weddle jersey.
–In the year 2016, the Steelers need to add a strong safety… just like they needed one back in 2003.
–Vitriol is spewing from San Diegans… reminiscent of the the derision that Harrison experienced.
“Eric is too old.”
“Weddle is tanking the season on purpose.”
“Seriously, what kind of ingrate has that type of beard!?!”
Of course, if history repeats itself. Weddle will sign with the Patriots and the Steelers will draft a dynamic strong safety from USC. Low & behold, in this upcoming draft, there is in fact a strong safety from USC: Su’a Cravens.
Do not get me wrong: I am not trying compare Cravens to Troy Polamalu. That said, the kid is the next generation of strong safety. Being that Cravens played cornerback in high school and during his freshman season at USC, his coverage skills are great. As a sophomore, he played safety, and he was phenomenal. As a junior, he was asked to add twenty pounds, in order to play linebacker; he fared well, but honestly, he was a much better defensive back. The important thing to note about his season at linebacker is that a) he is a quick study, and b) he has the flexibility to line up anywhere in the back eight. Yep, a guy who can play cornerback, safety, and linebacker… that sure does sound a lot like Troy Polamalu. Ergo, I would be ecstatic if the Steelers made Su’a Cravens their first round pick.
Except… I want Weddle.
Cravens is ten years younger than Weddle, and thus, looking long-term, Cravens would be the logical choice. Yet, at the same time, the Steelers are in a prime position to win a Super Bowl (or two) right now. Ben Roethlisberger only has a few years left, and Pittsburgh experienced a lull of twenty years between franchise quarterbacks. More importantly, the core group (Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton) are all under contract for at least one more season. In all honesty, this is the most talented offensive roster that the Steelers may have ever had, and thus, the time to win is right now. With the offense already set, if the Steelers can add a few key players to the defense, they would be the front-runners for winning the upcoming Super Bowl.
Which brings us back to Weddle. Weddle is ready to win now. There might be a slight transition period while he learns the new system, but it will be minimal when compared to the learning curve of a rookie (Cravens). Furthermore, while playing for the Chargers, Weddle was able to line up at both safety positions and all three cornerback positions. In other words, I am not at all concerned with Weddle having an immediate impact on the Steelers’ system. Heck, even if Weddle is only a slight upgrade over Will Allen, it would be a major improvement for this porous secondary. (NOTE: I believe that Weddle has one more All-Pro season left in him, and in turn, he will make this secondary very good.)
Secondly, Art Rooney II made two statements about the offseason: the Steelers are going to fix the secondary, and, the Steelers will be active in free agency. Weddle fits the criteria for both of those proclamations.
Lastly, what signing Weddle does is allow the Steelers to focus their “premier” draft picks on other areas of need, specifically: defensive line depth. If the Steelers can draft a defensive lineman who can join the rotation, it will keep Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt fresh. As it was, Heyward played 88% of the defensive snaps and Tuitt played 78% of them; by season’s end, those two players were exhausted and, in turn, far less effective. Furthermore, when Cam Thomas and Steve McClendon were on the field, it was a huge downgrade from Heyward and Tuitt… as best evidenced by the Denver playoff game, wherein Denver was able to score their only touchdown of the game when Heyward and Tuitt were off of the field.
In summation, the Steelers signing Eric Weddle makes so much sense. He is a dynamic player who would improve the secondary. Additionally, filling the safety position through free agency allows the Steelers to use their first round draft pick on a defensive lineman. Last but not least, there is not really another free agent that I would go after. And, since Art Rooney II already stated that the Steelers would sign a free agent, logic dictates that it absolutely has to be Weddle… that is, of course, unless Rodney Harrison comes out of retirement.