Steelers Draft Performance, Not Free Agency Philosophy, At Issue

The NFL is 10 days into its first uncapped year since 1993 and rhe Steelers have given the NFL what amounts to a minor shock – they signed three free agents and resigned Ryan Clark.

Such aggressiveness from the Steelers slams head-on into a well-established script: It is the Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones of the league that are supposed to go on free agent signing sprees, not the Daniel Rooneys.

Unprecedented though it might be, four free agent signings in rapid succession does not unveil some radical shift in team philosophy. Instead, it reveals something far more worrisome.

The Steelers signed so many free agents because they had no choice.

Their actions amount to a latent admission: Recent drafts have been below par.

Let’s take a closer look:

I am going to make a player out of one of you, I just don’t know which one yet.”
Mike Tomlin at Latrobe in 2008, watching rookies Tony Hills and Bruce Davis in one-on-one drills.

It appears Mike Tomlin erred. The Steelers took Bruce Davis and Hills in the third and fourth rounds of the 2008 draft.

The Steelers gave Davis all of one year. He was inactive for all but five games as a rookie, and when it came clear he could not even play special teams Pittsburgh let him go at Latrobe in the summer of 2009..

Tony Hills never made the active roster as a rookie, but the Steelers still had hopes for him. Jim Wexell even compared Tony Hills to John Jackson. Another year has come and gone with Hills yet to dress.

Players usually make the biggest leaps between their rookie and sophomore years.

The decision to sign Jonathan Scott reveals that Hills leap wasn’t long enough. Jonathan Scott is no world beater, but he is a back up who can step up and play in an emergency.

As a fourth round draft pick entering his third year, we should at least be able to say the same about Hills. Alas, we cannot.

Out Through the In Door

This might not have been exactly how it happened, nor exactly how it was reported, the but word was that as Antwaan Randle El was walking into Steeler offices, Limas Sweed was walking out.

This coincidence is likely more than symbolic. Sweed teased as a rookie. His drops were so frustrating because in each case he had burned the DB covering him. Late in the year, Sweed went on IR. The Steelers have been mum about his condition, but most people suspect he has some sort of depression or other psychological condition.

When the Steelers grabbed Sweed in the second round of the 2008 draft, some labeled the move as a steal.

Randle El, a second round pick in his on right, has his best days are behind him, but he brings a lot of versatility and depth to the team. It is good that the Steelers were able to bring in someone of his caliber.

It is sad that another second round draft bust made El’s return necessary.

Safety Dance

The Steelers also signed safety Will Allen from Tampa Bay. Tampa drafted Allen in 2004, when a certain Mike Tomlin was their secondary coach.

2004 was also the year the Steelers picked Ben Roethlisberger in the first round.

Anyone remember who their second round pick was?

Richardo Colclough.

“Who?” You ask?

No apologies needed if you forget Colclough, who was last seen muffing a punt to give the Bengals a victory at Heinz Field in 2006. Colclough suddenly developed a mysterious injury and was on IR before the next game, never to be heard from again.

When Chris Hope departed after Super Bowl XL, the Steelers brought in Ryan Clark. Their thinking was that he would be a stop gap there, while some of their younger DB’s matured.

Colclough was of course one of those, but he was joined by 2006 third round pick Anthony “I guarantee we’ll beat the Patriots” Smith. Like Colclough Smith had all of the tools, he just completely failed to understand what it would take to succeed in the NFL.

If either of those men develops, the Steelers either don’t bring in a career back up at safety or resign veteran safety who is over 30 years of age, and coming off a bad year.

Instead, the Steelers needed to make both moves.

A Draft Board for the Burning?

Time allowing, Steel Curtain Rising will do another edition of the Colbert Record prior to the draft.

But the bottom line is this. The Steelers made four unprecedented free agent moves in rapid succession. You can tie each one of those moves to two second round failures (’04 and ’08), one third round failure (’06), and another fourth round failure (’08.)

These free agent moves might help the Steelers plug a few holes in the short term, but if the team is to remain competitive in even in the medium term, they cannot continue to squander premium draft picks.

Thanks for visiting. To read all posts related to free agency, click on the Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus tag.

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