Definition of “At a Crossroads” The Steelers Mason Rudolph and Free Agency

What difference does 365 days make? For Mason Rudolph, everything.

Last year when Mason Rudolph reached free agency, I debated over whether it was worth the time to do a free agent profile on him or not. Omar Khan’s comment about “keeping the door open for Mason” nudged the scales in his favor.

  • But felt like an academic exercise.

But of course Mason Rudolph returned to Pittsburgh. He authored another strong preseason. Yet he remained nothing more than a clipboard holder until, wait for it, the eve of Christmas Eve when Rudolph began leading the franchise to the playoffs.

Now Mason Rudolph is a free agent again, and this time he’s the one holding… well at least some of the cards. Let’s take a look at how this could play out.

Mason Rudolph, Steelers vs Dolphins,

Mason Rudolph launches a 45 yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Capsule Profile of Mason Rudolph’s Career with the Steelers

The Steelers and Mason Rudolph have reached a cross roads. And they took a unique route to get here. So instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of Mason Rudolph’s journey with the Pittsburgh Steelers, we’ll instead focus on how that journey started.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Steelers 2022 Draft Class, Kevin Colbert last draft

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin at their final press conference. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Early in the 2018 off season Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell was working into his pre-draft profiles and devoted some time to Oklahoma’s Mason Rudolph, mentioning that Tomlin and Colbert had shown real interest.

In the comment’s section a reader shared a picture noting “Went to the osu game at Heinz Field. Colbert was never more than 5 feet away from him entire pregame.”

Yet, when the 2018 NFL Draft came the Steelers passed on Lamar Jackson and took Terrell Edmunds in the first round and then picked James Washington in the 2nd round (ouch!). But Kevin Colbert also robbed er um traded Martavis Bryant to the Raiders for a third round pick. And with that extra pic, the Steelers took Mason Rudolph.

Then two interesting factoid’s leaked: 1. The Steelers had a first round grade on Rudolph; 2. Rudolph was described as a “compromise pick.”

While Steel Curtain Rising has no access to sources on the South Side, the translation of the above into simple English is this: Kevin Colbert was Mason Rudolph’s champion.

  • If this is true then Rudolph’s career arc with the Steelers becomes easier to understand.
Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs, Steelers developing quarterbacks

Mason Rudoph and Joshua Dobbs square off @ St. Vincents. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

It easier to see why Mason Rudolph became the first quarterback of the Tomlin era to get benched for performance. The same can be said for Tomlin’s decision to bring back Joshua Dobbs, sign Dwayne Haskins, Mitch Trubisky and draft Kenny Pickett. Likewise, Tomlin’s decision to look past Rudolph’s strong performances during the 2022 and 2023 preseasons take on a different light.

  • That doesn’t necessarily mean that Tomlin mishandled Rudolph’s development.

In a non-football context you’d say, “the business drivers” of each of those decisions were strong. And in both 2022 and 2023, Rudolph only had one year remaining on his contract. Pickett and Trubisky had multiple years so it made perfect sense to focus precious practice and preseason snaps on that duo.

Now Mason Rudolph’s contract is about to expire. Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan and Art Rooney II all say they want him back.

But just how badly do they want him?

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Mason Rudolph

The Tomlin era has seen the Golden Age of Steelers third string quarterbacks. So when Rudolph resigned last spring, he seemed destined to get a start. He got four, including one in the playoffs.

  • And Mason Rudolph was undisputed best quarterback on the roster.

The Steelers fielded a different, more dynamic offense with number 2 at the helm. George Pickens exploded. Diontae Johnson did his damage. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren had some of their best games. The defense, freed from the obligation of carrying the team, also played some of its best ball despite being critically short-handed.

The only question is, what is Omar Khan waiting for?

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Mason Rudolph

Yes, Mason Rudolph looked good. He elevated the team. Everything about his four game audition, complete with the way he maintained his poise after the interception vs Buffalo says the Steelers would be insane to let him walk.

Yet, before cutting a check, the Steelers brass would be wise to remember a few names: Brock Osweiler, Matt Flynn, Rob Johnson and Scott Mitchell.

These are four NFL quarterbacks who parlayed varied amounts of success in a limited number of starts into mammoth free agent contracts to be starters elsewhere.

  • For those four, the grass truly was greener on the other side.

But none of these quarterbacks proved be worthy of their fortune, fame or salary cap space for the teams that signed them.

The only thing worse for the Steelers than losing Mason Rudolph would winning a bidding war to keep him. Mason Rudolph has shown he’s worth of an NFL starter’s contract, but light years away from earning a franchise quarterback deal.

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Mason Rudolph

Everyone wants Rudolph back and Rudolph seems open to it.

  • But there are three “but’s” at work here.
Mason Rudolph, Kenny Pickett, Steelers 2022 Training Camp, Steelers St. Vincents 2022

Mason Rudolph and Kenny Pickett in 2022 at St. Vincents. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

On the numbers side, you can take it at face value that the Steelers want to keep Rudolph in Pittsburgh. But you can also be sure that the Steelers have a number in mind and won’t go much beyond that (see Cam Sutton last spring.)

Then there’s a trust issue. Mike Tomlin has confirmed that Kenny Pickett will arrive at St. Vincents as the number 1 quarterback but assures that “He’ll have competition.” And Tomlin sounded serious. But he also sounded great to Melvin Ingram, Morgan Burnett and LeGarrette Blount who came to Pittsburgh as free agents and left disgruntled feeling that Tomlin promised them something he didn’t deliver.

  • This phenomenon isn’t limited to outsiders. Just ask James Harrison.

Finally, there’s Russell Wilson. The conventional wisdom has been that the Steelers would bring Mason Rudolph back to Pittsburgh to provide “competition” and if they couldn’t, they’d fall back to a veteran free agent such as Ryan Tannehill or Jacoby Brissett. But Russell Wilson has already visited the Steel City and talked with the Steelers brass.

  • Maybe this Russell Wilson flirtation is Omar Khan and company pressuring Rudolph to sign…
  • …but maybe it’s a signal that Tomlin doesn’t see Rudolph as a long-term starter and never will.

Mason Rudolph is good guy to have in the locker room. His teammates love him. He takes his preparation seriously. He puts the team first. He will elevate any quarterback room he joins.

In an ideal world for the Steelers, Rudolph would elevate the quarterback room in Pittsburgh. But if Russell Wilson’s visit to the Steelers is anything more than a “kick the tire” due diligence exercise, then that’s a clear signal that in Rudolph’s ideal world his NFL career will continue elsewhere.

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Multiplicity? New Steelers OLB Markus Golden’s Stats Nearly Identical to Bud Dupree’s

When the 2023 off season began, Steelers fans were unanimous about one move they wanted the team to make: Bring back Bud Dupree. Omar Khan tried, but Dupree declined.

  • Last week Steelers fans just might have gotten what they wanted anyway.

Last week the Steelers came to terms with Markus Golden, a free agent outside linebacker who has spent his career with the Arizona Cardinals sans a 23 game stint in 2019 and 2020 with the New York Giants.

Markus Golden, Le'Veon Bell

Markus Golden (far left wearing number 44) tackles Le’Veon Bell. Photo Credit: Shelley LIpton/UPI

Let me state at the outset that I know next to nothing about Markus Golden and stress that he deserves to be considered as is own man.

  • But statically speaking he appears to be Bud Dupree’s clone.

Just glance at some stats compiled by Carlos Ortega, founder of the Mexican site Steelers Tres Sesenta.

Bud Dupree Markus Golden Stats

Stats compiled from Pro Football Reference by Carlos Ortega

In football you often times hear that “so and so is a mirror image of such and such player.” Heck, In talking about Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, George Perles used to say, “There’s a lot of Ham in Lambert and a lot of Lambert in Ham.” Chuck Noll endorsed that idea in Dan Rooney’s self-titled autobiography.

  • But the statistical similarity between Markus Golden and Bud Dupree is uncanny.

Assuming that Golden is OK with playing third fiddle behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, the Steelers should enjoy the best depth at outside linebacker since 2020, when Highsmith backed up Watt and Dupree.

But is that safe assumption?

Perhaps Fourth Time Is the Charm for Pittsburgh?

Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan can be forgiven if they’re crossing their fingers and clutching their Rosary Beads hoping that Markus Golden works out. Because the Steelers have followed the beg, borrow or steal routine to build depth at outside linebacker.

In July 2021 the Steelers signed Melvin Ingram, and it looked like a minor steal. Ingram played well given his role, but it was a role he was unhappy to play. He demanded a trade. Mike Tomlin complied, later explaining “He did not want to be here.”

Last year the Steelers traded for Malik Reed at the end of August. Reed had performed well while backup in up Von Miller in Denver, but he was invisible while T.J. Watt was injured.

After the Steelers traded Ingram to the Chiefs, they signed Taco Charlton. He didn’t work out. They had Derrek Tuszka on their roster for 15 games in 2021, not that you’d remember.

They signed Genard Avery in 2022, then cut him in preseason. They’ve brought Tuzar Skipper back only to release him as injured/waived. They’ve drafted, cut and resigned Quincy Roche. Jamir Jones has been on an off the roster, even getting a couple of exclusive and/or restricted free agent tenders. He’s gone.

Hopefully, with Markus Golden the fourth time will prove to be the charm for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Welcome Back Mason. Steelers Resign Mason Rudolph for 1 Year

When asked just 11 days ago where Mason Rudolph would play in 2023, Chapter head of the Pittsburgh Pro Football writers association Mark Kaboly assured readers, “It won’t be the Steelers.”

steelers 2019 season, T.J. Watt, Mason Rudolph, Maurkice Pouncey, Zach Banner

Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

During the team’s recently concluded rookie Mini Camp the Steelers gave Tanner Moran jersey number 2. Many took this as further confirmation that the one-time heir-apparent to Ben Roethlisberger’s days in Pittsburgh were over.

  • And just like that the Steelers resigned Mason Rudolph to a one year contract.

Hum, maybe we should have listened when Omar Khan addressed the press way back on February 28th when he responded to reporter’s asking whether Mason and the Steelers were done, “No, not at all. We have a great relationship, good conversation with Mason. The door is still open.”

Omar Khan and Mike Tomlin left the door open, and Mason Rudolph has decided to walk through it. Although its fair to say that Rudolph’s decision was driven by necessity rather than desire.

While Rudolph (and his agent) couldn’t have been expecting an find an opportunity to start in free agency, a shot at a backup job somewhere seemed reasonable. Apparently, 31 NFL General Managers thought differently.

Actually, make that number 32, because at 10 million dollars a year, Mitch Trubisky is entrenched as the Steelers backup behind Kenny Pickett.

  • Nonetheless this is a good move for both the Steelers and Mason Rudolph.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that believes in keeping 3 quarterbacks. Sure, Chuck Noll might have started 1989 with only Bubby Brister and Todd Blackledge on the active roster and Bill Cowher might have begun 1992 with just Bubby behind Neil O’Donnell, but are exceptions.

Mike Tomlin briefly flirted with a 2 quarterback system when he traded Joshua Dobbs after the 2019 season opener. Ben Roethlisberger’s season was over 2 quarters later, and Duck Hodges joined the active roster and was throwing passes before the leaves had begun to fall along Brownsville Road.

Yes, this is a wise move indeed.

Since he arrived in Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin has carried Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch, Landry Jones and Devlin Hodges on the active roster as third string quarterbacks and started each of them in meaningful games in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2019.

  • That means once ever three years, Mike Tomlin’s 3rd string quarterback starts a game.

The last time that happened was 2019. So the Steelers are due…

Welcome back Mason Rudolph.

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Comings and Goings: Steelers Sign Zach Gentry, Le’Raven Clark, Lose Steven Sims, Trent Scott

Last week saw a lot of under the radar activity by the Steelers in free agency.

The Steelers resigned tight end Zach Gentry. As news of the deal broke on a Saturday, there are no contract details. They also signed offensive tackle Le’Raven Clark from the Tennessee Titans, making him the 3rd ex-Eagles offensive lineman to follow Andy Wedil to Pittsburgh.

That latter move was necessary, as the Steeler lost offensive tackle Trent Scott to the Washington Commanders. They saw wide receiver and kick returner Steven Sims sign with to the Houston Texans. And of course the Eagles struck back, a bit at least, by signing Terrell Edmunds away from the Steelers.

We covered Terrell Edmunds’ departure at length here, today we’ll take a look at the other moves.

Zach Gentry, Steelers vs Chiefs, Steelers vs Chiefs 2021 Wild Card, Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger last pass

Zach Gentry catching one of Ben Roethlisberger’s last passes. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

One for One Replacements and Votes of Confidence

Le’Raven Clark brings 6 years and 64 games with 18 starts to Pittsburgh, having played for the Colts, Eagles and most recently the Titans. That’s a very similar to Trent Scott, and based on that resume its clear that Clark is seen as a backup. This is a 1 for 1 depth replacement, and should do nothing to alter the Steelers (God willing) plans to add a tackle with one of their premium picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

  • The loss of Steven Sims isn’t terribly surprising.

He’s shown himself to be a solid returner and a wide receiver with serviceable skills. The Steelers left him, along with James Pierre unprotected as a restricted free again. Omar Khan won his gamble and got James Pierre back, but has now lost Sims.

The fact that the Steelers left him unprotected also has to be seen as a vote of confidence for Gunner Olszewski. Sims replaced Gunner as the return man after Gunner Olszewski’s fumbling issues followed him from New England to Pittsburgh.

  • The biggest surprise of the week was the decision to resign Zach Gentry.

The Steelers drafted Gentry as a project in 2019. Injures limited him greatly in his first two years, but he had a strong 2021 season, looking like a legit number 2 tight end  along side Pat Freiermuth . He really didn’t make much of a leap in 2022 with and the emergence of Connor Heyward appeared to make him expendable.

  • Obviously, Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan see it differently.

Still, the decision to resign him is understandable, given the fact that the Steelers don’t have a 5th round or a 6th round pick in this spring’s draft, which is about where you’d find a backup tight end.

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Steelers Shuffle @ Strong Safety Continues as Eagles Sign Terrell Edmunds

The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost free agent Terrell Edmunds to the Eagles, as their 2018 first round draft pick signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia.

Given that the Steelers and Andy Weidl have signed Guard Isaac Seumalo and tackle Le’Raven Clark away from the Eagles and as well as Nate Herbig, who is also a former Eagle, the tempting headline might be, “Eagles claw back, sign Terrell Edmunds from the Steelers.”

Seth Roberts, Terrell Edmunds, Morgan Burnett, Steelers vs Raiders

Seth Roberts smokes Terrell Edmunds & Morgan Burnett. Photo Credit: Tony Avelar, Raiders.com

While that might be accurate and attention catching, the real story here behind Terrell Edmunds departure is that the Steelers shuffle at strong safety continues. Sure, the Steelers resigned Damontae Kazee. But Kazee’s 2-year, team-friendly deal shows that neither Omar Khan nor Mike Tomlin think he’s the long term answer at strong safety.

No one has been for the last ten years when the Steelers quest to fill this critical position began.

  • In 2013 the Steelers traded up for Shamarko Thomas, hopping he was Troy Poamalu’s successor – Thomas started 2 games
  • Will Allen served as the stopgap safety in 2015, following Polamlau’s retirement
  • In 2016 the Steelers drafted Sean Davis, who started for two years
  • In 2018 the Steelers signed Morgan Burnett and drafted Terrell Edmunds. Burnett was one and done.

The short hand version of this story would read, “The Steelers had suffered a succession of busts at strong safety since Troy Polamalu retired.” That’s the superficial conclusion, the quick conclusion but also the wrong one.

Yes, Shamarko Thomas was a bust. The Steelers smashed franchise precedent in trading up to get him, and he was a disaster.* Will Allen was probably one of the unsung free agent signings of the Colbert-Tomlin era, and played pretty well for a 33 year old safety in 2015.

Sean Davis had a spectacular rookie year, and he really played well during the first half of his second year. Of course the second half was a different story, but whose play didn’t decline after the injuries to Joe Haden and Ryan Shazier?

Morgan Burnett, like the rest of the 2018 Steelers defense started to come on at the end of the year – it was Burnett who batted away Tom Brady’s final pass in the Steelers upset of the Patriots. But Burnett couldn’t beat out the rookie first round pick Edmunds, and wanted out of Pittsburgh so Mike Tomlin let him go.

  • And of course, many fans will always consider Terrell Edmunds “A bust.”

That’s simply wrong. Terrell Edmunds started 75 of the 79 games he appeared in. And if he was never a superstar in a defense that was on the rebound, he was always a force for stability. Yet in those five seasons, only picked off 5 passes, sacked the quarterback 5 times, recovered 1 fumble but never forced one. That’s 11 “Splash plays” out of 4,897 snaps on defense.

So his “Splash Play Percentage” was a mere 0.22%.

Troy Polamalu, Troy Polamalu Interception Ravens, Troy Polamalu Interception AFC Championship Game, Troy Polamalu pick six AFC Championship

Troy Polamalu’s pick six vs Ravens the 2008 AFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Post-Gazette.com

As Jim Wexell, (who compiled those numbers above – although the “Splash Play Percentage” is my own creation) observed, “He’s the strong safety. Should we review the playmaking numbers of the strong safeties who’ve played in Super Bowls for the Steelers? … you can look up the numbers for Mike Wagner, Donnie Shell, Carnell Lake and Troy Polamalu.”

Well, I have.

  • Mike Wagner had 36 interceptions and 4 sacks in 116 starts for the Steelers
  • Donnie Shell had 51 interceptions and 9.5 sacks in 162 starts for the Steelers
  • Carnell Lake had 16 interceptions, 21.5 sacks and 15 forced fumbles in 154 sacks for the Steelers
  • Troy Polamalu had 32 interceptions, 12 sacks, 14 forced fumbles in 142 starts for the Steelers

In that light, Terrell Edmunds’ stats look similar to those of Lee Flowers, who had 4 interceptions in 75 starts with the Steelers. But even Lee Flowers, who didn’t have Edmunds’ athletic ability, had 12 sacks, 8 forced fumbles and 7 fumble recoveries. in 75 starts with the Steelers had 4 interceptions and 12 sacks.

In 2022 as well as in 2023 I wrote free agent profiles on Terrell Edmunds arguing that while, he wasn’t a superstar, he was “good enough” to deserve a second contract.

  • Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan obviously disagree.

After comparing Edmunds’ stats to his predecessors, I don’t know that I can disagree with them.

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*Here’s morsel for Steelers trivia buffs: After the Steelers drafted him, Carnell Lake commented that had Thomas been 2 inches taller, he might have been a first rounder. When Lake said the same thing 2 years later after they drafted Senquez Golson, I almost wonder if he was dooming the kid. Maybe he did….

 

 

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Khan Wins First Gamble: James Pierre Resigns with Steelers

Free agency isn’t quite (officially) a week old, yet Steelers General Manager Omar Khan has already won one of his gambles. Well, at least half of one.

Omar Khan moved the franchise out of its comfort zone a bit when he opted not to offer restricted free agent tenders to Steven Sims, James Pierre, J.C. Hassenauer and Jeremy McNichols. Under Kevin Colbert, Steelers policy was to tender their restricted free agents. Sure, there were cases like Stevenson Sylvester, but they were the exception, not the rule.

James Pierre, Donavan Peoples-Jones, Steelers vs Browns

James Peirre goes after a pass. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

By opting not to offer them tenders all four men became unrestricted free agents, and were able to sign with any NFL team.

  • James Pierre drew no interest and signed with the Steelers yesterday.

Terms of James Pierre’s contract have not yet been released, but he figures to have signed for something at or close to the NFL veteran minimum, which would be $1.010 for someone of his level of experience.

$1.010 million dollars a year is a lot of money for anybody who is reading this, but it’s a lot less than $2.627 million that a right of first refusal free agent tender would have cost the Steelers.

The Steelers lost Cam Sutton on the first day of free agency but quickly moved to replace him with Patrick Peterson. At the moment Levi Wallace is the other starting cornerback for the Steelers. Ahkello Witherspoon is also on the roster and would seem to be Pierre’s competition for a playing time if not a roster spot itself.

Arthur Maulet and Tre Norwood round out the Steelers cornerbacks, with Norwood functioning as a “Swiss Army Knife” like member of the secondary.

The Steelers are expected to use one of their premium picks in the 2023 NFL Draft to get a cornerback and Pierre’s return won’t change that. His presence could allow them to look comfortably elsewhere in later rounds.

Sims Watch is On

Khan’s gamble that he could make James Pierre an unrestricted free agent and get him back was a low-risk one, but a gable nonetheless. As mentioned earlier, the signings of Nate Herbig and Isaac Seumalo, probably mean that J.C. Hassenauer’s time in Pittsburgh has come to an end.

However, given the thinness of the Steelers depth cart at wide receiver behind Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, you would have to figure that the Steelers want Steven Sims back. We’ll see if Khan wins that gamble too.

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Solution or Stopgap? Steelers Signings of Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts Symptoms of Struggles @ Inside Linebacker

One of the core achievements of the 2022 Steelers season was the improvement of the run defense. Just how bad was the Steelers run defense in 2021?

Consider this: The 2021 Steelers were 32nd against the run and that’s not even the most damning stat against them – you have to go back 1946 when Jock Sutherland’s team had a worse yards-per carry allowed average (it was 5.8 if you’re curious.)

In 2022 the Steelers run defense improved to 9th overall in the NFL and allowed 4.2 yards per carry as opposed to 5.0 yards per carry.

So of course one of Omar Khan and Mike Tomlin’s first personnel moves was to obliterate the Steelers inside linebacker depth chart up and start over.

In the course of two days the Steelers signed Cole Holcomb from Washington Elandon Roberts from Miami. As those gentleman were walking through the indoor, Robert Spillane and Devin Bush were taking their leave through the outdoor, while the Steelers shoved Myles Jack out the backdoor.

This is actually like one of those scenes in a sitcom where someone gets caught cheating on their spouse and says, “Oh, but this isn’t what it looks like.” And in a certain sense that’s correct, because upheaval at inside linebacker has become par for the course in Pittsburgh.

Najee Harris, Elandon Roberts, Steelers vs Dolphins.

Elandon Roberts (No. 52) lies on the turf as Najee Harris runs. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Ripple Effect from Shazier’s Injury Continues

Sometimes the truth hides in plain sight. In this case the Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo helped bring it to light.

Actually, he’s not going far enough. In addition to signing Myles Jack, Mark Barron and Jon Bostic in free agency, they also traded up to get Devin Bush, traded for Avery Williamson in addition to trading for Joe Schobert during preseason.

And, on some level at least, saying this amounts to apologizing for failure, but the blunt truth is that each of this moves counts a ripple stemming from the need to replace Ryan Shazier. So the question is, are Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts long term answers or are they just additional stopgaps?

The Steelers were expected to sign an inside linebacker in free agency. However, many of the top prospects came off of the board. The idea of the Steelers signing Tremaine Edmunds and getting Terrell Edmunds back on a package deal seems quaint in light of Termaine’s 72 million dollar contract.

It also stands to reason that the Steelers did hope to resign Robert Spillane. Spillaine after all was playing 100% of the snaps by year’s end and could have been a force for stability. But it is easy to see Omar Khan balking at guaranteeing 4 million dollars for Spillane the way the Raiders did.

  • So the Steelers turned to Cole Holcomb.

Cole Holcomb has played 4 years in Washington, appearing in 50 games and starting 48. His best year was 2021 when he made 142 tackles, registered 1 sack and had 2 interceptions. Stylistically, he’s been compared to Vince Williams, although Jim Wexell pointed out that Holcomb’s 40 time was 4.51 compared to Williams’ 4.76.

That quarter of a second difference can be a big deal when covering opposing running backs and tight ends, particularly close to the line of scrimmage.

Jon Bostic’s 40 time was 4.61 and the knock on him was that he was too slow to cover and therefore a liability on third down.

The Steelers signed Holcomb to a 3 year $18,000,000 with a 4.92 million dollar signing bonus as the only portion of the contract that is fully guaranteed. So in other words the Steelers can get out of this deal fairly easily if he doesn’t work out – just as they did with Myles Jack.

If the Steelers weren’t expecting Robert Spillane to leave, the decision to move on from Myles Jack wasn’t surprising. They’re replacing him with Elandon Roberts, a seven year veteran with 107 games under his belt including 76 starts.

He started as a 6th round draft pick for the New England Patriots in 2016, when Brian Flores was their linebackers coach. Flores brought him to Miami in 2019. Roberts is known as a “thumper” who excels in playing against the run.

Elandon Roberts signed a 2-year 7 million dollar contract with 2.33 million fully guaranteed. So its possible that Mark Robinson pushes him for playing time and certainly a deal the Steelers can walk away from next spring.

So are Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts the answer for the Steelers at inside linebacker or just two more stop gaps?

  • Looking at their pedigree and their contracts, the smart money would say they’re stop gaps.

But you never know. In the 2006 off season, coming off Super Bowl XL, Kevin Colbert signed as free agent safety and then invested a 2nd round pick in Anthony Smith in the 2006 NFL Draft. Clearly the free agent was brought to Pittsburgh as a bridge player.

Except he wasn’t.

By the time he left Pittsburgh in the spring of 2014, he’d made 11 interceptions in the regular season while forcing 2 fumbles and logging another interception in the post season. If you’ve forgotten him, his name was Ryan Clark.

So while its unlikely that neither Cole Holcomb nor Elandon Roberts is the next Ryan Shazier, if one of them turns out to be the next Ryan Clark it will have been a very produtive week in franchise history.

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Wedil Paints a Pickett Fence: Steelers Sign Isaac Seumalo, Guard, from the Eagles

Wow. Woke up this morning to see the Steelers signed guard Isaac Seumalo from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Talk about a blogger falling asleep at the switch. Due to personal/family reasons had kept me from writing about any of the Steelers free agent moves save for the loss of Cam Sutton and signing of Patrick Peterson.

  • And of course they came in rapid succession after that.
Isaac Seumalo, Steelers vs Eagles

Isaac Seumalo lines up against the Steelers. Photo Credit: Indianapolis Star

Saturday was the first day I was able to pick up my pen, so I wrote about Nate Herbig signing as an indication of Andy Wedil’s influence. Figured that as free agent news is typically slow on the weekend, I could run the Herbig story on Sunday morning, use Sunday to write about the inside linebacker situation with the signings of Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb and that would be that.

  • But Omar Khan and Andy Wedil are marching to their own drummer, aren’t they?

And there can be no doubt that Andy Wedil is deliberately leaving his finger prints on the Steelers roster. Isaac Seumalo is a 6-foot-4, 303-pounder whom Pro Football Focus rated as the NFL’s ninth-best guard in 2022. At age 29 Seumalo only gave up one sack and started all 20 games for the Eagles.

How does he fit in?

Well, to quote Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, that’s “…a mystery to team sources not named Mike Tomlin and OL coach Pat Meyer.” Herbig’s arrival signaled that Kevin Dotson’s starting job was likely on the line. The arrival of Herbig and Seumalo mans that Dotson will have to fight for a roster spot.

Kendrick Green’s chances of making the team just got very, very complicated. And it is also very unlikely that J.C. Hassenauer, whom the Steelers made an unrestricted free agent, will get a chance to return to Pittsburgh.

In an exchange with readers Jim Wexell shared, “Someone called it building a Pickett Fence. I love it.” The metaphor is apt. Pickett fences are white, and white is an official alternative color to the Steelers Black and Gold.

But this white Pickett fence has a definite hue of green.

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Weidl Effect? Steelers Signing Nate Herbig, a Road Grading Guard, May be Sign of Andy Weidl’s Influence

So far everything the Steelers have done in free agency has been by the book. Well, ok “by the book” if you channel your Ben Kenobi and agree that its “by the book from a certain point of view.” Which is to say that by signing 33 year old cornerback in the form of Patrick Peterson is not something the Steelers typically do.

But all things consider equally, the Steelers would have preferred to keep Cameron Sutton. When Cam Sutton signed with the Lions the Steelers needed a starting corner and turned to Patrick Peterson.

Ditto the signings of Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb – personnel moves at inside linebacker have been a staple of Steelers off seasons for the last 5 seasons. (More on that in a day or so.)

  • But the Steelers decision to sign Nate Herbig is an outlier.
Nate Herbig

Steelers newest guard Nate Herbig. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

While it’s a given that the Steelers need depth at offensive line, those conversations had typically focused on tackle. Behind Mason Cole, James Daniels and Kevin Dotson the Steelers had J.C. Hassenauer and Kendrick Green. Guard wasn’t considered an area of need.

Yet the Steelers wasted little time in signing Nate Herbig for 2 years at 8 million dollars with Herbig getting 3 million of that in guarantees. That’s not crazy money for an NFL guard – James Daniels is going to have a cap number $11,166,666 this year, but there are certainly starting guards that make less in today’s NFL.

  • That means that heading into his contract year Kevin Dotson is going to need to fight for his starting job.

The move is also the first sign of Assistant General Manager Andy Weidl’s influence. Herbig came out early from Stanford and that probably cost him getting drafted. But the Philadelphia Eagles signed him. When Joe Douglas left Philadelphia for the New York Jets he signed Herbig. And now he’s followed Weidl to Pittsburgh.

During his time in Philadelphia, Weidl developed a reputation as a personnel man who bought into the idea that football games are still won and lost at the line of scrimmage. (See the Eagle in people moving mode on short down situations in the Super Bowl.)

At 6’4” and 335 pounds, Herbig is in the 93rd percentile of offensive guards. By all accounts he’s a road grader in the run game even if his pass pro skills remain a work in progress. When asked about where he would play, Herbig quipped he’d play punter if the Steelers asked him to.

Just the attitude you’d like to see in an offensive lineman.

Cutting Them Loose – Steelers Don’t Tender RFAs

The Steelers also made another uncharacteristic, if under the radar move: They didn’t tender any of their four Restricted Free agents.

The Steelers had until 4:00 pm on Wednesday to offer tenders to J.C. Hassenauer, James Pierre, Jeremy McNichols and Steven Sims.

Most people probably don’t know who Jermey NcNicols was so that’s no surprise. Hassenauer has some starting experience, but he wasn’t much of a surprise. But Sims is their de facto 3rd wide out and James Peirre was their starting cornerback at year’s end.

So it is a bit of a surpise that Omar Khan and Mike Tomlin opted to let those guys reach the free market.

All remained unsigned at this point, so they could still remain in Pittsburgh.

Follow Steelers free agency. Visit our Steelers 2023 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2023 free agent focus articles.

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Time to Learn to Spell Their Names: Steelers Resign Larry Ogunjobi and Damontae Kazee

The Pittsburgh Steelers reinforced their defense by “promoting from within” so to speak on the second day of free agency when they resigned defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi and safety Damontae Kazee.

Both were excellent football moves, but there’s a real downside for bloggers.

Both men arrived as potential short timers. It was an open question whether they would remain in Pittsburgh. So it made little sense to try to learn to spell their names. Now we don’t have a choice.

T.J. Watt, Larry Ogunjobi, Steelers vs Panthers

T.J. Watt and Larry Ogunjobi. Combine to make a critical stop. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Larry Ogunjobi, by far the one with the most difficult name to spell, signed a three-year contract totaling $28.75 million. Information on how much is guaranteed hasn’t been released, but just over 21 million coming in the first two years of the deal.  Ogunjobi’s injury history explains the lack of detail about guaranteed money and his contract’s structure.

  • Damontae Kazee signed a 2 year contact but terms of the deal have not been released.

That latter factoid could spell hope for Terrell Edmunds. The conventional wisdom heading into free agency was that the Kazee/Edmunds decision was an “either/or” proposition for the Steelers. One would sign and the other they would let walk.

That still may happen, but the fact that the details of Damontae Kazee’s contract haven’t surfaced more than 24 hours after news of his signing broke suggests that it is for a modest sum – otherwise his agent would have made sure reporters knew how much he just made his client.

Spillane to Las Vegas

One player who won’t be back is inside linebacker Robert Spillane. Spillane is a Steelers success story. He went from starting 2020 as the one player the Steelers couldn’t afford to end up playing, to they guy who kept Devin Bush to the bench by the end of 2022.

He’s someone you’d want to keep in Pittsburgh. But the Raiders signed him to a 2 year deal worth 9 million dollars with 4 million dollars in guarantees – that’s a lot of money to pay someone who generally leaves the field on passing downs.

Follow Steelers free agency. Visit our Steelers 2023 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2023 free agent focus articles.

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