The Cronoa Vrius (or CORVID-19 if you prefer) has turned our world upside down. The NHL and NBA have stopped cold while MLB hasn’t even started. The NFL off season is proceeding, albeit in an unusual fashion, but at least one of the Steelers free agent signings brings things “back to normal,” at least for fans who have long memories.
Given their limited salary cap space, the Steelers have perhaps been a little more active the expected, signing Derek Watt and Eric Ebron and traded for Chris Wormley. All of these moves are in character with recent practices and match with team needs.
But the Steelers signing of guard Stefen Wisniewski at once breaks from Tomlin-era tradition and brings the Steelers back to their free agency roots.
How Stefen Wisniewski Brings Steelers Back to Free Agency Roots
It is fitting that Western Pennsylvania native Stefen Wisniewski restores what was once a Steelers tradition. The Penn State grad returns to Pittsburgh with 134 NFL games, 103 starts and two Super Bowl Rings under his belt. He’s played for the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and, most recently, the Kansas City Chiefs, where he started in the Super Bowl.
- In other words, Stefen Wisniewski gives the Steelers starter-capable offensive lineman who can play guard or center.
And that is exactly the type of free agency signing that has been rare under Kevin Colbert and rarer on Mike Tomln’s watch. Sure, the Steelers signed Ryan Harris in 2016 and Justin Hartwig in 2008. One of Mike Tomlin’s first personnel moves was to bring in Sean Mahan, but he didn’t work out.
- That about exhausts the list of starter capable free agent lineman signed during the Tomlin era.
- Their combined start total stands at 48.
During the 1990’s however, spring arrivals of veteran starter/starter-capable offensive lineman was a staple of free agency. More importantly, these stayed and played.
When it comes to free agency, the 1990’s are best remembered for the free agents that the team lost, as opposed to the ones that Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe signed. Dan Rooney didn’t believe in building through free agency, and in those pre-Heinz Field days, the Steelers didn’t have the money to compete.
- Yet, throughout the 1990’s, the Steelers brought in a steady stream of free agent offensive lineman.
The trend started in 1992 when the Steelers signed Duval Love as a Plan B Free Agent to replace Terry Long, Love stayed for 3 seasons, staring 48 games. Todd Kalis arrived in 1994 as a defacto replacement for Carlton Haselrig. Kalis made 11 starts in 1 season in Pittsburgh, and was replaced by Tom Newberry in 1995, who started 15 regular season games and called it quits after Super Bowl XXX.
The Steelers replaced him with, Will Wolford arrived in 1996, and remained one of the team’s best lineman until he retired after the 1998 season, after making 45 starts.
- Tom Myslinski also arrived with Wolford in 1996, and he started 13 games over the next two seasons.
The trend started to lose steam at the end of the decade, when the Steelers (at Jerome Bettis’ behest) signed Wayne Gandy and Anthony Brown. Both had God-awful seasons in 1999. Gandy rebounded to turn in two honest efforts in ’00 and ’01, while Brown was done with football after ’99. Still, the two mean started a combine 74 games.
Kevin Colbert arrived in 2000, and one of his first moves was to sign Rich Tylski who immediately improved the line, making 25 starts over two years. A year later Colbert replaced Dermontti Dawson with Jeff Hartings. Hartings made 89 starts, but since his arrival starter capable offensive line signings have been rare in Pittsburgh.
By bringing Stefen Wisniewski back to Pittsburgh, the Steelers are returning to their free agency roots.