The haze over Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount’s arrests helped obscure the fact that the Brett Keisel’s return to the Steelers came with a surprise. The first was that the Steelers had signed Brett Keisel to a two year deal, which is not what you’d expect for player about to turn 36.
However, the length of the contract is little more than salary cap maneuvering as explained by Jim Wexell:
Talk of bonuses naturally leads one to ask about the nature of the deal, which led to another exchange:
The other big piece of news was that the Steelers wasted little time in putting Kesiel back at his old spot on the depth chart, at starting right end, sending sent Cameron Heyward back to the left side. ESPN’s Scott Brown was among the first to report the change, although he pointed out that Mike Tomlin pays “scant attention” to during the preseason.
But Brown did indicate that the Steelers clearly had not brought back Kesiel to serve in a sort of “player-coach” mentoring role. Jim Wexell took the story further by reporting that:
I’m finding out, didn’t come back to be a reserve. He’ll likely be a starter at some point, but whether it’s in two-and-a-half weeks for the opener is up to his conditioning.
So not only will Kesiel not be a mentor, but he will also be getting a lot more than the sort of spot duties that Jerome Bettis got in 2005.
While the move does appear to be a “set back” of sorts for a defense committed to getting younger, it does make sense, at least on paper. As discussed on Behind the Steel Curtain, rookies rarely play and never start for Johnny Mitchell, except those named Casey Hampton (ok, Brensten Buckner was another exception, but he didn’t pan out long term).
That rules out Stephon Tuitt, the second rounder from Notre Dame. Cam Thomas would seem to be the “loser” in this scenario, but the fact is that he is needed to back up Steve McLendon in the middle, a situation made all the more urgent by the Steelers decision to cut Hebron Fangupo to make room for Kesiel. In essence, Cam Thomas becomes the new Al Woods.
In the abstract this all works out perfectly, but Keisel’s play on the field will ultimately vindicate Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, and Johnny Mitchell’s decision to start him.