Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus: Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden

Readers can be assured that it was mere happenstance that Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden Steel Curtain Risings Steelers 2009 Free Agent focus only arrived at them a few hours before they’re set to become unrestricted free agents.

Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden were both rookies on the Steelers 2005 Super Bowl XL Championship squad. The former arrived as another one of Kevin Colbert’s undrafted rookie free agent gems, the later came as a second round pick out of Florida State.

Neither man saw much action in the 2005 regular season, but both men came up big in the playoffs, which we’ll discuss in the meantime.

  • Washington started two games in 2006, followed by four in 2007, and one in 2008.

McFadden started one game in 2005, nine games in 2006 (in for injured Deshea Towshend and then for benched Ike Taylor) and then did not start any games in 2007. He started several games in 2008, but also missed six games due to injury.

Assessment of Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden

Both men played huge roles in the Steelers 2005 run to the Super Bowl XL. McFadden made a touchdown saving pass defense in the end zone with 31 seconds on the clock against the Colts in the divisional playoffs.

Washington caught his first NFL pass in the AFC Championship game against Denver, and that 13 yard reception converted a crucial third down play. Washington also played a little defense that day, saving an almost sure Ben Roethlisberger interception in the end zone.

Since then the two men’s careers have developed on incongruous if yet still similar paths. Washington has gotten steadily better year by year. During the 2007 season he established himself as a legitimate 3rd wide receiver, and managed to shed his habit of dropping balls. In 2008 Washington took another leap forward. As the season wore on, Washington became just as likely as Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes to find himself on the receiving end of a Roethlisberger pass during critical moments. And Washington also proved that he can be a very dangerous downfield threat.

McFadden’s case is a little more nebulous. The Steelers almost certainly drafted him with the idea that he would replace Deshea Townsend. From his sophomore season on, one of the key battles in training game has been McFadden vs. Townsend. The 2008 off season was peppered with whispers that Townsend was going to move to safety.

While McFadden has gotten better, Townsend has held him off.

What the Steelers Should do with Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden?

In a perfect world, both men would be back with the Steelers in 2009. And if that utopia were to come to pass, the Steelers chances of climbing the stairway to seven in 2009 would be strengthened.

Alas, the world is not perfect. (Heck, the translation of Utopia is “no place.”)

  • The salary cap dictates some bitter realities, and one of them is that it will take a miracle for both men to be back in Pittsburgh in 2009.

When Santonio Holmes has his run ins with the law, Steel Curtain Rising suggested that the so-so season he’d been having up this point, combined with his marijuana arrest, just might lead the Steelers to deal Holmes and resign Washington.

While Washington has done nothing to weaken his case since then, Santoino Holmes was the MVP of the post-season, relegating any scenario of the Steelers favoring Washington over Holmes to a mere pipe dream (excuse the pun.)

The Steelers know they have little chance of signing either man, or else they would have made an honest effort. All reports are that they have not.

They’re just being realistic on that front.

Losing both of these men is going to hurt, no doubt, but neither is irreplaceable. William Gay showed promise in 2008, and Limus Sweed, if he can only manage to learn to hold on to the ball, showed that he can spread the field. (As for Desha Townsend, he shows no sings of slowing, ask Dallas, but how much longer can he perform at this level? Hopefully, a little longer.)

Most Likely Scenario for Nate Washington

The relative free agent value of both men seems elude consensus (more on that in the next edition of Watch Tower.) Clearly both men are going to attract interest from other NFL teams very early on, and its likely that Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII will bookend both men’s time in Pittsburgh.

Of the two, Washington is most likely to go first, and for the most money. Going into the season, Steel Curtain Rising had Washington pegged as a Bobby Shaw type player – a very strong number three receiver, but not someone who was a solid number one or number two receiver.

That was then. Nate Washington showed in 2008 that he deserves a chance to start, and he will get that chance. It just won’t be with the Steelers.

Most Likely Scenario for Bryant McFadden

McFadden will also likely go fast, but not as fast. And theirs is an outside chance he could wind up back in Pittsburgh, however remote that possibility is.

There’s a lot of speculation as to the effect that the current economic crisis will have on the NFL free agent market. (Thus far, no brake on spending is visible.) But some have speculated (both on and in the Washington Post) that while the economy will do nothing to slow the initial free agent signing frenzy, perhaps the frenetic period will be shorter, followed by a sharp drop off in activity.

If that scenario proves to be true, it’s possible that McFadden will still be available after initial breakneck round of free agent transactions. If that is the case then he could find himself as a free agent in a market where teams are either capped out or unwilling to spend. Should that come to pass, he could decide to return to the Steelers.

It is unlikely that this course of events will come to, but it is plausible enough to mention.

Thanks for reading. Check out the rest of our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus

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