Steelers Resign Anthony Madison – Last Free Agent Signing?

Last week the Steelers signed another free agent when Anthony Madison accepted the team’s one year-tender. This was their ninth free agent signing, and as with the previous eight, Madison was already a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Madison is a reserve cornerback who plays mainly on special teams. He joined the team as an unrestricted rookie free agent in 2006, made the practice squad that year, and has been with the team since, with the exception of a brief stint with Tampa Bay in 2007.

Madison has steadily improved, and peeking with 25 special teams tackles last year.

Is 2009’s Free Agency Season Already Over for Pittsburgh?

With Anthony Madison taken care of, and Marvel Smith off to San Francisco, the Steelers have no remaining restrict or unrestricted free agents to resign.

  • So does this mean the Steelers are done with free agency?

There are conflicting reports.

Art Rooney II spoke to the Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette last week. Ronney II talked up the team’s “take care of your own” approach, but he also left the door open to signing someone from another team, telling Bouchette:

“We don’t look at that [signing other team’s free agents] as the barometer of whether we’re having a good off season or not,” but he went on to say “ ‘I would imagine we will’ eventually sign at least one.”

A few days later Kevin Colbert spoke with Bouchette, and the tone was different. While Colbert did not explicitly rule out plucking someone else from the free agent pool, that was the distinct impression that Bouchette conveyed to his readers:

And it appears they might not sign any more. They have no scheduled visits by free agents and they see nothing on the horizon.

Don’t Look for Terry Holt or Marvin Harrison to Sign with Steelers

Kevin Colbert acknowledged that the Steelers are thin at with receiver with the departure of Nate Washington. To bolster their receiving corps, they attempted but failed to resign Joey Galloway.

But Kevin Colbert has made it clear that the Steelers are banking on improving from within, as his comments to Bouchette indicate:

We lost our third guy and some of the young guys have to step up. We’ll keep watching and seeing [in free agency], but at this point we’re not optimistic that there will be anybody else that we’re interested in. The people we have have to step up.

So don’t expect to see either Marvin Harrison or Terry Holt darken the doorways of the Steelers South Side complex.

Extending Deals of Harrison and Max Starks Steelers Priorities

Steel Curtain Rising tends to agree with the analysis from Art II. The Steelers are going to need to fill holes at some point, and they’ll bring someone in, even if he is just a special teams player. Most likely, this move will come after the draft.

But significant signings like that of Justin Hartwig or Mewelde Moore of a year ago are unlikely, and not simply because there are not too many of those players available.

The Steelers to priorities remain to extend the deals of Max Starks and James Harrison. Both players are under contract for next year, but have no deal in place beyond that. And both deals are complicated by complexities of the NFL’s salary cap.

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Marvel Smith Signs with San Francisco – The End of an Era?

One of the hallmarks of the Bill Cowher era of was that the Steelers offensive lines for those years comprised a Who’s Who of AFC Pro Bowlers. But as Bobby Dillion wrote “the times, they are a changing.”

ESPN.com is reporting that formers Steelers left tackle Marvel Smith has agreed to terms with the San Francisco 49ers.

The move comes as no surprise. Smith’s contract had expired, and the Steelers had made it clear that they were not going to attempt to bring him back when they used the franchise tag on Max Starks.

End of an Era?

Marvel Smith was the only Steelers lineman with Pro Bowl experience, and his departure marks the end of an era, assuming that none of the Steelers offensive lineman make the 2010 Pro Bowl.

The Steelers have a Pro Bowler or a Pro Bowl experienced offensive lineman in the starting line up every season since Mike Webster made the 1979 Pro Bowl. That isn’t quite the same as sending an lineman to the Pro Bowl ever year – there were plenty of years when no Steeler earned that distinction, but they always had someone who had been there, someone who was capable of that caliber of play.

Smith’s age and chronic back problems certainly conspired against him. Steelers made the assessment that Smith was no longer capable of Pro Bowl caliber play, and they made the right decision.

The Steelers had attempted to resign him on the eve of the regular season, only to be rebuffed – this came on the heels of Smith’s first round of back surgery. The Steelers swore

He started the season well, but got injured again against Jacksonville. The Steelers kept him on the active roster until the end of the year, but and ended up needing back surgery again and went on IR. The 49ers apparently offered Smith very little guaranteed money, as indicated by the article announcing his signing.

Thanks for visiting. You can follow all of the Steelers free agent moves in our Steelers 2009 free agent focus series.

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Steelers Resign Trai Essex, Fernando Bryant and (the other) LB Harrison

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to pay homage to the old adage “dance with the ones the brung you.” The defending Super Bowl Champions announced this week that they had resigned two more of their own players.

They inked reserve tackle/guard Trai Essex to a two year two million dollar contract, and they agreed to terms with reserve veteran Fernando Bryant for one more year.

This comes on the heels of their decision to resign a linebacker named Harrison. No, they are still negotiating with James Harrison, but the have agreed to terms with back up linebacker Arnold Harrison, who spent 2008 on injured reserve.

The Ones that Got Away

The Steelers apparently had interest in signing the only two free agents that they have entertained at their South Side complex. Last week they brought in both Joey Galloway and Chris Carr for workouts, and tendered offers to both of them.

Alas, neither negotiation was successful as Chris Carr signed with the AFC North Division Rival Baltimore Ravens and Joey Galloway signed with Conference Rival New England Patriots.

Analysis of the Moves

As Steel Curtain Rising predicted last month, Trai Essex did not attract a lot of interest in the free agent market, which meant that the Steelers will able to bring him back for a very modestly valued contract.

Trai Essex is never going to be the kind of player the Steelers thought they were getting when the picked him in the third round of the 2005 draft. Nonetheless, Essex has serviceable skills, can play both guard and tackle, and is a solid backup on an offensive line that begs for depth.

Fernando Bryant’s resigning is a little of a surprise. He joined the team when Desha Townsend and Bryant McFadden were injured in mid-November, and only played two games. He does give the team a veteran presence, but he did not even suit up since November 20th.

  • Bryant certainly did not get much if any guaranteed money, and will certainly find himself fighting for a roster spot in Labrobe.

Arnold Harrison’s signing is perhaps also a slight surprise. Harrison joined the team in 2005 as an undrafted rookie free agent. He was cut in training camp but spent the year on the team’s practice squad. He returned in 2006 and even started two games in place of injured Joey Porter and was having a strong year on special teams until injuring his knee against Oakland.

He continued to play and make contributions throughout 2007 as a special teams player and reserve linebacker. He was injured in training camp during 2008, and did not play during the regular season. He’s got a good track record on special teams, and could develop into an interesting back up at linebacker.

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Steelers Tipping Their Hand on CBA Negotiations?

“There are no plans to engage in talks about a long-term extension for [Willie] Colon.”
– Mike Prisuta, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/12/09

My first reaction upon reading this was “why?”

Its not that Willie Colon is an All-World offensive tackle, but the facts are simple:

  • In two seasons as a starter, he has shown himself to be a decent player on an otherwise undistinguished offensive line
  • He signed a one year tender, binding him to the team through 2009
  • If they don’t sign him to a long term deal, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2010
  • The Steelers currently have no viable alternative behind him, unless you could Tony Hills

The Steelers entered free agency this year and saw five offensive lineman become free agents, either restricted or unrestricted.

As things currently stand, this time next year three starters, Max Starks, Willie Colon, and Justin Hartwig will all become free agents again.

They say they want to sign Max Starks to a long term deal, but he’s got eight million and change coming to him as a franchise player. The leverage is all on his side.

Logic then dictates that you get your other tackle under contract sooner rather than later.

Steelers Looking Ahead to Uncapped Year?

Upon reading Prisuta’s article, Steel Curtain Rising’s instinct screamed “write an article and take the Steelers to task for their patchwork offensive line building strategy.”

For the past two years the Pittsburgh’s MO for the offensive line has been: Franchise a guy here, transition a guy there, keep him around as a restricted free agent, cross your fingers and hope you can do the same next year.

It has worked, but can the Steelers remain competitive if this continues?

That’s a legitimate question, but perhaps the Steelers are operating with a little more foresight than they’re given credit.

Although it’s not on most fans’ radar screens, the NFL is heading from some tricky waters on the labor front. The current collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the NFLPA expires in 2011. 2010 is set as an uncapped year.

While an uncapped year will not be kind to mid-market teams like the Steelers, as Daniel Snyder will doubtlessly set the market rate for third string running backs at 10 million dollars a year or some other ludicrous sum.

  • Yet the uncapped year does come with some advantages for teams that operate wisely

One of those is that players will not reach unrestricted free agency until they’ve played for six years.

Willie Colon was drafted in 2006. He’s played three years and is now a restricted free agent. Under the current scheme, he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent after he’s played his fourth season. But unless the owners and the NFLPA renew the agreement in before the end of 2009, the NFL will enter the uncapped year.

And if that happens Willie Colon will still be a restricted free agent again in 2010 and at least theoretically in 2011.

Dan Rooney is one of the league’s most influential owners, and Art II played a key role in averting the uncapped year back in 2007. The Rooneys will work day and night to get an agreement in place. It’s good for them and its good for the game.

But if it’s true that they’re not going to seek a long-term deal with Colon then the Rooneys could very well be signaling that they think the league is headed for an uncapped season, despite their best intentions and efforts.

Alternative Explanations

It’s quite possible that Steel Curtain Rising’s take is in err. After all, a little more than a year ago we admonished our readers to ignore what Kevin Colbert said about the 2008 draft, assuring them that the Steelers would focus on the offensive and defensive lines in spite of their pledge to “take the best player available.”

Steel Curtain Rising was wrong then, so its only appropriate to offer some alternative explainations now.

Prusita Is Mistaken

The Pittsburgh media has been caught behind the curve on the Steelers personnel plans recently.

  • They failed to anticipate James Farrior’s signing last August
  • They did not report a (thank God) unsuccessful attempt to resign Marvel Smith during training camp until November
  • They were blindsided by the decision to cut Kendall Simmons

So its quite possible that they will attempt to ink Colon to a long-term deal before the season starts. Right now their priority is resigning James Harrison, and that contract is going to be tricky. Assuming they get that deal done, they’ll then know what they have to spend on other players.

Prusita’s Right Because the Steelers Simply Don’t Think Colon is Worth a Long Term Investment

Perhaps we can simply take Prusita’s report at face value. With few exceptions, the decision to give Kendall Simmons a four year contract in 2007 comes to mind, the Steelers are very wise about who they commit long-term money to. It is very rare that they issue a contract that they later regret, and its also uncommon that they discard someone who goes on to be a star elsewhere.

While they do not have viable replacement for Colon in waiting, it is certainly plausible that they could pick someone up in the draft with an eye to grooming him to be the starter on opening day 2010.

All of this is of course speculation. Steel Curtain Rising invites those of you who have access to legitimate sources to pick up from here take the story to wherever the facts lead you.

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Willie Colon, Andre Fraizer to Return to Steelers in 2009

The Steelers signed two more of their own this week.

Starting right tackle Willie Colon signed a one year contract with the Steelers yesterday. Although the Willie Colon was a restricted free agent, the Steelers had extended him a qualifying tender that would have allowed them to match any offer that Colon signed or otherwise receive a first round draft pick had they opted to let him leave.

By signing the tender, Colon can no longer negotiate with other teams. Willie Colon’s contract is worth 2.2 million dollars and change.

Now comes the tricky part for the Steelers. Do they attempt to resign him to a long term deal, or do they allow him to become an unrestricted free agent one year from now?

Andre Fraizer Also Returns to Steelers

The Steelers also resigned reserve linebacker Andre Fraizer. Fraizer was signed as an unrestricted rookie free agent by the Steelers in 2005, and made some impressive plays by delivering big hits on special teams that year.

He was waived the following year and spent 2006 and the beginning of 2007 with the Bengals. The Steelers wasted no time in bringing him back in 2007 after the Bengals cut him.

Fraizer did not see a lot of action, but he was responsible for the momentum changing punt block against the Redskins on Monday Night Football in early November. Fraizer’s deal is for two years but “only” pays him 1.3 million over the time.

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Dick LeBeau Believes in William Gay

If the Steelers are panicking over the loss of Bryant McFadden, they fail to show it.

Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review got Dick LeBeau on the record about William Gay, and this is what the Steelers defensive coordinator had to say: “I think we’ve got a good, quality player there who should continue to grow.”

Gay played in all sixteen games last year, starting in four of them when McFadden and Desha Townsend were injured. He logged 41 tackles and netted the interception that sealed the Steelers second regular season victory over the Ravens.

The Steelers actions reflect LeBeau’s confidence. They will work out a free agent cornerback tomorrow, Tennessee’s Chris Carr. But Carr was not a starter in Tennessee, nor is he projected to push for a starting role here.

It would appear that their interest in Carr is as much motivated by Carr’s kick return skills as his ability as a cornerback. Carr finished 3rd in the AFC on kick returns and eight in punt returns.

This is logically, as Bob Ligashesky’s coverage units improved dramatically in 2008, but the Steelers got little if any spark from their return game, Santonio Holmes‘ punt return for a touchdown against San Diego in the playoffs not withstanding.

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Watch Tower: Pittsburgh Media Mum on Anthony Smith Departure

As mentioned here and reported on ESPN and fellow fan site “The Steel Yard” Anthony Smith has signed with the Green Bay Packers.

What is mildly surprising is how little attention the move has gotten from the Pittsburgh media. Neither Pittsburgh daily carried the news on Sunday. Nor was the news the focus of an article or dedicated side bar on Monday, although the Tribune-Review’s Scott Brown did mention Smith’s departure in an article about Bryant McFadden’s signing with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Packers website offically announced Smith’s signing Monday, but as of 5:30 pm Eastern time, the Post-Gazette has not passed this bit of information on to its readers, at least not on its website.

Thanks to the world wide web, true diehard fans no longer have to copiously comb the columns of the paper to stay up to date on moves like these, but given the high profile nature of Smith’s rise and decline, it is a little surprising that that paper has not seen fit to devote any mega bites to Anthony Smith’s departure.

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Joey Galloway Visits Pittsburgh Steelers

Its not often that a free agent with a big name graces the presence of the Steelers complex on the South Side, but it happened today.

Joey Galloway, recently of the Tampa Bay, visited the Pittsburgh today as the Steelers began searching for a potential number three or number four wide reciever.

Galloway was a number one draft choice by the Seattle Seahawks in 1995 and has played for Dallas as well. Perhaps Galloway is one who never quite lived up to his billing, but he did post three consecutive 1000 yard seasons between 2005 and 2007. Two of his year’s there also overlapped with Mike Tomlin’s, which could explain the mutual interest, that plus Tomlin’s fascination of athletes of Galloway’s pedigree.

Realistic Chance?

Which begs the question, is there a realistic shot at Joey Galloway becoming a Steeler?

It depends.

He is 37 and is reaching the end of his playing days. Injuries last year limited him to 9 games and only 13 catches. This is not the typical profile of Steelers free agent pick up, yet Galloway also visited the New England Patriots, a team known for finding veterans who just enough left in the tank to make a contribution.

If he is willing to play for at or close to the league minimum, the Steelers would incurr little risk by bringing him on board. The Steelers did something similar back in 2002 when they brought in Terance Mathis as their fourth wide receiver and he caught 23 passes for 218 yards. Those are not impressive numbers at all, but are far better than the seven catches that Limas Sweed and Dallas Baker totaled in 2008 working out of the fourth receiver slot.

There’s also no certainly that any concrete talks will emerge from this visit. Last year the Steelers entertained Kyle Brady and Anthony McFarland and nothing materalized with either veteran.

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Byrant McFadden Now an Arizona Cardinal

The Steelers lost their third unrestricted free agent of the season, as Bryant McFadden signed a two year ten million dollar to play with the Arizona Cardinals.

McFadden was easily one of the best players left in free agency and it is a little surpirsing that he stayed on the open market so long.

The Steelers did make an attempt to resign McFadden, but it is highly doubtful that the offer they made approached the range of what he got from Arizona.

Analysis

Well, earlier today, Steel Curtain Rising speculated that there was an outside chance that McFadden would return. That’s not going to happen.

The move was not as surprise. And while his loss will hurt the Steelers, one cannot fault them here. McFadden had shown himself to be a capable player during his first three years here, but going into 2008 his play did not warrent a big contract extension. McFadden likewise knew he had little to lose by playing out his final year, and then hitting the open market.

In the final analysis, from a purely cost-benefit perspective, the Steelers are probably better off going with William Gay and Desha Townsend playing opposite Ike Taylor. That said, McFadden will be missed.

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Green Bay Packers Sign Anthony Smith as Steelers Free Agency Losses Mount

Credit the site The Steel Yard with breaking Steelers Nation the news that that Anthony “I guarantee victory” Smith has signed with the Green Bay Packers. OK, ESPN also reported Smith’s defection, but thus far neither of Pittsburgh’s two major dailies have reported Smith’s departure.

Smith was due to become a restricted free agent this year, but the Pittsburgh Steelers opted not to give him any qualifying tender, which would have allowed them to match any offer from another team or get compensation should he leave, making him an unrestricted free agent.

From a Rookie Smash to a Sophmore Crash

Smith was drafted in the third round in 2006, and quickly made a name for himself with his big hits. However, he also revealed a tendency to showboat, which drew him the ire of both Bill Cowher and Dick LeBeau.

Nonetheless, going into his sophomore season, Smith was seen as the heir apparent at free safety, while Ryan Clark was viewed as more of a stop gap.

  • Smith failed to wrest the starting spot from Clark during Mike Tomlin’s first training camp.

Smith still saw plenty of action in early 2007, and the injury to Ryan Clark against Denver thrust him into the starting line up. In what was perhaps to be an ominous sign, the Steelers defense gave up a 49 yard drive that ended with Jason Elam kicking the willing field goal with Smith standing in for Clark. It would be unfair to place all of the blame for this on Smith, but the Steelers defense ended up giving up 4th quarter leads 3 more times in 2007 after losing Clark.

Buthis true moment of ignominy came before the Patriot’s game, when Anthony Smith brazenly guaranteed victory, only to be torched by Tom Brady twice on deep touchdown passes. Smith quickly found himself on the bench and in Mike Tomlin’s dog house.

Practice Hero

Anthony Smith succeeded in grabbing headlines at St. Vincents in 2008, but not in a way the team would like. Smith throttled Hines Ward during practice, a move which relegated him to street clothes for the Steelers for the team’s first preseason game against the Eagles.

  • At the time the Post-Gazette’s Gene Collier denounced Smith for “thuggery” a move which prompted Mike Tomlin to defend his embattled free safety.

But actions speak louder than words. Smith played sparingly in 2008, and was inactive for several key games, including the Super Bowl.

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