Panthers Bouncing Brandon Boykin Reinforces Fundamental Fact: Kevin Colbert Makes Good Decisions

Steelers OTA’s will bring a week of fresh news to Steelers Nation, as last week’s biggest “Steelers story” was the Carolina Panthers cutting Brandon Boykin less than two months after signing him to a one year $840,000 contract in favor of Shaquille Richardson.

  • Someday a college professor somewhere will write a paper about the role that the internet and social media play in sustaining Steelers Nation.

In the early ‘90’s a story like the Boykins, outside of Pittsburgh, would have merited maybe a line at two the “Transactions” column crammed at the back of a sports page. Don’t believe me? That’s how the Boston Globe treated the Panther’s decision to cut Barry Foster after the Steelers had traded him.

  • Today every Steelers site dutifully wrote their “Panthers cut former Steeler Brandon Boykin”  post
  • Steelers Nation simultaneously debated the decision on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat.

So be it. This isn’t a Watch Tower post, but rather one that shows how the Boykin story illustrates a basic point:

  • Kevin Colbert usually makes good personnel decisions.

Ah you say, but what about Dri Archer and Shamarko Thomas to name two recent, high profile draft day disappointments?

Fair enough. Kevin Colbert doubtlessly would like to have both draft picks back. But NFL drafting success is part art, part science and part blind luck. But when it comes to evaluating the talent on the Steelers roster, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are pretty good decision makers.

When Brandon Boykin signed with the Panthers, large swaths of Steelers Nation reacted as if the Steelers had just lost Rod Blount Boykin, to use a phrase coined by Dale Lolley. A case could be made for keeping Boykin, but he was no Rod Woodson or Mel Blount. Nor was he an Ike Taylor or even a Deshea Townsend.

  • Pittsburgh’s decision to go all in on Senquez Golson, Doran Grant and an unnamed draft pick (now Artie Burns) certainly carries risk for Steelers 2016 title hopes.

But now Ron Rivera and Dave Gettleman, two guys who just took their team to the Super Bowl, have made decided to trust in Shaquille Richardson over Brandon Boykin. Richardson, if you’ll remember, was the Steelers 2014 5th round draft pick who got cut in training camp and has yet to play a down of NFL football.

  • None of this should suggest that Kevin Colbert remains immune from making personnel mistakes.

That is hardly the case. The Steelers let Ryan Mundy go in 2013 and if his stat sheet is any guide, he’s had two solid seasons in New York and Chicago. That same off season, the Steelers gave up on Willie Colon due to his injury history and opted not to renew Doug Legursky’s contract. You’d better believe that when Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year and Mike Adams couldn’t cut it at right tackle, Mike Tomlin wished he’d had either Colon or Legursky at his disposal

  • Keenan Lewis is another player the Steelers let get away in the 2013 off season that they wish they could have back.

But the decisions to let Mundy, Colon, Lewis and to some extent Legursky walk were as much or almost as much the result of salary cap restrictions as they were results of talent evaluations. That doesn’t exempt Colbert from criticism, because a general manager has to make those choices.

  • But outside of Lewis, Colon and Mundy, you’d be hard pressed to find someone the Steelers cut who thrived elsewhere.

What about Kraig Urbik?

Urbik is certainly one of the “ Ones that got away” from the Steelers 2009 draft class, but the Steelers wanted to keep Urbik, but were forced to expose him to the wavier wire because Byron Leftwich’s injury forced the Steelers to keep Charlie Batch on the roster during Ben Roethlisberger’s 2010 suspension. Urbik’s started 57 games for the Bills over the last six seasons, but the Steelers decision to keep Batch looked pretty smart when Dennis Dixon went down in week 2.

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin may miss on draft picks. They might overestimate the development potential of a player, such as Cortez Allen. They might trade for guys who disappoint, such as Levi Brown, Felix Jones or…. Brandon Boykin.

But when the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin let a guy go, its not too often you’ll see the guy make a name for himself elsewhere.

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How Long Does It Take to Grade an NFL Draft? 5 Years & the Steelers 2011 Draft Class Shows Why

How long does it take to grade an NFL Draft class? Google “2016 NFL Draft Grades” you’ll get 3,980,000 returns. OK, the 2016 NFL Draft hasn’t generated 4 million report cards, but there’s no shortage of grading done on a draft that’s less than a week old.

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Image Credit: Real Sport 101

  • Instant draft grades are understandable, enjoyable but ultimately meaningless.

True NFL draft evaluation takes years. How many? Well, Dale Lolley suggests 3 years suffices. That’s reasonable. Four years offers a natural number because that’s when players become free agents. A draft class has certainly revealed a lot about itself in four years.

  • But 5 years is really the magic number when it comes to draft evaluation.

Were Chuck Noll still with us, he would applaud. 5 Years might seem a little too long to wait, and 5 years certainly is an eternity a Twitterized, update by the second sports landscape. But think about it. IT makes a lot of sense, and the Steelers 2011 Draft Class provides a compelling example.

Why Wait 5 Years to Evaluate a Draft?

Let’s concede that 5 years IS a long time to wait to grade an NFL draft class, especially when you consider that the average pro football career is 4 years. But, as your statistics teacher told you (or will tell you) the mean gives you the balance point of your data set.

  • For an NFL draft class that half of every NFL draft class is out of the league by the end of year four.

That also means that by year five you’re going to a meaningful body of work, or “data set” if you will, on everyone from that class. Guys who hung on simply because they were playing on inexpensive rookie contracts will be out of the league by then.

Others who were late bloomers (think Brett Keisel) will have established themselves. Players who might not have been a good fit for the team the drafted them will have found success elsewhere (think James Farrior and Ryan Mundy).

  • That sounds logical on paper, but 5 years STILL seems like too long a time.

A look at the evolution of the Steelers 2011 Draft Class shows why prudent draft evaluations come after 5 years.

Evolution of the Steelers 2011 NFL Draft Class

Drafting second to last in each round is the price you pay for making it to the Super Bowl and losing, but despite that the Steelers 2011 Draft was well received. Kevin Colbert labled the Steelers first pick as a historic day for the franchise. The Steelers met their needs, at least theoretically.

  • Cameron Heyward, the Steelers 2011 first round pick did not play much that season.

That’s no surprise, as Aaron Smith started the season, Brett Keisel was still in his prime, and Ziggy Hood had finished 2010 with a bang (yes, its true, people forget that.) Marcus Gilbert got a baptism by fire when Willie Colon was lost for the season and won the rookie of the year award. And Cortez Allen saw spot duty, but showed a lot of promising signs.

  • Still, no meaningful evaluation of the 2011 Draft class was possible at season’s end.

In 2012 Steelers Nation got to see more. Chris Carter got some starts while James Harrison was out, but could not hold off Jason Worilds. Cam Heyward got playing time but still didn’t start. Baron Batch returned from injury, but wasn’t the same (or the flashes he’d shown prior to tearing his ACL weren’t just that, flashes.) Marcus Gilbert started the season, but was out most of the year injured.

  • Cortez Allen started late in the year and looked like Mel Butler Woodson.

After two years, it looked like some meaningful conclusions on the Steelers 2011 were Possible. But were they…?

Evaluation of Cameron Heyward was mixed. Some pointed to per-snap production stats that were far better than Ziggy Hood’s. Others concluded his failure to start was a warning sign of an impending bust. Some concluded that the Steelers decision to draft Mike Adams might spell trouble for Marcus Gilbert. Curtis Brown hadn’t shown anything when he got on the field.

  • The Steelers 2011 draft class did begin to sort itself out during 2013 – to a point.

Cam Heyward emerged as the stud that the Steelers drafted him to be, relegating Ziggy Hood to the bench. Marcus Gilbert’s start to the season was shaky, but by season’s end he had the starting job, and a new contract locked down. Cortez Allen got injured, and struggled a little, but finished strong. Chris Carter showed he wasn’t the answer, in contrast, and Baron Batch never made the final roster.

  • By the end of 2014, the argument for closing the books on a grade for the 2011 draft class was strong.

Cameron Heyward continued to terrorize offenses, while Marcus Gilbert quietly settled into becoming one of the better right tackles in the league. Curtis Brown and Baron Batch were out of football (as was Keith Williams). Chris Carter was bouncing around the league.

  • Yet Cortez Allen remained an enigma.

The Steelers thought enough of his first three seasons of production and his work in preseason to extend his contract. And based on past experience with Steelers DB’s, Cortez Allen looked poised to have a breakout year. Except he didn’t. He struggled in coverage. He lost his starting job, then was benched, then went to IR.

  • By season’s end, four year’s had elapsed since the Steelers made their picks in 2011 NFL Draft, yet a definitive grade remained elusive.

A Cortez Allen rebound could transform and “OK” grade on the Steelers 2011 Draft to a good or even great one. Alas, Cortez Allen didn’t rebound. Either because of injury or aptitude, he didn’t play outside of the Steelers opener vs. New England and went on IR earlier in the year. Last month the Steelers cut Cortez Allen.

Waiting 5 years to grade an NFL Draft Class isn’t sexy and it won’t win you many page clicks. But if you really want a meaningful draft evaluation, then you really must way 5 years.

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Another Experiment Ends: Steelers cut Mike Adams

Reports of a glut of depth for the Steelers at the offensive tackle position have been greatly exaggerated….” – Myron Bouchette Twain

The Pittsburgh Steelers decision to select Jerald Hawkins in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft turned a few heads, given that the Steelers already had starters Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva, had signed Denver Broncos Super Bowl veteran Ryan Harris, and were going to get 2012’s 1st round pick Mike Adams who was injured in 2016.

  • The Steelers depth at offensive tackle just got a little thinner.

In what amounts to a minor surprise move, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin made some roster moves including one which saw the Steelers cut Mike Adams, doing so with the designation of “Failed Physical.”

Mike Adams began 2015 on the PUP or physically unable to perform list because he needed back surgery. Theoretically, Adams could have return to the team later in the season, but reports indicated that was never a realistic possibility. Nor is his return to the team in 2016 a possibility either.

  • Exactly when, where or how Mike Adams injured his back is not clear.

Per Pro Football Reference, Mike Adams appeared in all 16 of the Steelers 2014 regular season contests, as well as in their playoff loss to the Ravens. News that he needed back surgery at the beginning of training camp amount to somewhat of a surprise.

  • Regardless, the Steelers Mike Adams experiment is now over.

Mike Adams entered the 2012 NFL Draft as a highly rated prospect, one whom many had projected as a first round pick. Then he failed a pre-scheduled drug test at the NFL Combine, prompting the Steelers to drop him from their draft board. Adams personally travled to Pittsburgh to plead his case, and the Steelers turned heads by drafting Adams in the 2nd round.

The immediate plan was to give Adams a shot at starting at left tackle, but it became clear in training camp that Adams was not ready, prompting the Steelers to turn to Max Starks one last time. Adams did start four games in relief of Marcus Gilbert in 2012 and played well. The following summer, Mike Adams earned the left tackle starting job in training camp….

…But all was not well. Adams struggled early and often. By the third game of the season, a night game on the road vs. Chicago and Ben Roethlisberger looked like his head was spinning, as Dale Lolley’s tweet suggests:

While Mike Tomlin had already begun to work Kelvin Beachum in at both tackle positions, it was Mike Adams who visibly struggled the most. Things worsened a week later, when a Steelers rally in London was stymied when Mike Adams gave up a sack near the goal line.

  • The Steelers benched Adams, and started Beachum.

Many fans gave up on Adams at that point and his getting stabbed on the South Side in June did not help Adam’s standing much in Steelers Nation. But the Steelers continued to show faith in Adams, and Adams did well in his four starts in 2014 in place of Marcus Gilbert.

In addition to cutting Mike Adams, the Steelers also cut running back Abou Toure and kicker Ty Long.

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Steelers Draft Jerald Hawkins in 4th Round, Bolster Offensive Tackle Depth

Having addressed their top three needs of cornerback, safety and defensive tackle in the first two days of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers turned to selecting their value picks on day 3. The fourth round saw the Steelers draft Jerald Hawkins, an offensive tackle out of LSU.

The 2016 Steelers Draft Needs Matrix rated offensive tackle as Pittsburgh’s 7th most pressing need to address in the 2016 NFL Draft, although the operating principle behind that matrix is to pick the best player available, only resorting to need when necessary.

Jerald Hawkins was a three year starter at LSU, logging 25 starts at right tackle and 12 starts at left tackle. Dale Lolley has suggested that Hawkins could also slide over and work at guard if necessary….

…Although as Lolley indicated, at the point the Steelers are planning to keep Jerald Hawkins at tackle

Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak has said he does not yet know whether the Steelers will focus on developing Hawkins as a right or a left guard. The Steelers current starting guards are Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva, with newcomer Ryan Harris and Mike Adams returning.

  • On the face of it, Mike Adams appears to be most threatened by the Steelers selection of Jerald Hawkins.

Mike Munchak looks forward to the competition

That’s a good problem to have. For me, I’m excited because I have a lot of options on what we can do. We’re just going to get better having the type of guys that we have. There’s no plan right now on who is playing where. It’s more or less just bringing them in, letting them compete, getting them reps and kind of see who rises to the top, who pushes the envelope.

Every position coach says this at draft time, but anything that brings out the best in the men charged with protection Ben Roethlisberger is a positive.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Jerald Hawkins.

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Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Offensive Tackle

Offensive tackle is arguably the most important position on the offensive line, as the tackles are the players charged with defending against the defense’s edge rushers. Yet, for all the moaning about how long the Steelers have gone without draft a cornerback in the first round (last time was Chad Scott in 1997), Pittsburgh as gone longer without drafting an offensive tackle with their first round pick.

…OK, that pick didn’t work out so well, but does that mean that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin should end the drought in the 2016 NFL Draft?

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Steelers Depth Chart @ Offensive Tackle Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starter

Marcus Gilbert has been the Steelers starting right tackle since Willie Colon injured himself in the 2011 opening day debacle vs. the Ravens. Gilbert started 13 games in 2011, but injuries limited him to four in 2012. Gilbert’s hold on a starting job was challenged in 2013 when coaches alternated Kelvin Beachum with both Gilbert and Mike Adams, but since Gilbert’s benching, he’s been the starter, although injuries did cost Gilbert 4 games in 2014.

  • Following the 2014 season Pro Football Focus rated Gilbert as the 10th best pass rushing right tackle.

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had obviously come to a similar conclusion several months earlier, as they’d resigned Gilbert to a 5 year contract.

Playing on the other side of Gilbert is Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate, former US Army Ranger, and veteran of Afghanistan.

Villanueva spent 2014 on the Steelers practice squad, after the Steelers picked him up off of waivers from the Eagles, and moved him to the offensive side of the ball. While Alejandro Villanueva still must prove himself, the Steelers felt comfortable enough in his abilities that the allowed Kelvin Beachum to depart as a free agent.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Offensive Tackle Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

While the Steelers clearly like Alejandro Villanueva, they’re hedging their bets when it comes to protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side, which was made clear by their decision to sign free agent tackle Ryan Harris from the Denver Broncos. Harris has over 70 starts to his name, and started all 16 games for the Super Bowl champions.

Oft forgotten, the Steelers also have Mike Adams who sat out 2015 on the PUP list, but will return for to play out the final year of his rookie contract. It remains to be seen if Adams can recover from the back surgery that ruined his 2015 season, but it should be noted that Adams did play well in relief of Gilbert in 2014.

The Steelers also enter the 2016 NFL Draft with Brian Mihalik and Matt Feiler, the latter of whom spent 2015 on the Steelers practice squad following stints on the Houston Texans practice squad in 2014.

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Offensive Tackle

steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016So, one week out from the 2016 NFL Draft the Steelers have one proven starter at offensive tackle, another starter-designate who shows a lot of potential, a Super Bowl veteran backup, and another player who will probably not live up to his billing as a second round pick, but could provide valuable depth.

  • They also have two untested NFL roster bottom feeders.

That is a good, although not great place to be in terms of depth. Starting-caliber offensive tackles do not grow on trees, as the Steelers learned in 2011 when they were forced to turn to Max Starks after Jonathan Scott proved he couldn’t cut the mustard.

  • Offensive tackle clearly isn’t a high priority for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2016 NFL Draft, but what priority should it take?

The Steelers have an insurance policy behind both starters, and if Mike Adams regains his health, they’ll have another one.

There is never a bad time to draft an offensive tackle with an eye towards developing him for the future, but given the Steelers depth at tackle and their other needs, the Steelers 2016 draft need at offensive tackle must be considered Moderate Low.

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Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Guard – Time to Put Depth Behind DeCastro, Foster

The Pittsburgh Steelers began their offensive line rebuilding process in 2010 by picking Maurkice Pounce with their first round pick and effectively concluded that process in 2012 when they picked David DeCastro in the first round followed by Mike Adams in the second.

After years of injury-induced turmoil on the offensive line, the Steelers appear to have learned that you can never have too many good offensive lineman on your roster. That’s a lesson well taken, but does it mean that the Steelers should make guard a high priority in the 2016 NFL Draft?

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Steelers Depth Chart @ Guard Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters

With David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, the Pittsburgh Steelers have two excellent starters at guard.

Ramon Foster made the team in 2009 as an undrafted rookie free agent, and since then he’s appeared in 102 games and started in 87 of them. Foster has been both durable and dependable, and served as an important mentor to Alejandro Villanueva after Kelvin Beachum went down. The Steelers have resigned Foster, leaving little doubt about his future in Pittsburgh.

Starting on the other side of Pouncey is David DeCastro, who after an injury marred rookie season, is developing into a the ass-kicker the Steelers envisioned when he fell to them in the 2012 NFL Draft. DeCastro has played in 51 games and has started in 50 of them. The Steelers are expected to ink DeCastro to a long term deal this off season.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Guard Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

The depth behind Foster and DeCastro is both thin and untested. Outside of Cody Wallace, who also serves as the primary backup at center, none of the players have any NFL regular season game experience to speak of.

Chris Hubbard is the team’s most experienced backup, having appeared in 7 games in 2015 and one game in 2014 after spending all of 2013 on the Steelers practice squad.

  • Behind Hubbard, the Steelers have B.J. Finney and Cole Manhart.

B.J. Finney was part of the Steelers 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class and spent the entire season on their practice squad. The Steelers signed Cole Manhart to reserve/futures contract earlier this year, and Manhart spent time in the Eagles and Saints training camps, and joined the Oakland Raider’s practice squad in December 2015.

Doug Legursky was on the Steelers roster during 2015 as a backup center but has experience at guard. However, the Steelers have shown no interest in resigning Legursky who remains a free agent.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Guard

Clearly, the Steelers are not going to invest a number one pick in a guard. Their needs simply do not justify that. The fact that Chris Hubbard is still around shows that the Steelers see something they like in him, and the Steelers have a way of developing undrafted rookie free agents into solid NFL lineman.

  • Between Foster, DeCastro and Wallace, the Pittsburgh Steelers have 3 men who can play guard in the NFL.

That’s good. But one injury can change the Steelers calculus at guard in a hurry. The Steelers needs on the defensive side of the ball are so acute that they can probably safely ignore guards in rounds 1-3, but after that they need to take a serious look at who is left on the board when their time comes.

Therefore, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 draft need at guard must be considered Moderate.

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X-Factors Cloud Steelers Choices on Free Agent Kelvin Beachum

Of all the free agent choices the Pittsburgh Steelers must make in 2016, perhaps none is surrounded by as many X-Factors as the decision they must make on soon to be free agent left tackle Kelvin Beachum.

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Capsule Profile of Kelvin Beachum’s Career with the Steelers

The next time someone tells you that 7th round picks are worthless, remind them of Kelvin Beachum’s story. The Steelers drafted Beachum in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, making him one of 4 7th round picks that season.

All of the other picks washed out, save for some limited contributions from David Paulson, but Kelvin Beachum began paying immediate dividends. As a rookie Beachum appeared in seven games and started in five, making his first start in the Charlie Batch led Steelers road upset over the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens.

Beachum tarted the final 5 contests at right tackle for the injured Marcus Gilbert, and heading into his sophomore season, the Steelers plan was to use Beachum as a 3rd tight end and backup at all five offensive line positions….

….That plan did not live past the Steelers first series, as an inadvertent David DeCastro collision with Maurkice Pouncey cost Pouncey the season, and Beachum was there playing center for the first time in his football life.

Fernando Velasco’s arrival alleviated freed Beachum from his duties at center, but Steelers coaches quickly began rotating him in with Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert in an effort to shore up the Steelers porous pass protection.

Following the Steelers loss in London to the Vikings, where Jared Allen tormented Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers benched Mike Adams and installed Kelvin Beachum as their starting left tackle, where he would not miss a game until tearing his ACL in the Steelers win over the Arizona Cardinals.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Kelvin Beachum

The Steelers wanted to extend Kelvin Beachum’s contract before the 2015 season began, but the two sides could not reach an agreement. In doing so, Beachum probably sacrificed several million dollars of signing bonus. Clearly, the Steelers coaches like Beachum.

Alejandro Villanueva stepped in as the starter, and while he struggle, he improved down the stretch, and gives the Steelers a more prototypical left tackle at a bargain rookie contract rate. The Steelers plan was to resign Beachum and move him to guard, but Beachum is ruling out a move to guard.

If salary cap considerations could be ignored, the Steelers could probably sign Beachum to a reasonable contract, given his injury status, and have Villanueva play as a swing tackle. But the Steelers salary cap situation does not give them that kind of flexibly.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Kelvin Beachum

If the Steelers believe that Alejandro Villanueva is a long term starter at left tackle, then it is impossible to make the case that the Steelers should resign Kelvin Beachum as a tackle, and if he does not wish to play guard, then there really is no place for Beachum on the 2016 Steelers.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Kelvin Beachum

How serious is Kelvin Beachum when he says he will not move to guard for the Steelers or any other NFL team?

That really is the operative question. His language was clear and unequivocal, but quite frankly this is exactly what prospective free agents are supposed to say.

Even if Beachum meant it when he said it, there’s no assurance that some NFL team is going to offer him the type of starting money as a left tackle that he wants, not when he’s coming off an ACL tear. If that happens an offer from the Steeler to play guard could suddenly get more attractive.

But if the Steelers allow both Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum to reach free agency, they are taking a huge gamble with their left guard position heading into free agency.

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin rarely base their personnel decisions out of fear, they opened free agency in 2009 by cutting Kendall Simmons and without either Chris Kemoeatu or Trai Essex under contract, so change in the Steelers offensive line could very well be in the air.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Steelers Free Agent Analysis Ramon Foster – Keeping Him Pittsburgh Might be Hard

Taken at face value, the career prospects of an undrafted rookie free agent who signs with the defending Super Bowl Champions look pretty bleak. Yet that’s exactly where Ramon Foster found himself in April of 2009, when the Steelers signed Foster as part of their 2009 undrafted rookie free agent class, just months after victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

Yet, 7 years later, Ramon Foste can count himself is one of the Pittsburgh Steelers hottest free agent commodities.

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Capsule Profile of Ramon Foster’s Career with the Steelers

Yet Foster showed enough on the fields of St. Vincents to get a shot in preseason, where he played well enough to make the final 53 man roster. Injuries to Chris Kemoeatu opened the door for Foster to crack the starting lineup, and neither Foster nor the Steelers have looked back.

Foster started 8 games in 2010, including Super Bowl XLV. He started 14 games in 2011, 16 games in 2012, 15 games in 2013, 14 games in 2014, and 16 games in 2015.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Ramon Foster

While Ramon Foster will crack the big 3-0 before opening in 2019, he’s an offensive guard with 5 straight seasons of starting experience under his belt, and no significant injuries to speak of. Not bad for an undrafted rookie free agent. Contrast that with the experience of Kendall Simmons, 2002’s first round pick whose career was essentially over thanks to injuries by the time he turned 30.

  • Ramon Foster has been a pillar of stability during a period of turmoil for the Steelers offensive line.

Ramon Foster might not be a road grading guard in the mold of David DeCastro or Alan Faneca, but his first start vs. the Ravens in 2009 marked the first game that the Steelers gave up no sacks, and his second start vs. Green Bay marked Ben Roethlisberger’s first 500 yard game. Who wouldn’t want a player like that?

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Ramon Foster

Back in the1980’s, the Washington Redskins had a middle linebacker named Neal Olkewicz. Olkewicz was one of those players who wasn’t quite big enough or fast enough, but he was good enough. Nonetheless, Joe Gibbs and Bobby Bethard continually tried to replace him, and Olkewicz continually beat back the Young Turks until retiring after a decade at age 32.

  • That little ditty highlights the difference of today’s NFL with the pre-free agency NFL.

The Redskins repeated attempts to replace Olkewicz were no-risk propositions because they neither had to worry about losing his services via free agency nor tying up salary cap money.

The Steelers are not so lucky with Ramon Foster. To that end, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell offers some interesting insights:

…when I asked two different coaches over the last two seasons whether [Kelvin} Beachum is a guy they’ll always be looking to replace, the exact answer each time was “No, but Ramon Foster is.”

The Steelers, word has it, want more mobility at left guard than Foster can give him, and will apparently consider their options.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Ramon Foster

There are no easy choices here. The Steelers leaked their ideal scenario and it is one that does not include Ramon Foster coming back. That scenario has Kelvin Beachum signing and extension and moving to guard while Alejandro Villanueva takes over at tackle with Mike Adams serving as a backup.

OK. Beachum is about to become a free agent and offensive takcles make more money than guards do.

So Beachum’s supposed to say he’ll never play guard. But those kind of statements indicate at least a willingness to test the market. If the Steelers give priority to Kelvin Beachum that means there’s no way to sign him before he becomes a free agent, and also likely means that Foster will be allowed to test the market.

  • While the Steelers salary cap situation is OK, there is still no shortage of teams with money to throw at experienced offensive lineman.

Offensive line depth is nothing to trifle with. The safe move would be to sign Beachum and allow Foster to test the market but that option is not likely open to the Steelers. Will the Steelers commit to signing Foster before he hits the market? Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin don’t make personnel decisions out of fear.

It would make another great “Steelers undrafted rookie free agent does good” story for Ramon Foster to ink and extension which give him a shot at ending his career in Pittsburgh. And that very well may happen. But the stars don’t quite seem to be lining up that way.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Steelers Free Agent Analysis – Clifton Geathers and Byron Stingily

With 20 players reaching unrestricted free agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of tough choices to make over who to extend and who to a let walk. In Steelers Nation debate rages furiously over whether players like Bruce Gradkowski or Ramon Foster should be welcomed back.

And then there is the case of defensive end Clifton Geathers and offensive tackle Byron Stingily

Capsule Profile of Clifton Geathers &  Byron Stingly’s Careers with the Steelers

When the Steelers placed Brett Keisel on injured reserve in 2014, ending his fabulous NFL career, they signed Clifton Geathers to “replace him.” Geathers never played a down, and Steel Curtain Rising considered writing an April Fools article titled, “Steelers Resign Clifton Geathers.” Then the Steelers actually went ahead and resigned Clifton Geathers…. Geathers lost weight, and Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell beamed about Geathers when asked about him after the 2015 NFL Draft.

  • Unfortunately, Geathers got injured in training camp, and still has not played a down for the Steelers.

Like Geathers, Bryon Stingily was an injury replacement who took Kelvin Beachum’s spot as the Alejandro Villanueva stepped into the starting role. Like Geathers, Byron Stingily has yet to play a down for the Steelers.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Clifton Geathers and Byron Stingily

Since coming to Pittsburgh in 2000, Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has had a knack for picking up quality “street free agents,” and that’s as strong as an argument as you can make for keeping either of these guys….

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Clifton Geathers and Byron Stingily

…Which is to say, it is a pretty weak argument. Neither man has proven much in the NFL and it is hard to think that the Steelers wouldn’t be able to find someone who can provide the same level of depth and perhaps bring greater upside.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Clifton Geathers and Byron Stingily

The fact is the Steelers need depth behind Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt and presently have NONE. They also have the matter of Steve McLendon being a free agent. Clifton Geathers knows the system, and Johnny Mitchell is boom or bust when it comes to developing young defensive lineman.

  • The Steelers can both shop for better alternatives AND bring Geathers back at a veteran minimum, no risk contract.

As for Byron Stingily, the Steelers have Mike Adams coming back for his final year and Alejandro Villanueva, should they be unable to resign Kelvin Beachum. Is Stingily a viable option? The fact the he did not play in 2015 would suggest he is not and the Steelers should seek their depth elsewhere.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Kelvin Beachum Nixes Move to Guard for Steelers or Other Team

The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2016 off season with close to a score of players reaching free agency, and no area is of greater concern than the offense line. The entire left side of their offense line is set to become free agents, as Kelvin Beachum seeks his second NFL contract and Ramon Foster seeks his third.

  • The Steelers plans for managing that situation just got more complicated.

The emergence of Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle gave the Steelers a cheaper, cheaper option at left tackle with no injury history. The return of Mike Adams gave the Steelers some depth at tackle, at least on paper. One of the options the Steelers strong considered, based on numerous leaks to the press, was to resign Kelvin Beachum and move him to guard.

  • Kelvin Beachum however is vetoing any sort of idea for the Steelers, or any other NFL team.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly, who is reporting from Super Bowl 50, Kelvin Beachum assures that should the Steelers or any other team ask him to move to guard, Beachum’s response will be “I am not going to say anything. I am just going to look at them like they are crazy.”

While the Steelers drafted Beachum as a tackle, he entered the 2013 season as the team’s primary backup at all five offensive line positions as well as the team’s third tight end. That changed in a hurry when Maurkice Pouncey went down to injury, forcing Beachum to center, although he was soon relieving Adams at left tackle.

  • Since then neither the Steelers nor Beachum have looked back.

Now, looking forward, it is harder to see a shared future from Beachum and the Steelers. While admitting that he would find it difficult to leave Pittsburgh, he also clearly signaled that he would consider other offers.

  • In his video, Mark Kaboly concludes that his declaration effectively ends Beachum’s time as a Steeler.

Kaboly might be right, although Beachum has not uttered the dreaded “It’s not up to me” phrase. At this stage of the free agency cycle, agents coach players to make carefully calculated statements, and Beachum’s assuring Kaboly that his ACL injury will not impact his free agent status is a perfect example. Beachum’s tune could change if free agency approaches and his agent’s phone does not start to ring.

But the headline “Kelvin Beachum Nixes Move to Guard” does not bode well for a future in Pittsburgh that sees Beachum protecting Ben Roethlisberger‘s blind side.

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