Randle El Returns, Steelers Sign 3 Other Free Agents

While most of Steelers Nation was rivited to their internet browsers, despirate for some news on the Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault case, the Steelers did something they’ve rarely done — make free agency headlines.

And one of those headlines is: “You can come home again.”

At least if you were the second round pick in the 2002 draft. That’s what happened yesterday as the Pittsburgh Steelers, long notable for the sound of their silence in free agency, resigned Antwaan Randle El, who was released by the Redskins last week.

But they didn’t stop there.

Also joining the team is San Francisco 49ers backup wide receiver Arnez Battle, who was recommended to the Steelers by new special teams coach Al Everest. It is not known if Battle was brought into to provide depth at wide receiver or to bolster special teams.

The Steelers also signed Will Allen, a career backup safety from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mike Tomlin knows Allen from his time as secondary coach in Tampa Bay.

But the Steelers weren’t done yet. They also signed Jonathan Scott, an offensive tackle for the Bills. Scott has been a back up for most of his career, but he started 8 games last year, and has started 14 games in his 4 NFL seasons.

Bye, Bye Limas Sweed, Tony Hills, Tryonne Carter, and Stefan Logan?

While these moves come as somewhat of a surprise they could mean that Limas Sweed, Tony Hills, Tryonne Carter, and Sefan Logan’s careears as Steelers are over.

Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say on that later.

Click here to read every post in the Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus series.

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Steelers Free Agency Focus: Restricted Free Agents

While this fall short of “cheating” it is easier to write about the Steelers restricted free agency plans given that they have already made their tenders, and free agency is underway in a big way in Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, there are some interesting scenarios to ponder.

  • OT Willie Colon:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: The Steelers offered Colon the second highest tender possible, meaning any team would have to give up their first round pick to get Colon, and the Steelers would still retain the right to match any offer.

What Happens Next….: Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette speculated that a team might just give up a first rounder to get a qualified tackle. Since then, he has called around the league and thinks that is less likely.

The Steelers would likely match any reasonable offer for Colon, and one would think they would attempt to sign him to a long term deal.

  • CB William Gay:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: How much can a player’s stock drop in one year?During Steelers 2008 season, Gay’s performance in relief of injured Bryant McFadden was so good that he continued to rotate with the veteran all the way through Super Bowl XLIII.

The Steelers did want to resign McFadden, because of the potential Gay revealed with his play in 2008, the Steelers opted not to get into a bidding war for McFadden.

2009, was of course, a rough year for Gay, as it was the entire secondary. The Steelers’ tender only entitles them to a 5th round pick should anyone elect to sign him with the Steelers declining their right of first refusal.

What Happens Next….: It is doubtful that Gay will get a lot of attention, but a fifth round pick isn’t much to give up to get a corner that has starting experience. The Steelers do have two young corners waiting in the wings. While the drop off in Gay’s play from 2008 to 2009 was disturbing, this young man deserves another chance, and Steel Curtain Rising hopes he gets it with the Steelers.

  • P Daniel Sepulveda:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: Again, the Steelers tender will only entitle them to a 4th round pick should he depart.

What Happens Next….: The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette has been railing against Sepulveda since they day the drafted him. Three years later the move seems puzzling. While Sepulveda was clearly an upgrade from Mitch Berger, the naked truth remains that if you trade a sixth round pick to move up in the fourth to get a punter, that punter had better remind everyone of Josh Miller.

Sepulveda has been good, but thus far reminds no one of Josh Miller. On the flip side, the odds of another team giving up a fourth to sign Sepulveda are remote to say the least.

  • RB Carey Davis:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: The Steelers cut Carey Davis in training camp, and quickly experienced an acute bout of buyers remorse when it was clear that Frank “The Tank” Summers was not up to the job and/or got injured. The Steelers did not make Davis and offer, so he is now an unrestricted free agent.

What Happens Next….: Davis became the poster boy for Bruce Arians’ offense, as Dan Kreider was quietly phased out in 2007 in favor of the supposedly more versatile Davis.

Davis had done OK when he’s gotten the ball in his hands, but those moments have been few and far between. While the Steelers could do worse the Davis for depth in the backfield, outside of special teams, where Davis is regarded as a contributor, Davis has yet to show he is more than a emergency-type player.

It wouldn’t hurt to bring Davis back to camp for the veteran minimum, but that is not looking likely right now.

  • TE Matt Spaeth:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: Spaeth got the tender that would entitle the Steelers to a 3rd round draft pick should he leave.

What Happens Next….: Spaeth is a perplexing character. Bruce Arians likes to use the two tight end set, but Spaeth’s blocking puts fear into no one.

The puzzling thing is that Spaeth can catch. He started his first two NFL games with three catches and two touchdowns, prompting Mike Tomlin say he is a fantasy league super star. Injuries limited during the middle of the 2007 campaign, but he finished the year with five catches and three touchdowns.

Spaeth, looked like a Yancy Thigpen in waiting. (In his first full year as a Steeler, Thigpen only caught nine balls, but three of them were for touchdowns.)

When Health Miller went down for a brief stretch during the 2008 season, Spaeth stepped up, catching six passes in both games for 53 and 55 yards. Once again, Speath showed us he had tools, only to disappear from the offense (he caught two more passes during the rest of the year.)
Spaeth started 2009 by catching a touchdown pass in week two against Chicago, but then he became invisible offense. Why the Steelers do not attempt to use him more remains a mystery.

  • OG Darnell Stapleton:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: Stapelton got no tender, and is therefore an unrestricted free agent.

What Happens Next….: Who knows? Trust into the starting lineup when Kendall Simmons went down against Baltimore in 2008, Stapleton slowly grew into the role. He was beaten out of the starting guard spot by Trai Essex in training camp, and then Stapelton he got hurt in went on IR.

The word is that Stapleton was a victim of the glut the Steelers have at guard. Quantity the Steelers do have behind their starters. Quality? That is a bigger question. Assuming no team signs him, the Steelers would be wise to bring Stapleton back to Latrobe for one more look.

Click on Steel Curtain Rising’s Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus to follow all of the Steelers actions in free agency.

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Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus: Unrestricted Free Agents

The market is about to open on NFL free agents, and unless the NFL owners and NFLPA reach an agreement before midnight March 4th, the NFL will see its first uncapped year since 1993.

In many cities, free agency is a time of great excitement, momentous headlines spurred by even more momentous signing bonuses.

Free Agency has never been as such in Steelers Nation. During the 1990’s, it was a time that Steelers fans dreaded, as fans watched the brain trust of Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher develop players like Chad Brown, Willie Williams, Neil O’Donnell and Yancy Thigpen only to see them depart for greener pastures.

The Age of Overpaying Ex-Steelers

Although it did not get much ink at the time, the truth was that almost without exception, the players that the Steelers lost got overpaid, often grossly over paid, by their new teams.

The best example, perhaps, is John Jackson, a very good, although not great left tackle who the San Diego Chargers made the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history in 1998. This occurred despite the fact that Johnson never even made a Pro Bowl.

Losing Jackson wrought havoc with the Steelers offensive line for two years, just look at Jerome Bettis rushing totals from 1998 and 1999, but Steelers management was nonetheless wise not to throw money at Jackson, who would only play 2 years for the Chargers, before resurfacing in a part-time role in his native Cincinnati.

Free Agency Savvy, Before Free Agency Savvy was Cool

The Steelers of course, navigated the salary cap and free agency with an under appreciated savvy in the 1990’s. They targeted the players they knew were essential to winning, and focused on resigning them.

That strategy only began to falter when their drafting faltered. John Jackson provides the perfect example. In 1996 they drafted Jermaine Stephens, with the thought that he’d be Jackson’s eventual replacement.

Stephens, of course, ranks right up there with Huey Richardson as one of the Steelers all time first round draft pick busts.

That period of Steelers history provides many examples. Losing players like Yancy Thigpen and Ernie Mills would not have been as devastating had players like Will Blackwell and Jaheen Arnold panned out.

They didn’t, and the Steelers suffered accordingly.

The Steelers and Free Agency, 2010

We already know, from both Kevin Colbert and Art II that the Steelers are going to operate as if their were a cap. No surpise there.

And we know their preference is to resign their own players, having already done so with Casey Hampton and placing the franchise tag on Jeff Reed.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the other free agents the Steelers have, commenting on what the Steelers should do and speculating on what might actually happen.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 Unrestricted Free Agents

  • QB Charlie Batch:

What the Steelers Should Do: Batch has become injury prone. He was in for 3-4 plays against Kansas City, and he still managed to break his wrist. Should some other veteran back up, say, a Bryon Leftwich, become available, the Steelers should consider signing him.

What Will Likely Happen: Word is the Steelers want Charlie Batch. Batch is a class act, a locker room leader, and one of Ben’s confideants. The Steelers will most likely bring back Batch, to serve as a mentor type role for Dennis Dixon and emergency quarterback.

  • LB Rocky Boiman:

What the Steelers Should Do: Brought in at mid-season to bolster the special teams, Boiman is not much of a known quantity. Clearly he is not going to get much attention one way or another, but if the tape shows he helped on special teams, by all means bring him back!

What Will Likely Happen: Hard to say. The Steelers generally make moves under the radar in free agency, and it is likely that they can find a younger, more able special teamer who is an UFA.

  • SS Tyrone Carter:

What the Steelers Should Do: My Argentine wife, who has seen few football games end-to-end, did not need to see more than 5 minutes of Carter to say, “He’s no Polamalu.” So true. If the Steelers were deep in the secondary, perhaps Carter would have place. But he no longer has any business as the number one back up at both safety slots.

What Will Likely Happen: Not much has been said about him, but after the awful year he put in relief of Troy Polamalu, you’d have to figure the Steelers would be open to replacing him.

  • FS Ryan Clark:

What the Steelers Should Do: Another member of the secondary of flatered badly in Troy Polamalu’s absence. But Clark is a harder nut to crack. The Steelers clearly missed him in 2007, and Clark made an impact throughout 2008, so much that many commentators projected him to be the number one free agent in 2010. But he played poorly in 2009. The Steelers nonetheless want to sign him before he it’s the market. Steel Curtain Rising questions whether this is a wise move or not.

What Will Likely Happen: This one is tough to predict. The Steelers say they want to sign him, and Clark’s agent keeps boasting of a “home town discount.” One wonders if this isn’t a ploy because he knows Clark’s value has dropped after the 2009 season.

On the flip side, Clark is reputed to have maintained a strong relationship with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Snyder has always spent as if there were no cap, so one can imagine him without a salary cap. If Ryan Clark hits free agency, Daniel Snyder could a ridiculous sum at him – and perhaps do the Steelers a favor in the process.

  • DE Nick Eason

What the Steelers Should Do: One of the under reported stories of the 2009 season was that the Steelers’ run defense held up quite well, at least for a month or so, after Aaron Smith’s absence. Nick Eason played a role in making that happen. Eason is a serviceable back up whom the Steelers should bring back.

What Will Likely Happen: If the Steelers believe in Sunny Harris, it is unlikely that they’ll bring both Eason and Krischke back. One would figure they’d opt for the younger pair of legs.

  • WR Joey Galloway

What the Steelers Should Do: Mike Tomlin likes Joey Galloway, and wanted him on his team. Galloway’s best days are behind him, and could only be a spot contributor under the best if circumstances. The Steelers should focus more on developing their youth at wide receiver.

What Will Likely Happen: It is doubtful that Galloway will be on the field when the Steelers open camp in Latrobe.

  • DE Travis Kirschke:

What the Steelers Should Do: Kirschke, like Eason, deserves credit for helping the Steelers avert a total drop off in run defense, like the one they suffered in 2007 after they lost Smith. Still, Kirschke is well into his mid-30’s. The Steelers need to look toward developing their youth on the defensive line, and Kirschkey would seem the odd man out.

What Will Likely Happen: Again, it really depends on what the Steelers coaches see in Sunny Harris. The presence of both Kirschke and Eason in Latrobe would not be a ringing endorsement of the coach’s faith in Harris.

  • RB Willie Parker:

What the Steelers Should Do: What to do with Willie Parker? Those who decried the Steelers refusal to offer him a new contract in train camp quickly repented once the season was underway.

Yet, Willie Parker came back with a vengeance at the end of the season, and Parker’s running was critical to the Steelers ability to run out the clock. Parker, apparently, still thinks of himself as a starter, but it is doubtful that he is still a 16 game, 20 plus carry player.

The Steelers should try to bring him back, but only after he really gets a chance to test his market value.

What Will Likely Happen: The Steelers are going to let Parker test his market value, whether he comes back or not is a mystery. Chances are, Parker will be wearing colors other than Black and Gold next fall.

  • CB Deshea Townsend

What the Steelers Should Do: Townsend is a hard one to figure. The logical answer is that 2009 was the year that Townsend could no longer fool father time. There may be something to that, but the entire Steelers secondary was spooked in 2009, not a single man played to his potential.

Even if Townsend may have slowed a step, he is still a veteran presence, and most likely still has something to contribute. He may no longer have the speed to cut it as a nickel back, but it says here he has the still to merit a shot a safety.

What Will Likely Happen: At his age, and coming off of the year he’s had, it is unlikely that Townsend will get a lot of attention in free agency, although with the uncapped year, such pronouncements are less certain. But the odds still favor Townsend coming back.

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Steelers Resign Casey Hampton, Franchise Jeff Reed

Running your own blog can be like wielding a double edged sword. Too frequently you get ideas that you just don’t have time to write about, an undying frustration, yet there are moments where that is a blessing.

And the Steelers decision to resign Casey Hampton, which the Steelers did on Thursday to the tune of 3 years for 21 million dollars with a 6.5 million dollar signing bonus, is a perfect example.

This time 24 hours ago, yours truly was set to populate Steel Curtain Rising with an entry warning of the dangers of resigning Casey Hampton.

Now that the Steelers have resigned him, I have changed my mind.

The Steelers decision to lock Hampton down for three years carries some risk, they all do, but on the whole the made the right decision.

The Down Side to Signing Hampton

Casey Hampton is 32. And he is big. So big that his weight going into training camp caused a discipline flare up between Hampton and Mike Tomlin.

The fact is that excess weight can cause a player to get old fast, think of Levon Kirkland.

Some of my skepticism is rooted in the fact that Steel Curtain Rising heartily cheered the decision to sign James Farrior to a multi-year deal when he was in his mid-30’s. Farriors’ play dropped of last year, and he is only beginning the new contract he signed.

Beyond that, although the average age of the Steelers defensive line corps did drop from 2008 to 2009, the starting front three is aging.

It would seem that the Steelers need to commit to investing in youth. At first blush signing Hampton for 3 more years appears to be a move in the opposite direction.

Why Signing Hampton Was the Right Move

But things are not always what they appear.

The Steelers do need to invest in youth, and ironically signing Hampton might give them a better chance to do that.

Franchising Hampton would have kept him around for 2010, any other alternative would have left a gaping hole in the Steelers defense. Ensuring that Hampton stays around for 2010 is one thing, but that only post-pones the inevitable, and the Hampton has no heir apparent. (Chris Hoke is 33.)

Had the Steelers used the franchise tag on Hampton, they would have been all but forced to draft a nose tackle in the first or second round of the 2010 NFL draft.

Drafting a nose tackle capable defensive lineman might still be a good idea, but it is never wise to put yourself in a position where you’re forced to draft exclusively for need.

The Steelers 1999 draft provides the perfect example. Desperate for wide receivers, the Steelers reached to pick Troy Edwards with the 13th pick, thereby passing up no less than six future Pro Bowlers in the process.

With Hampton under contract for three more years, the Steelers have the luxury of drafting a quality offensive lineman, shut down corner, stout inside linebacker or other premium player who happens to be on the board.

Jeff Reed Gets the Franchise Tag

The other good part about signing Hampton is that it allows the Steelers to use the franchise tag on Jeff Reed. Not only can the Steelers match any offer Reed gets, but any team wanting to sign Reed will have to give up two first round draft picks – that is not going to happen.

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