March. Typically for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s in like a lamb, out like a… well, lamb. March is typically a quiet month for the Steelers. Big name free agents are allowed to sign elsewhere for more money than they deserve, and the Steelers quietly tend to their own business. Names like Ndamukong Suh, Julius Thomas, DeMarco Murray, Mike Iupati and Jeremy Maclin are all now wearing the stripes of different teams. Unsurprisingly, none of which are now with the Steelers.
There were a couple of names thrown around for the Steelers. There were a handful of reports floated around that the front office inquired about Darrelle Revis and his asking price prior to signing with the Jets. While I do believe these rumors were true, the call to his agent was likely quick. There wasn’t any real chance Revis was coming back to Pennsylvania.
I myself wrote an article about Brian Orakpo and suggested the Steelers inquire about his services. Unfortunately, I do not believe they ever scheduled a meeting nor contacted him about setting up a meeting. While disappointing, it is ultimately unsurprising. The contract in which Orakpo signed for was too rich for the Steelers blood even if they had initially showed interest. Over $8 million annually for a player who has not yet shown the ability to stay healthy in three seasons consistently is simply too much. That, coupled with the term of the contract (4 years) made it impossible to sign Orakpo. That said, the Steelers did make a couple of surprising moves, and one move that I feel may have “won” them free agency. After all, retaining a franchise quarterback has to be priority one for any team.
BIG BEN CONTINUES TO TICK FOR PITTSBURGH
Four year, $87.4 million dollar extension including a $31 million dollar signing bonus and $31 million dollars guaranteed. The contract has a $21.85 million dollar AYV (average yearly value). This deal, while unsurprising, was necessary. According to Roethlisberger, the deal was fairly quickly done on both sides. The money that Roethlisberger signed for is just under what Aaron Rodgers signed for with Green Bay in terms of AYV. The guaranteed money is between Tony Romo’s $25 million and Drew Brees’ $37 million.
Let’s stray away from the numbers and talk about what this means.
This deal was an absolute must-do for the Steelers. Extending their franchise quarterback was key to potentially winning a seventh Super Bowl. The offense begins and ends with Ben under center. It’s also important to note that this contract isn’t going to hinder or hamstring the Steelers in the future. With the upward trend of the cap, Ben’s deal is extremely fair for both sides. In this salary cap era, teams need a franchise passer to win Super Bowls. There have been anomalies, cases such as the Baltimore Ravens who rode a hot Joe Flacco to a title. Here are the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks since 2004.
2004: Tom Brady (NE)
2005: Tom Brady (NE)
2006: Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
2007: Peyton Manning (IND)
2008: ElI Manning (NYG)
2009: Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
2010: Drew Brees (NO)
2011: Aaron Rodgers (GB)
2012: Eli Manning (NYG)
2013: Joe Flacco (BAL)
2014: Russell Wilson (SEA)
2015: Tom Brady (NE)
It isn’t any coincidence that of the last 12 Super Bowl winners, 5 quarterbacks have unanimously been put into the category of “elite” over the last decade. They have been responsible for 8 of the last 12 titles. If you count Eli Manning’s play for the five years or so in which he was very good, that number is bumped up to 10. The leagues’ elite have been responsible for winning 83% of the Lombardi Trophy’s for over a decade. Simply put, franchise quarterbacks win Super Bowls.
More than the general truth of the league being quarterback driven, Roethlisberger truly does mean everything to this offense and this team. If the Steelers are going to be successful in 2015 and beyond, it is going to be on the back of the offense and, specifically, number 7. While the defense continues to retool and reload talent, specifically at edge rusher and in the secondary, Roethlisberger is going to have to continue to elevate the play of the players around him. Many have mocked the idea of there being an “elite” tag in the NFL and what it means. I believe the elite tag is just that – the ability to elevate the play of the players around you. This is what Ben is capable of and has been for many years. Steelers fans saw a glimpse of this last season.
DEANGELO WILLIAMS TO PITTSBURGH
Playing second fiddle to the Roethlisberger signing was the signing of DeAngelo Williams. While many have questioned his ability at his age and whether or not he truly has any tread left on his tires, Williams brings with him a veteran presence to the position and quality depth to the backfield. He, unlike Blount, has already been vocal and supportive while acknowledging his role to the team. He is, however, going to have to be prepared to start and have considerable snaps in the first two weeks of the season as Bell sits out with a suspension likely.
More than just a veteran presence, he brings with him a productive career with the Carolina Panthers, registering over 4.0 Yards Per Carry (YPC) every season other than this past one in which he ran behind an offensive line that was shaky and questionable in the best of games. Williams brings with him the ability to run between the tackles and a punishing running style. While not much of a threat out of the backfield in the passing game, he will likely be used as a change of pace runner to Le’Veon and Dri Archer, providing a north-south between the tackles ability.
An underrated signing for the Steelers, Williams brings to the Steelers something they have lacked since letting Blount walk to the Patriots and something that became painfully evident in the playoffs: quality depth at running back. This is also something the Steelers addressed at outside linebacker by bringing back a familiar face.
SILVERBACK RETURNS FOR ANOTHER GO
“I’m just happy to come back and finish it off where it started.”
That was James Harrison six months ago at his retirement press conference. Flash forward to March, and Harrison signs a two year contract with the Steelers. It’s amazing how quickly things change, isn’t it?
The signing of Harrison makes sense on numerous fronts. First, the Steelers lack true depth at the position. There are a number of question marks at the position and Harrison brings stability and depth to the position. Throughout the season, it became clear that Harrison was not operating at anywhere near 100%. He spent the majority of the season simply getting back in game shape and, despite this, may have been the most stable and productive edge rusher on the team. For a player coming out of retirement without a true offseason program, this is truly astounding. He registered 5.5 sacks in his 11 games played.
Perhaps more importantly than his play on the field, Harrison brings with him the ability to mentor the young linebackers on the team. Kevin Colbert, Steelers General Manager, said this was one of the reasons they decided to bring him back. Harrison, combined with newly-appointed outside linebackers coach Joey Porter, comprise two of the best edge defenders and 3-4 outside linebackers of their generation. This is something no other free agent could provide the Steelers and why, in all likelihood, another edge rusher wasn’t aggressively pursued.
That said, I do not believe this effects their draft in any way. The Steelers do need quality talent and depth at edge rusher which is why I do believe they will still take an outside linebacker in the first round. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more sure that the pick is going to be Eli Harold than I am at this moment.
Perhaps the old band isn’t going to be totally gone in 2015.
END OF AN ERA WITH KEISEL, IKE AND TROY GONE
As of this moment, Troy is still an active member of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster. That is going to change. Perhaps not any time soon, but that is indeed going to change. From all accounts, the Steelers are ready to move on at the position and are no longer interested in keeping Polamalu on the roster, especially at his current cap charge of over $8 million. This is going to be a nostalgic release for many fans, but ultimately a necessary one. He will be joining long-time teammates Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor in likely retirement.
Farewell, Troy. Thank you for your excellent play for nearly a decade and enjoy your best years ahead. I look forward to the day you are enshrined in Canton.
The Steelers also resigned Arthur Moats, another free agent signing I feel went under the radar, as he was very good in the snaps he received. Quality depth is the name of the game and with the probable change to more of a hybrid defense under Keith Butler, Moats brings with him the ability to play as a traditional 3-4 edge rusher and ability to play as a 4-3 defensive end.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd was signed to likely push Landry Jones in camp. Toss up, but I think Boyd edges Jones out.
Jason Worilds’ retirement has caused somewhat of a stir in the NFL world as Worilds left money on the table and walked away from the game. This has especially rung true amongst other Steelers media, in which the reaction (while mostly positive) has brought negativity with it. Look, Worilds decided to walk away from the game and left money on the table. He didn’t sign a contract somewhere for upwards of $8 million annually and hamstring a team in a year, perhaps two, by underperforming and losing passion for the game. There’s integrity in that and it’s admirable. Those who are providing a negative connotation should be ignored. I wish you the best of luck in your future, Jason.
While free agency has yet to wrap up completely, those remaining are no longer top quality players in the league. The Steelers had visits with both Patrick Robinson and Sterling Moore, and both walked out without a contract. Look for the Steelers to address their secondary concerns and edge rush concerns this April in the draft instead of settling for a journeyman cornerback. I wouldn’t expect any other major news to come until April other than the fact that Polamalu is likely to be released by then.