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.

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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Watch Tower: Steelers 2016 Salary Cap, Will Allen Retirement, Mike Florio Hypocrisy and More

As the Steelers 2016 off season picks up steam, the Watch Tower focuses its lights on coverage of the Steelers 2016 salary cap situation, potential retirements, the Steelers kicking conundrum and more.

Confusion Reigns on Steelers 2016 Salary Cap Situation

Perhaps it’s appropriate that the off season began with Kevin Greene’s election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame because much of Steelers Nation feels that the Steelers must have a Kevin Greene like signing in the secondary to climb the Stairway to Seven.

  • Indeed, many saw Art Rooney II intimating that in his post-season press conferences.

But free agent signings require salary cap space so just how much salary cap space to the Pittsburgh Steelers have as the 2016 off season looms? It depends on who you ask, but until late last week there seemed to be consensus.

  • Over the Cap pegged the Steelers top 51 at about 1,490,000 giving them a 5-6 million cushion
  • On Steel City Insider, Ian Whetstone concluded the Steelers were “…at least $4 million under a $156 million team cap, without any veteran cuts or restructures.”
  • Simon Chester of USA Today’s The Steelers Wire calculations left “…the Steelers with a practical amount of $5,106,016.”

On the 10th of February a source no less authoritative than Ed Bouchette himself pronounced, “With a projected salary cap for each team at $155 million and change, the Steelers are under it at this point in the year for the first time in awhile.” Yippe Steelers Nation! Let’s open Art Rooney II’s check book!

Not so fast.

A day after publishing his comments on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Steelers blog, Ed Bouchette startled Steelers Nation with some sobering salary cap news, sharing:

The Steelers are $2.5 million over their projected salary cap, a league source with intimate knowledge of the cap told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That is in stark contrast with various public Internet sites that track each NFL team’s salaries.

The Watch Tower credits Simon Chester for refusing to accept this at face value. Chester reached out via Twitter to several journalist who cover the Steelers salary cap to gauge reaction to Bouchette’s bombshell. While no one disputed Bouchette’s report, several suggested that perhaps the source is counting all of the Steelers contracts as opposed to the top 51.

You can read the all of the responses here, but the Watch Tower suspects that Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell’s appears to be on to something:

While there’s a lot of documented about the the NFL salary cap its true workings remain somewhat of a mystery. And the league appears to like it this way. Shortly after the new CBA was adopted in 2011 word was that the salary cap would be relatively flat for a few years but then increase when the new TV contracts kicked in.

However, in 2012 the word was that the NFL was in the “Flat cap era.” John Clayton reported that despite a spike in revenues in 2014, the salary cap would go up little if at all in coming seasons. Kevin Seifert called Clayton’s report one of the most important of the 2012 off season and reminded readers that the NFL salary cap for 2015 was being projected at $122 million.

  • The NFL’s base salary cap for 2015 was 143,280,000…

There are two explanations for this discrepancy: Either NFL revenues grossly overshot estimates or false information leaked and no one in the league cared enough to correct it.

The Steelers themselves have played this game regarding their own cap situation. In 2013 Kevin Colbert went on the record saying the Steelers would need to wait until June 1st to sign most of their draft picks, and then the team proceeded to sign most of the 2013 Draft class before the end of May.

Ed Bouchette is the anti-Ian Rapport (Rapport of the Ben Roethlisberger trade demand); he would never base a story like this on spurious sources.

  • But that’s also reason to pay heed to Jim Wexell’s interpretation.

The Steelers do try to shape the coverage the team receives, as Wexell pointed out during the playoffs, when the Steelers PR office made players available to the press the Sunday after the Bengals game to ensure that the rest of the week’s stories would focus on the Broncos game.

Could the Steelers be leaking something to Bouchette for similar reason? Steelers Nation will know in a few weeks….

[Shortly after the original version of this article ran, Kevin Colbert provided an update on the Steelers 2016 salary cap situation.]

Later comments by Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert would add further credence to Jim Wexell’s interpretation of the story, as Colbert conceeded that the Steelers 2016 salary cap situation was “‘pretty good’ compared to other years.”

Interestingly enough, while the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Gerry Dulac did mention Colbert’s update, he did so in a story about James Harrison’s possible return, as opposed to in a new story on the Steelers salary cap. To his credit, Dulac did mention the juxtaposition between Colbert’s comments and Ed Bouchette’s earlier story.

Lolley Scores Minor Scoop on Will Allen

Steelers safety Will Allen has to be one of the team’s most underrated and underappreciated free agent signings in history. What’s Allen done? Well he’s simply boosted the Steelers secondary by stepping off the bench 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, providing an upgrade when Ryan Mundy, Shamarko Thomas, and/or Troy Polamalu were either unable or not healthy enough to deliver on the field.

  • That almost didn’t happen in 2015.

And Steelers Nation knows that thanks to Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley who reported that “The Steelers had to talk Allen out of retiring after 2014….”

That’s an interesting comment. The Steelers resigned Will Allen the day after Polamalu retired, implying that he was their second choice, which could have led to some interesting conversations. Beyond that, this is the first time that the Watch Tower is aware of anyone reporting Will Allen considered beginning his “Life’s work” following 2014, and hence it awards Watch Tower Kudos to Dale Lolley for the scoop.

Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Steelers Kickers

After a nightmare experience that saw the Steelers lose three kickers to injury, Chris Boswell’s arrival in Pittsburgh finally gave the Steelers some relief. Boswell not only put up a nice kicking percentage, he also showed several times that he could kick under pressure and in the elements. Boswell’s outstanding performance has led to speculation that Shaun Suisham’s job could be in jeopardy.

  • One of the pro’s in Boswell’s favor (aside from salary) is his stronger leg.

Boswell might have a stronger leg that Suisham but if he does, it is not backed up by the stats. As Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review has pointed out, Boswell’s touchback percentage of 35.13% is near the bottom of the league, and just a hair worse that Suisham’s 2014 touchback percentage. Adamski also points out that Boswell’s 29 of 32 on field goal attempts was identical to Suisham’s performance in 2014.

While Adamski isn’t breaking any “news” here, he is making a valuable contribution by being the first to connect some dots, and he earns Watch Tower kudos accordingly.

Carter Stands Up for Steelers Nation on BTSC

The brouhaha that was the Steelers Bengals Wild Card playoff game drew national attention an numerous fines and suspensions. Most of the attention focused on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pac Man” Jones illegal conduct with regard to Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but Jason Whitlock used the occasion to take aim at Mike Tomlin, esseintally asserting that Tomlin deserved a much greater share of the blame.

  • Whitlock’s comments did not sit well with Behind the Steel Curtain’s Chris Carter.

As well they shouldn’t. Many, if not most, of Whitlock’s criticisms of Mike Tomlin were off base, and simply not supported by the facts. Chris Carter did Steelers Nation a HUGE favor and wrote a detailed, 5,003 word point-by-point refutation of Whitlock, supporting his point with both photo and video evidence.

  • Simply stated, Chris Carter proved that Jason Whitlock’s assault of Mike Tomlin is completely baseless.

Anyone can take to Twitter and say, “So-and-so is full of _hit” but unlike Whitlock, Carter chose to counter opinion with cold, hard facts, and for that he wins Watch Tower kudos. His article is must read. (As is his piece on Chuck Noll’s being named as coach to the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team.) Kudos to you Chris!

Mike Florio Highlights His Own Hypocrisy

Peyton Manning’s name is in the news again because of an alleged incident dating back to 1996. While there are a lot of interesting elements to this story from a media analysis perspective, the Watch Tower only focues on Steelers coverage, so we’ll leave others to discuss those elsewhere.

  • However, the Watch Tower cannot let a comment by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio go by unanswered.

Mike Florio took aim at the New York Daily News’ Shaun King, asserting:

Shaun King presented a one-sided summary of a 74-page document filed by Jamie Naughright’s lawyers in the case against Manning, with no balance or objectivity or apparent effort to contact Peyton Manning or Archie Manning for a response.

Among other things, Florio is criticizing Shaun King for reporting allegations without an attempt to verify their validity. That’s a legitimate criticism for Florio to make, but it was only in 2012 that the Watch Tower took Florio to task for lambasting Mike Tomlin for comments he made in jest while receiving an honor from his alma mater, William and Mary.

At the time, it appeared that Mike Florio simply took press accounts of Tomlin’s remarks, didn’t bother to gather context, and called the Steelers standard bear’s character into question.

In other words, Florio was guilty then of what he is criticizing Shaun King for now. And for the record, at the Watch Tower attempted to contact Florio offer him a chance to explain his words, but email messages from the Watch Tower to Florio remained unanswered.

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Roosevelt Nix, Chris Hubbard and 8 More Sign Steelers Futures Contracts

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 season ended in Denver on Sunday, and on Monday the team went about beginning its preparations for 2016. 10 players signed Steelers futures contracts (or more precisely “signed futures contracts with the Steelers), with fullback Roosevelt Nix and offensive lineman Chris Hubbard leading the way.

Roosevelt Nix played defensive line in college, but Kevin Colbert and Steelers running backs coach James Saxon saw him in the offensive backfield. Nix made the transition to fullback during the Steelers 50th training camp at Saint Vincents in Latrobe and confounded critics by earning a sport on the 53 man roster.

  • Carrying two fullbacks at time when many NFL teams don’t even carry one seemed like a luxury.

Nix proved his worth, both on with his play on special teams and his ability to block in the back field for DeAngelo Williams, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger. Roosevelt Nix’s lower salary cap value for 2016 could cost fullback/tight end Will Johnson, who will soon be a free agent, his spot with the Steelers.

Chris Hubbard spent 2013 on the Steelers practice squad and has been on the active roster for 9 games, 8 of which came in 2015. With such little tape Hubbard is an unknown to Steelers fans, but it is hardly a surprise the Steelers have signed him, given that Ramon Foster is about to become a free agent.

In addition to Hubbard and Nix, who held spots on the Steelers 2015 regular season roster, the Steelers signed 8 more to 2016 futures contracts:

Jordan Dangerfield and Ray Vinopal, safeties
Matt Feiler and B.J. Finney, offensive lineman
Isaiah Frey, cornerback
Xavier Grimble, tight end
Caushaud Lyons, defensive end
Rajion Neal and Abou Toure, running backs
Shakim Phillips, wide receiver

Jordan Dangerfield, Matt Feiler and Xavier Grimble spent 2015 on the Steelers practice squad. B.J. Finney also spent training camp and a portion of 2015 on the Steelers practice squad while Caushaud Lyons spent time both on the Steelers active roster and practice squad. Safety Ray Vinopal is a Pitt graduate.

The term Steelers futures contracts might lead to some confusion, but it is merely a designation used for players who are free to sign with any team as soon as their season ends as opposed to players who must wait for the official start of free agency.

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Steelers Sign Cam Heyward to Contract Extension

The Steelers announced late Thursday night the signing of defensive end Cam Heyward to a contract extension. Heyward would have been a free-agent after this season, and according to several outlets,  the six-year extension includes the final year of Heyward’s current deal and will run through 2020. The deal is said to be worth $59.25 million.

The news isn’t shocking, as it’s quite common for the Steelers to sign players to extensions in the next-to-last year of their current deals (Ben Roethlisberger, who would have been a free-agent next season, signed an extension in March). But with training camp fast-approaching and the team’s long-standing policy of not negotiating deals once the regular season begins, the sooner an extension was reached for Heyward, the better.

Heyward was the Steelers first round pick out of Ohio State in the 2011 NFL Draft. And after a rather quiet start to his career, Heyward started to emerge as one of the defense’s next star players in his third season. In 2013, Heyward recorded five quarterback sacks and often wreaked havoc in the other team’s backfield.

  • A season ago, Heyward tied for the team-lead in sacks with 7.5 and was credited with eight quarterback pressures (or hurries).

With the Steelers defense struggling and trying to find as many young players as possible to get back to where it was in the Super Bowls days of the 2000s, stars are at a premium, and it looks like Cam Heyward will be a shining one for the team for many years to come.

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Lawrence Timmons Willing to Renegotiate Contract to Stay in Pittsburgh

During Steelers OTA’s it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff as far as discerning what “real news” is out there, but ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler landed a legit story when he reported that Lawrence Timmons is willing to renegotiate his contract to stay in Pittsburgh.

Lawrence Timmons was the first draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era, whom the Steelers initially selected as an outside linebacker in the 2007 NFL Draft. Injuries limited Timmons playing time as a rookie, and in his second year he’d moved inside but failed to unseat starter Larry Foote.

The Steelers nonetheless were projecting Timmons as a starter heading into 2009, prompting Larry Foote to seek his release. Timmons did start in 2009, but drew mixed results and even split time with Keyaron Fox. Timmons bounced back in 2010, and was easily the team’s best defender during the first half of a season which saw Troy Polamalu win defensive player of the year honors.

In 2011, the Timmons signed a $47,795,750 dollar 6 year contract with the Steelers. Two years remain on that contract, and according to the site Over the Cap, Timmons cap values for 2015 and 2016 are $12,566,250 and $11,816,250. Only Ben Roethlisberger has a higher cap value for 2015 and only Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown have higher numbers for 2016.

Is Timmons Time in Pittsburgh Almost Up?

If Lawrence Timmons development was perhaps a little slow, he has unquestionably been the Steelers most consistent defender since 2012. Since that sesason, Timmons has hauled down 5 interceptions, recorded 11 quarterback sacks, forced 2 fumbles and recovered two, while leading the team in tackling.

  • While the Steelers have been not overly sentimental about keeping aging players, they’re also not shy about paying productive veterans.

And Timmons has little or history with major injuries, so on the face of it, his future in Pittsburgh would be a no-brainer. But there are two X-Factors which complicate the picture.

The first is Ben Roethlisberger’s new contract. Roethlisberger’s new deal, while generally cap friendly, has a cap value that spikes to almost 24 million in 2016, a number that almost demands the Steelers made room elsewhere.

The second X factor is the depth chart behind Timmons. The Steelers drafted Ryan Shazier in 2014 and he is projected as Timmon’s co-starter. However, the Steelers also have Sean Spence and Vince Williams, both of whom made impressive strides in 2014, and both of whom still have “upside.”

  • Success in the salary cap era is all about getting the most bang for your buck.

And while teams can get that bang for their salary cap buck in a number of ways, the easiest way is to get production out of draft picks while they’re still working on their rookie contracts. Sean Spence is entering his fourth year, so he’ll be looking at a second contract in 2016, but Vince Williams will still be playing on his rookie contract as will Ryan Shazier. Even if Spence can expect a salary bump, he’ll come more cheaply than Timmons due to his limited playing time.

Since the Freeman-McNeil verdict brought free agency to the NFL in 1993, the Steelers formula for success has been to build through the draft and target productive players with extensions before they hit the free agent market. Lawrence Timmons would seem to fit that bill.

Yet USA Today Steelers Wire editor Neal Coolong argues “It’s tough to see the Steelers looking to tack on more years when they’ve spent the last three seasons developing Sean Spence, Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier.”

Timmons has a close relationship with new defensive coordinator Keith Butler and explained his feelings to Fowler this way: “I’ve been here for nine years, I’ve got a house here, I’d like to keep that house. I’ve got a family here that loves it.”

Timmons confirms that he hasn’t heard any talk of renegotiations, which is no surprise, the Steelers have a long-standing policy of not extending player’s contract until they enter their final year. The first sign of the Steelers intentions towards Timmons will come from how they deal with Sean Spence.

Should the Steelers decide to extend Spence’s contract this summer at St. Vincents, Timmons may want to hold back on adding an extra bedroom to his house.

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Steelers Sign Gerod Holliman

The Pittsburgh Steelers came to terms with the final member of their 2015 draft class when they signed 7th round pick Gerod Holliman to a 4 year contract. Although terms of the deal were not released, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly reports that per the NFL’s rookie wage scale, the approximate value of Gerod Holliman’s contract would $2.4 million over four years including a signing bonus of approximately $58,000.

As a 7th round draft pick, Holliman is in no way guaranteed a roster spot, but should he make the team his salary cap hit for this season would be $450,000. If he fails to make the team, the entire value of Hoilman’s $58,000 signing bonus would count against the Steelers salary cap.

Video Highlights from Gerod Holliman at Louisville

Now that Gerod Holliman’s contract with the Steelers is complete, additional video highlights are in order.

In word ladies and gentleman of Steelers Nation, Mr. Holliman is one defender who knows how to find the ball. Last year for Louisville, Holliman pulled down an NCAA record tying 14 interceptions. Indeed, Holliman’s was so hot coming out of the regular season, that NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah analyst mocked Gerod Holliman to Steelers in the first round.

It didn’t work out that way, and as Dan Sanger of USA Today’s Steelers Wire explains “the reason a decorated played like Holliman lasted into the draft’s final round is simple; teams aren’t sure if he can tackle.” In that light, Holliman is reminiscent of Scott Shields, another Steelers safety draft pick from yesteryear. Shields was incredibly athletic and could take away the ball, but unfortunately, he shied away from contact.

  • Gerod Holliman faces mixed prospects for making the Steelers 2015 roster.

As a pure numbers game, the Steelers have Michael Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, Robert Golden, and Ross Ventrone returning from the 2014 roster. Theoretically, Troy Polamalu’s retirement opens a spot, but the Steelers carried 6 safeties on their final 2014 roster, and are unlikely to carry that many.

  • Five safeties might even be a high number for the Steelers to carry going into 2015.

The flip side is that of all the names mentioned, only Mike Mitchell is the only safety guaranteed a starting job (and give the Steelers recent interest in D.J. Swearinger it might be fair to say that Mike Mitchell is the only safety assured a roster spot.)

That means that Gerod Holliman’s opportunity with the Steelers is only limited by what he can make of it.

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Watch Tower: Your Team Cheats Debunked on Behalf of Steelers Nation

Deflatgate is spurred the New England Patriots and their fans to fight back. Unable claim innocence, wish to claim “Everyone else does it” and thereby bring the rest of the NFL down into the muck with them.

Your Team Cheats” provides an example. Your Team Cheats attempts to rank instances of cheating across the league. Steelers Nation will not like their conclusions. Your Team Cheats charges that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the NFL’s 2nd worst cheats, after the Denver Broncos.

Your Team Cheats charges the Steelers with ten individual instances of cheating and includes the Steelers in four more league wide cheating allegations.

How well do their claims hold up? The Watch Tower takes a look.

Steelers vs Patriots, Your team cheats debunked, Your team cheats steelers debunked, mike tomlin, Bill Belichick

Mike Tomlin shakes hands with Bill Belichick shake hands after Steelers 2013 loss @ New England

Your Team Cheats Strongest Arguments Against Steelers

Your Team Cheats’ best argument against the Steelers comes in the case of Dr. Richard Rydze who was charged with distributing steroids, human growth hormone and other illegal substances. Dr. Richard Rydze was a Steelers team doctor from 1985 to 2007.

The blunt truth is that this story has been underreported both in Pittsburgh and nationally, something which was to be (and might still become) the focus of a Watch Tower column

  • Having a doctor on staff for over 20 years who gets busted for steroid distribution looks very bad and his exact role with the Steelers deserves greater investigation.

Yet, Your Team Cheats fails to break ground here and provides no evidence whatsoever that Dr. Rydze was involved in distributing steroids to members of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead the site simply links to other pages on the site.

One of those does site Paul Wiggins and Joel Steed’s substance abuse violations, but fails to mention that Steed was using an over-the-counter supplement which happened to contain banned ingredients.

Your Team Cheats brings “Shoulderpadgate” or the Steelers illegal off season use of shoulder pads in 1978, a violation for which the Steelers were docked a third round pick. Really, there’s little to dispute here.

  • The Steelers broke the rules, got caught and were punished.

However, the one can question the tone of Your Team Cheats conclusions as current ESPN reporter John Clayton broke the story, and while the Steelers weren’t happy about it, Art Rooney Sr. later complemented him on it, and Clayton built a strong relationship with Noll afterwards (and Noll was not known for his warm media relations.)

  • The Watch Tower takes no issue with Your Team Cheats assessment of Emmanuel Sanders getting fined for faking cramps.

Likewise, one cannot quibble about Your Team Cheats on Mike Tomlin’s sideline stutter step vs. Baltimore in 2013. Intentionally or unintentionally, Mike Tomlin clearly broke the rules. But, to be blunt, had Your Team Cheats done more thorough research, the site could have made a stronger case.

That’s the downside of doing selective or at least incomplete research, which as the Watch Tower will make clear, seems to be the MO of Your Team Cheats.

Your Team Cheats Empty Arguments Against the Steelers

Your Team Cheats makes a number of bogus claims against the Steelers when it comes to cheating.

First, Your Team Cheats levies 5 cheating points against the Steelers for incidents of illegal hits. The idea of including illegal hits into an analysis of cheating is inane, because there’s a big difference between making a hit in a heat of a game that happens to be illegal and premeditated deliberate rule breaking.

Your Team Cheats summary of the Steelers cheating includes entries for Tampergate, Headsetgate, Spygate, and Scrapsgate. Note, the site doesn’t add “cheat points” to the Steelers score for these instances and adds no evidence whatsoever that the Steelers participated in any of these, aside from Bill Cowher’s statement that the Steelers would try to decode opposing team’s signals (without the use of illegal video.)

Your Team Cheats could, for example, cite a single case where the Steelers signed a recently cut or a practice squad player of an upcoming opponent, but fails to do so (in part, because the Steelers don’t do that.)

But that’s what Your Team Cheats would do if the site were a legitimate investigation into NFL rules infractions. But not the objective, instead the site’s objective is to suggest guilt by association.

Your Team Cheats on Steroids and the Steelers of the 70’s

Your Team Cheats makes a big deal about steroid use by the Steelers of the 70’s. Let’s be clear on something:

  • Members of the Super Steelers used steroids.

No one can dispute that. A handful of players have admitted to it. Steve Courson suggested before his death that there were many more members who needed to fess up.

To bolster its case, Your Team Cheats recycles comments by Jim Hasslett and Fran Tarkenton. He even recycles Hasllets hackneyed charge that the Steelers of the 70’s were “the ones who kind of started” use of steroids in the NFL.

  • That’s a damming quote.

It’s also inaccurate. The use of steroids in pro football dates back to at least 1963, when Sid Gillman’s strength coach Alvin Roy actively encouraged his players to use Dianabol and went as far as put them on the team’s training table in cereal bowls.

  • Use of steroids in pro football began long before Chuck Noll ever drafted his first player for the Steelers.

Your Team Cheats directly suggests that steroid use taints the Steelers 4 Super Bowl victories. Were the Steelers the only NFL team using steroids in the 1970’s? Your Team Cheats doesn’t say that, but the use of the Hasslett quote implies that the Steelers were somehow responsible for league-wide steroid use in the 70’s.

Both Jim Hasslett and Randy White (the later quoted in Gary Pomerantz’s Their Life’s Work) claim how their assumptions that the Steelers of the 70’s were using steroids prompted them to begin using…
…So if a high school guy starts drinking underage after getting dumped a girl who is also an underage drinker is the ex-girlfriend then to blame?

I daresay not, and steroid use in the NFL cannot be pinned on the Super Steelers.

  • Your Team Cheats gives the Steelers 7.0 “cheat points” for the use of steroids in the 70’s.

There’s a problem with that. Steroids were not banned by the NFL nor were they even illegal until the 1980’s.

  • Use of steroids is wrong on so many levels. Both the members of the Super Steelers as well as their opponents were wrong to use steroids in the 70’s.

But that doesn’t change the fact that if steroids weren’t illegal, then using them cannot be considered cheating.

Your Team Cheats on the Steelers and the 1975 AFC Championship Game

Were Al Davis still alive, it would be possible, and perhaps even plausible to suggest that he was Your Team Cheats source here. This story is part of Steeler-Raiders lore. The tarp covering the field at Three Rivers Stadium the night before the 1975 AFC Championship game tore, causing parts of the field to be icy.

The winter winds in Pittsburgh get pretty wicked. Tarps do tear, and water does freeze when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. Al Davis argument is that the tear was intentional, that the Steelers iced down the sidelines to weaken the Raiders deep passing game.

  • This debate is ancient history, and only gets rehashed by Raider apologists

Your team cheats justification for toeing the Al Davis line boils down to “A groundskeeper who’s nickname is “Dirt” is always on top of his field conditions.” Ergo Steelers grounds keeper Dirt Dinardo did it. With an airtight case like that, is it any wonder this didn’t make it to the Supreme Court? One might suppose that, given the uncanny accuracy of his weather reports, longtime WTAE weatherman Joe DeNardo is also responsible for the wind, rain and cold in Pittsburgh that night.

  • The entire logic behind Al Davis’excuse making is fundamentally flawed.

Changes to field conditions impacted the Steelers as much as the Raiders. The Steelers could not hurt the Raiders deep passing game without hurting their own. In 1975 Lynn Swann averaged 15.9 yards per catch, Frank Lewis 18.1 yards per catch, and John Stallworth 21.2 yards per catch…

Yeah, the Steelers strategy was to keep Terry Bradshaw from going deep.

Your Team Cheats on the Steelers and Salarycapgate

Perhaps Your Team Cheats most egregious entry on the Steelers involves “Salarcapgate” which relates to an incident in 1998 that ultimately led the Steelers to lose their 3rd round draft pick in 2001.

  • The facts here are well known, and that’s why Your Team Cheats sleight of hand is so apparent here.

Although he never made a Pro Bowl, for nearly 10 years John Jackson protected Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart’s blindsides. When he became a free agent in 1998, the San Diego Chargers made Jackson the highest paid offensive lineman in the league at the time.

  • The Steelers opted not to over pay.

Near the end of preseason it was clear the Steelers had no one to play right tackle, so Bill Cowher moved Justin Strzelczyk to the right side and moved guard Will Wolford to left tackle. Wolford’s original contract had called for him to be paid an additional $400,000 should he play tackle instead guard. Unfortunately page of the contract containing that clause got left off and was never filed with the league.

Will Wolford’s agent remembered brought it to Dan Rooney’s attention who also remembered the original agreement, and the Steelers honored their word and paid Wolford. Knowing that this money needed to be accounted for, the Steelers turned themselves in to the league office. The league investigated, and took away the Steelers 2001 third round draft pick.

  • This isn’t want you’ll read on Your Team Cheats, however.

Your Team Cheats cites an article from the New York Times and the Bangor Daily News (that lifeblood of NFL information) and tells readers:

The league determined that the Steelers made an undisclosed commitment to pay Wolford $400,000 that violated the league’s rules governing the size of team payrolls. The Steelers were ordered to pay Wolford the $400,000 and another $150,000 to the league as a penalty.

  • How sinister of the Steelers! They both made an “undisclosed commitment to pay Wolford $400,000” AND were “ordered”” to pay the $400,000 to Wolford.

Through all of this, Your Team Cheats neglects to tell readers that, far from trying to hide something, the Steelers turned themselves in to the NFL! Nor does he tell readers that the Steelers also took a $400,000 salary cap hit, while the 49ers avoided taking a similar salary cap hit for a more extensive case of salary cap cheating just 8 months later.

In all fairness, there’s a lot of information on the Steelers salary cap incident with Will Wolford which doesn’t instantly pop up when you Google it. But that’s no excuse, as a little extra digging did produce the links referenced above.

Your Team Cheats Debunked by Shoddy Research and Selective Use of Facts

When held up to the Watch Tower’s light, most of Your Team Cheat charges against the Steelers fail to stick. What could have been an honest assessment of rules infractions in the NFL instead turns into a gigantic attempt at guilt by association.

  • While Your Team Cheats uses links and discusses methodology in an attempt to add an air of objectivity to its findings, its research and application of the facts is selective at worst and incomplete at best.

For example, the New York Giants were founded in 1925 and the Baltimore Ravens were established in 1996. Yet they both have cheating scores of 35. That math simply doesn’t add up. Likewise, Your Team Cheats analysis of the Washington Redskins fails to take into account something which was once a stable of franchise policy which could be considered “cheating” at least by the site’s overly broad standards.

For the record, with Your Team Cheats debunked by the Watch Tower on behalf of Steelers Nation, the author of the site doesn’t seem to have any particular axe to grind against the Steelers. Rather Your Team Cheats is simply another site engaging in the 19th “art” of muckraking.

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Steelers Trade Lawrence Timmons to Dolphins for 14th Pick

Editor’s Note: This article ran and April Fools Day special in 2015. Click here for news on Lawrence Timmons’ free agent defection to the Miami Dolphins.

In a move that is as uncharacteristic as it is bold, the Pittsburgh Steelers are trading standout inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for the Dolphin’s first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Although complete details of the trade have yet to emerge, reports indicate that the Steelers will send Timmons to Miami along with their first round pick in 2015 and their 3rd round pick in 2016 in exchange for Miami’s 2015 1st round pick and a conditional 4th or 5th round pick in 2016.

Lawrence Timmons was not available for comment, although sources close to the inside linebacker described him as “shocked.” While he did not address the press, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin issued the following statement:

Lawrence Timmons was the first player drafted under my tenure so it is been a little extra special to see him grow and develop on a daily basis. Since then he’s earned my utmost respect both as a player and as a person. When you consider what he’s put on tape, we obviously did not make the decision to move on lightly. But we live in our hopes not in our fears, and Vince, Sean and Ryan now have their own record on tape, we’re obviously more than confident about how we stand at the inside linebacker position. Obviously we’re excited at the doors we open with this trade. I wish Lawrence nothing but the best in Miami.

Veterans with large contracts to be traded, but Miami has ample cap space with the 12th most in the league, per Over the Cap. Timmons however, has arguably been the Steelers most consistent if not its best defender for the past 3 seasons, leading to speculation as to why Pittsburgh would part ways with Mr. Dependable.

Steelers Bracing for Ben Roethlisberger’s Salary Cap Hit?

When asked about the Steelers trading Lawrence Timmons, ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kipper Jr. explained, “This is a shocking move, but a bold move. The Steelers have 4 starter-capable inside linebackers, they’ve got a huge cap it coming with Ben Roethlisberger, and they’re desperate at outside linebacker and corner. Getting the 14th pick from Miami gives Pittsburgh a number of prospects at either position. I think this is a shrewd deal on Kevin Colbert’s part.”

Prior to announcing this trade, the Steelers biggest move this off season was to resign starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Both Art Rooney II and Roethlisberger described the move as “win-win.”

  • Yet Roethlisberger’s 2016 cap value sky rockets from 17.5 million to 26 million.

By trading Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers gain between close to 5.7 million dollars in cap space, which will make it much easier to manage their salary cap in 2016. By trading Timmons the Steelers will eat a tremendous 8 million dollar hit in salary cap dead money, but the upside to the deal is that the Steelers will get four productive players, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Ryan Shazier and the new draft pick, for less than they would have paid Timmons.

Does Timmons Departure Open the Door to a 4-3

The question on everyone’s mind since Dick LeBeau’s departure and Keith Butler’s promotion is whether the Steelers will abandon the 3-4 defense which has served as their base since 1983. While Mike Tomlin has discouraged such rumors, he hasn’t denied them and the Steelers have been linked to Randall Gregory, Shane Ray, Alvin Dupree, and Arik Armstead all college defensive ends and linebackers, some of whom don’t necessarily project to outside linebackers in the NFL.

The Steelers glut of talent at inside linebacker has been one of the strongest arguments against a 4-3 switch.

  • Removing Timmons from the equation now makes it easier shuffle pieces around the rest of the depth chart.

Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert, the mastermind behind the train, has traded up twice in the first round of the NFL draft. The first time was in 2003 when he moved up to get Troy Polamalu. The second time was in 2006 when he moved to get Santonio Holmes.

If moving up in the first round isn’t terribly out of character for Colbert, the timing of the move is, as most trades like this occur during the draft itself.

Colbert refused to comment on the specifics of the deal, but when asked about his timing he simply responded, “Miami was interested in Lawrence Timmons and we were interested in Miami’s pick. All the pieces were in place so why wait? What better day to announce a trade than April 1st?”

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Ben Roethlisberger’s Performance Between Contracts

News that the Steelers resigned Ben Roethlisberger spread like wildfire on Friday the 13, as you’d expect it to. The next question that was on everyone’s lips was of course, “How much did the Steelers pay Ben.” Those numbers have slipped out, as it’s a 5 years 99 million dollar contract, with incentives that could take it to up to $108 million.

Thanks to Ed Bouchette’s reporting in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, we now know that Roethlisberger’s contract comes with a 31 million dollar signing bonus in addition to a 4.25 million dollar roster bonus, both of which he can pocket this year.

  • Roethlisberger only brings the Steelers about 1.5 million dollars in salary cap relief, although that’s because his number was high already from restructures.

The breakdown of Roethlisberger’s contract falls like this:

2015: $17,245,000
2016: $23,950,000
2017: $18,200,000
2018: $23,200,000
2019: $23,200,000

Dejan Kovacevic has said that the deal’s structure represents a new approach to managing the cap hit that all franchise quarterbacks carry. It remains to see how that will play out, although Kovacevic and others expect the first restructure to happen in 2016, when Roethlisberger’s cap value jumps to almost 24 million.

Roethlisberger, Between Contracts

This of course is Ben Roethlisberger’s second 100 million dollar contract. He signed the first one on March 4th 2008 and a lot has happened since then.

Here is a look at Ben Roethlisberger’s performance between contracts, by the numbers:

1 Super Bowl victory, which came less than a year after he signed is first extension, as the Steelers triumph in Super Bowl XLIII.

2 Super Bowl appearances, Super Bowl XLV in addition to Super Bowl XLIII
2 children born to Ben Roethlisberger and his wife, Ben Jr. and Baylee Marie
2 sexual assault accusations but 0 criminal complaints lodged against Roethlisberger (sorry, folks, but its very much part of Ben’s story.
2.8 – the average number of players to start at quarterback, per season, for the Cleveland Browns

3 quarterbacks not named “Roethlisberger” started games for the Steelers during this time, namely Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich

4 games were missed by Ben Roethlisberger due to suspension
4 games were missed by Ben Roethlisberger due to injury (so much for the “oft injured Roethlisberger” thesis)

5 The number of playoff victories quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger
6 Different Steelers caught playoff touchdown passes from Roethlisberger

7 rushing touchdowns were score by Ben Roethlisberger
12 separate players started at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns (yeah, let’s rub it in!)

19 post season interceptions
21 touchdown passes were thrown in the post-season by Roethlisberger

23 Different receivers caught touchdowns thrown to them by Roethlisberger
31 the length of his longest rush between contracts (vs. Oakland, in the game he got cold cocked in)

67-36 Roethlisberger’s record as a starter between contracts
167 touchdown passes

94.3 Ben Roethlisberger’s passer rating between contracts
273 number of times Ben was sacked between contracts

2,565 days passed between Ben Roethlisberger contract signings
3,518 completed passes

27,384 yards – Ben’s regular season passing yardage total between contracts

While all of these numbers are impressive (except for perhaps the suspension related ones and the sacks), the ultimate value of Ben Roethlisberger’s contract will be measured in Lombardis.

Let’s hope number 7 can help the Steelers climb the Stair Way to Seven.

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Steelers Resign Ben Roethlisberger – Can Pittsburgh Reload for Another Super Bowl Run?

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Ben Roethlisberger to a 5 year contract extension reportedly valued at 99 million dollars with a potential to escalate to 108 million depending on incentives. The deal binds Ben Roethlisberger to the Steelers until 2019, when he’ll turn 37.

Specific terms of the contract were not  immediately disclosed, but the key to understanding any NFL contract is the signing bonus and other salary guarantees, but during the press conference Steelers President Art Rooney II described the deal as “Very fair to Ben Roethlisberger, very fair to the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review however has reported that Ben Roethlisberger’s contract includes a 31 million dollar signing bonus, and his overall compensation puts him just below the Packer’s Aaron Rodgers.

While Ben Roethlisberger’s contract extension was not real “news,” it does put to rest rumors that surfaced in 2013 that Roethlisberger was unhappy in Pittsburgh and desired a trade.

In fact, when asked about his vision for the future, Roethlisberger made no bones about it, declaring:

Our goal is to win Lombardi Trophies. I am excited to be able to really put the pedal to the metal. I think we have a good, young football team that has a lot of talent and a lot of ability. Walking over here I asked if there was room in that trophy case for more trophies, because that has to be our ultimate goal.

Yes, the Lombardi Trophy is Pittsburgh’s only measure of success. With the Steelers resigning Ben Roethlisberger to a 5 year contract, Art Rooney has ensure that the most important element for getting another Lombardi is in place.

But Ben Roethlisberger is only one element. He can’t do it himself.

Can Pittsburgh Put Enough Talent Around Ben Roethlisberger for Another Super Bowl Run?

When the Steelers last extended Ben Roethlisberger’s contract in 2008, Steel Curtain Rising opined, “The Steelers have Resigned Roethlisberger, now comes the hard part.” The hard part was namely protecting him.

  • After only being sacked 25 times en route to Super Bowl XL, Roethlisberger’s sack total soared to 46 in 2006 and then 27 in 2008.

The Steelers had neglected the offensive line in the draft, and the tendency continued in their 2008 and 2009 drafts. However, with Maurkice Pouncy’s arrival in 2010, followed by Marcus Gilbert’s in 2011, and David DeCastro’s in 2012 that changed.

  • Todd Haley was brought in largely to help protect Ben from himself.

And while it took a while, Ben’s sack total was down to 33 in 2014, even though he started every game. And, if the performance of the Steelers offense during the later half of 2014 is any guide, the Steelers have the offensive fire power to make a run at another Super Bowl.

  • The Steelers defense, however, is another question, altogether.

With Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt, and Daniel McCullers the Steelers have a solid base on the defensive line. Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shaizer, Vince Williams and Sean Spence give the Steelers excellent depth at inside linebacker.

  • Outside linebacker and the secondary remain BIG question marks, however.

There’s no need to rehash the question marks that surround Jarvis Jones, the lack of someone to start opposite him, and those surrounding Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, and Cortez Allen. Not to mention the lack of depth at corner, even if Allen does bounce back.

Comparison of 49er’s of ‘80’s Not Steelers of ‘70’s Most Apt

Its inevitable that any talk of Ben Roethlisberger and Lombardis will draw comparisons to the Steelers of the 70’s. And so it should. But those comparisons, while fun and interesting, are not quite accurate.

  • The Steelers of the 1970’s got drafted together, won Super Bowls together, and grew old together.

In contrast, when the Steelers took Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, they were a Super Bowl ready team, although few called it that way. During the Steelers 6-10 2003 campaign even Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriolia compared the Steelers to an someone with a serious weight problem who didn’t get that way overnight and wouldn’t rebound over night either.

  • No, the better comparison is the 49’ers of the 80’s.

Joe Montana serves as a contestant for those teams, but the make up for the 49’ers ’81, ’85, ’88 and ’89 teams is remarkably different. The 49er’s managed to constantly re-load and keep the team competitive while Montana’s health allowed him to continue to play at championship caliber football.
The Steelers efforts of the past several seasons have aimed at doing the same thing.

Can the Steelers and Roethlsiberger pull it off? Who knows? For the record Roethlisberger turns 33 this year and Joe Montana was 33 when he won his last Super Bowl….

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