Steelers Roll Dice, Only Offer Original Round Tenders to Restricted Free Agents

The Steelers are banking that dice don’t have memory, at least when it comes to restricted free agents. Facing salary cap pressures, the Steelers have given original round tenders to restricted free agents Steve McLendon, Jonathan Dwyer, Emmanuel Sanders and Isaac Redman. Pittsburgh has opted not to offer tenders to Stevenson Sylvester or Jeremy Kapinos, making both men unrestricted free agents.

By offering the men original round free agent tenders the Steelers both preserve their right to match any offer given to these players and the signing team will have to give up a draft pick from the round the player was taken in.

However, since both Isaac Redman and Steve McLendon were undrafted rookie free agents, the Steelers would get nothing should either man leave the team, although they still retain the right of first refusal.

Given that both men have ample experience, either man could garner attention, thereby putting the Steelers at risk of losing their project starting nose tackles and running backs. However, a year ago the Steelers made the same gamble last year with (then) restricted free agents Ramon Foster and Doug Legrusky, both of whom had starting experience, and neither man drew much interest from NFL teams.

The cases of Sylvester and Kapinos are more nebulous the Steelers could bring both men to camp, but clearly show no interest in paying either man more than the NFL veteran minimum.

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William Gay’s Visit to Pittsburgh Could Signal Coming Cuts…

Steel Curtain Rising began its Steelers Free Agent Focus2013 by quoting “there’s a storm coming Mr. Wayne” from Dark Knight Rises.
Thus far there has been far more calm than storm on the South Side.
  • That could change very early this week.

 The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is reporting that the Steelers will work out William Gay, who was released late last week by Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals. Even before news broke that he’d visit with the Gay went so far as to Tweet, “I am glad I never sold my condo in Pittsburgh.”

After a rocky 2009 and a better but still only so-so 2010, William Gay emerged into a solid starter in 2011 before departing for Arizona as a free agent in 2012. Now, like Bryant McFadden before him, the Steelers may want him back
  • But there’s a catch.

While contract restructurings with Lawrence Timmons, Ben Roethlisberger and Antoino Brown have put the Steelers under the cap, they still don’t have much space. They still need to tender restricted free agents Emmanuel Sanders and Steve McClendon and perhaps also tendering Jonathan Dwyer (Stevenson Sylvester is not likely to be tendered.)

While the Steelers could restructure LaMarr Woodley’s contract, at some point Kevin Colbert an Omar Khan are going to need to do some honest to God subtraction as opposed to simply rearranging numbers.
  • And that mean’s cutting someone.

An that means that it could be James Harrison and WillieColon’s final week as Pittsburgh Steelers.

Neither move is certain, but neither move would be a surprise. The Steelers are in talks with Harrison, whose agent has said he will not take a reduced salary, the first sign that he could be gone. Colonhas simply stated he is waiting.

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Restricted Free Agent Stevenson Sylvester Unlikely to Get Tender from Steelers

Stevenson Sylvester provides a perfect example of why it takes a few years to judge a draft. Sylvester was taken in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL draft.

He didn’t get much action in at inside linebacker, but he did play well on special teams, including a forced fumble in the Steelers surprising upset of the Tennessee Titans.

Generally when a rookie defender excels at special teams that’s a sign of good things to come.

  • However, Sylvester’s progress since then has stalled nonetheless.

Sylvester got one start in place of injured James Farrior in the Steelers regular season upset of New England, but was quickly pulled from the game. With injuries forcing Lawrence Timmons to move outside for portions of the mid-season, Sylvester figured to get more time. He apparently hadn’t shown coaches enough and only saw spot duty.

Stevenson Sylvester didn’t fare much better in 2012, and was part of a special teams unit known more for nullifying big plays with penalties than anything else.

Will the Steelers Tender Sylvester?

Stevenson Sylvester is a restricted free agent, meaning that the Steelers can retain their rights to him by offering any number of tenders.

Given his playing history, the Steelers would normally offer him the lowest tender, entitling them to a fifth round pick were he to be signed.

  • Indications are that the Steelers are leaning towards not tendering Stevenson Sylvester. 

That does not mean he will not be back.

In fact, the Steelers are likely to roll the dice that they can get Sylvester back at a lower, non-guaranteed salary, hoping that NFL teams won’t exactly be lining up to offer him a contact, even if they can get him without having to give up compensation.

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Sean Spence Injures Knee, Steelers Defeat Panthers

The Pittsburgh Steelers improved their preseason record to 3-1 last night at the expense of the Carolina Panthers, but the victory came at an awful price.

For a second straight game, the Steelers lost another top draft pick to a serious knee injury when third round draft pick Sean Spence went down while struggling to make a play. Spence had been having a strong game, and looked to see playing time in ailing linebacking corps with Stevenson Sylvester, James Harrison, and Jason Worilds all in various stages of recovery from injury.

Reports differ as to how serious Spence’s injury is, but by all account he will likely go on injured reserve, ending his season.

Sean Spence Not Alone?

Unfortunately, Sean Spence is not alone on the injured list, as Courtney Brown left the game with an knee injury and Robert Golden also was reported to have a hamstring injury, per Mike Tomlin’s post game press conference.

Cut Down Day is Here

The Steelers must trim their roster to 53 men today. Coaches may protest to the contrary, but today’s final choices may just as likely come down to a question of “Who is healthier” as opposed to “Who is moree talented.”

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David DeCastro Tears MCL, Not His ACL, Injures Patella

IF reports by ESPN’s Adam Schefter are correct, Steelers Nation got a bit of good news about first round draft pick David DeCastro. Six plays into the Steelers preseason victory over the Bills, DeCastro injured his knee, which Mike Tomlin described as “potentially severe.”

Earlier in the day Schefter reported that DeCastro had injured his MCL but that an MRI would determine if he’d suffered a dreaded ACL tear.

Schefter is now reporting that DeCastro did not suffer an ACL tear. However, he also informs that DeCastro’s patella tendon was injured and his knee cap dislocated.

Its unknown what that Steelers will do.

Lingering injuries to James Harrison and Jason Worilds, in addition to the unavailability of Rashard Mendenhall put the Steelers in a complicated spot regarding injuries. Gerry Dulac reported via Twitter that the Steelers might be forced to open the season with only two quarterbacks on the roster.

MCL injuries are not necessarily season-ending — Stevenson Sylverster injured his MCL an is expected to return — a few weeks into the season, but the Steelers are pressed for roster space.
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The Steelers are Concerned about the Health of Their Running Game

The Steelers are concerned about the state of their rushing attack.

Two summers ago the Watch Tower lampooned PG Plus for covering the supposed death and resurrection of the Steelers running game – all in the span of a week.

  • This is different. 

The Steelers decision to activate Rashard Mendenhall from the PUP reveals that Steelers Nation now as legitimate cause for concern.

Mendenhall’s Surprise Activation

News that Casey Hampton and Rashard Mendenhall were coming off the PUP took Steelers Nation by surprise late Friday afternoon.

Fellow scribe and friend Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write occasionally for BTSC) wrote glowingly of the move:

Mendenhall’s impressive rehabilitation time gives the Steelers a formidable ground attack, assuming there is nothing significantly wrong with Redman, who was slated to be the team’s featured running back. The ground game looks to carry with it a more prominent role this season, and this could be the kind of new-but-not-new addition could be a big pick-up.

But Neal’s reaction was the exception, not the rule. Ed Bouchette went at great pains to provide his readers with recent quotes from Steelers officials who all but indicated that Mendenhall was certain to start 2012 on the PUP.

My first reaction was “surprise” followed by “they must be desperate.”

Redman’s Injury More Serious Than Known?

Why would the Steelers be so desperate as to make a drastic move – bring a player back, any player but especially a running back, too early form an ACL, and you jeopardize his career?

  • Such a move is totally out of character for the Steelers. 

Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert don’t make personnel decisions scared.

So what could prompt them to go back on everything they’d said about their plans for Mendenhall?

Isaac Redman began training camp with pain in his groin. He didn’t say anything about it, practiced and played like normal, until he was brought to his knees in practice.

Neither Ed Bouchette nor Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette seemed overly concerned in their evening video from training camp, but in reporting that Redman was going to have an MRI, they noted that Steelers coaches wanted to rule out that Redman might have a groin injury similar to the one Jerome Bettis had.

Jerome Bettis was on course to have a record setting rushing season in 2001 when a groin injury in week 11essentially cost him the rest of the season.

At this point Alan Robinson of the Tribune Review picked up the thread, informing us that:

Running back Isaac Redman, chastised by coach Mike Tomlin for revealing he would have an MRI on his injured groin, said the test revealed Thursday exactly what the Steelers’ athletic trainers thought it would. Only he didn’t say what that was. And Tomlin wouldn’t even acknowledge that Redman had the exam.

So…

  • On Wednesday Bouchette and Dulac report that the Steelers are concerned Redman might have a Bettis-like groin injury
  • Robinson reports on Thursday that Redman’s MRI revealed what the trainers expected it would
  • Mike Tomlin doesn’t want anyone talking about it
  • And the next day the Steelers surprise everyone and activate Mendenhall.

I hope I am wrong on this, but the logical conclusion is that Redman’s injury is somewhat serious.

[8/23 – Editor’s Note:  Dale Lolley has since revealed that Redman’s injury is hip and not groin related and that he did in fact return to practice on Tuesday. Still concern about his status is legitimate.]

The Steelers Won’t Rush Rashard Back But….

None of this means that the Steelers will rush Mendenhall back to the field before he’s ready.

Dale Lolley pointed out that in sheer practical terms, it is a lot easier to get a player into game shape in training camp than in the week-to-week practices. Matt Loede from Steelers Gab got Kevin Colbert on the record confirming Lolley’s hypothesis.

Fair enough.

  • But it’s likely that there’s also a parallel motive at work. 

Had Mendenhall began the season on the PUP list, he would have had to stay there for at least 6 weeks. Activating him now removes that restriction, at the cost of a roster spot.

Lingering injuries to James Harrison, Jason Worilds, and Stevenson Sylvester put roster spots at a premium now for the Steelers.

The Steelers won’t rush Mendenhall into the line up in September, before he’s ready, but the fact that they’ve activated him now signals that they are concerned that it might not be a case of wanting to use Mendenhall in weeks 5 or 6 but rather a case of needing to use Mendenhall then.

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Falling Like Flies: Steelers Lose Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester

The good news from the Steelers 26-24 preseason victory over the Colts is that the Black and Gold escaped with no new injuries.

The bad news is that Pittsburgh lost another player for an extended period of time before the game. Reserve linebacker Stevenson Sylvester injured his MCL in the final play of the final Steelers training camp practice at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe.

Sylvester’s injury is expected to keep him out 3-4 weeks, which to these ears sounds like a conservative estimate given the nature of ligament injuries.

Sylvester’s snaps will be taken up by Brandon Johnson, a veteran journeyman linebacker the Steelers signed in June mainly as an insurance policy.

The Steelers are ailing at linebacker, with James Harrison’s knee surgery putting his status for the season opener in doubt and Jason Worilds also out on the PUP list, with no timetable set for his return.

After parting ways with James Farrior, Kevin Colbert all but ruled out the possibility of bringing Farrior back should disaster strike. The words he used with Ed Bouchette were akin to “you never want to say ‘never’ but….”

You have to wonder how much further depleted the Steelers linebacking corps can become before Colbert begins thinking its “never say never time.”

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Steelers Draft Sean Spence in 3rd Round

The Steelers concluded the second night of the 2012 NFL Draft by addressing another area of need when they selected Miami linebacker Sean Spence in the third round.
Spence played outside linebacker for the Hurricanes, but the Steelers are projecting him it inside linebacker.
With James Farrior gone, Larry Foote is penciled in as the Steelers starter. Stevenson Sylvester, who joined the Steelers via the 5thround of the 2010 NFL draft, will also get a chance to compete for playing time.

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The Steelers Draft Needs at Linebacker

Having covered the Steelers needs at tight end and quarterback, running backs and wide receivers, offensive line, and defensive line, we now turn out attention to linebackers.

Steelers Needs at Outside Linebacker

With LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison the Steelers have one of the most potent 1-2 punches at outside linebacker in the NFL. They’ve got a former second round pick in Jason Worilds behind him and another raw talent in Chris Carter also waiting in the wings.

So the team is more or less set at this critical position, right?

The realities of course a little more complex.

LaMarr Woodley is locked down to a long-term contract and heading into his prime.

James Harrison however, is aging, and with each year injuries continue to take their toll. How much longer Harrison can play at normal All Pro level is an open question and, players like Harrison who perhaps have less raw athletic talent, tend to see drop offs more quickly as they age.

Many seem to be at great pains to say nice things about Jason Worilds and the effort he made in starting in place of Harrison. Steel Curtain Rising is not among those voices, however. This isn’t to say that Worilds is a bust, he’s clearly surpassed Alonzo Jackson and Bruce Davis, but his trajectory based on what he showed in 2011 is more in line with him becoming the next Carlos Emmons.

As for Chris Carter, he’s got no negatives against him. He also has few positives.

  • Priority of Outside Linebacker line for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: Medium/High.

Steelers Needs at Inside Linebacker

James Farrior’s departure leaves a huge hole in the middle of the Steelers defense. One which will be difficult to fill.

Larry Foote appears to be the short term answer and in Steel Curtain Rising’s assessment, his contributions since returning in 2010 have been largely undervalued. But Foote is not the long term answer.

Lawrence Timmons
is a former first round draft pick. He had a very strong year in 2010 and the Steelers rewarded him with a handsome contract.

Timmons however, did not play well in 2011. Yes he was moved around. Yes, he was playing out of position at outside linebacker. Fair enough.

But even when he was playing his natural position he didn’t make his presence know. Gone was the man who in 2011 seemed to be in on every play.

Stevenson Sylvester
continues to be a special teams ace, normally a sign that a player at least has the athleticism to play. Still he had a difficult time when asked to start vs. New England. (For an excellent interview/breakdown of that effort, see Behind the Steel Curtain.)

The Steelers also have Monroeville native Mortty Ivy on the roster, who found himself activated from the practice squad due to the plethora of injuries suffered.

If Sylvester can make the next step, and if Timmons can play with consistency the Steelers could be set at this position. But to quote Bob Labrolia of Steelers Digest, “Too many ifs, and that usually means its time to address the area in the draft.”

  • Priority of Outside Linebacker line for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: High/Medium.

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Steelers to Cut James Farrior

If Kevin Colbert has put in a more draining week during his time with the Steelers, this past week has to run a close second.

Already having cut a Super Bowl MVP and the franchise’s best 3-4 defensive end, Colbert again had to drop the hammer James Farrior, who for a decade had been a mainstay on one NFL’s top defenses of the decade.

Of the recent cuts, Farrior’s perhaps comes the closest to qualifying as a surprise, although it was quite clear that either he or counterpart Larry Foote would have to go.

Nonetheless, the decision to part ways with James Farrior marks a sea-change for the Steelers defense, as it was Farrior’s job to make the defensive calls in the huddle and perform the necessary adjustments at the line of scrimmage.

  • Now that responsibility falls on someone else.

Farrior departs Pittsburgh with no obvious heir apparent. Foote will likely take his place in the starting line up, but Foote is not a long-term answer.

Stevenson Sylvester showed promise as a rookie in 2010, and while he continued to shine on special teams in 2011, he failed to impress in his limited appearances at linebacker in 2011.

Prior to Farrior’s departure, the Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac commented on Twitter that: If Farrior goes, start fitting Steelers uniform for Dont’a Hightower.

Top Steelers Free Agent Pick Up Ever?

The Steelers will never be known for the free agents it signs, but perhaps it should. When the Steelers do go out to sign a high profile free agent, they rarely miss.

  • In the 1990’s Kevin Greene, John L. Williams, Ray Seals, and Wil Wolford were all free agents signings that delivered handsome dividends.
  • In this decade, impact free agents pick ups came in the form of Ryan Clark, Flozell Adams, and Jeff Hartings.

Bill Parcells used his first pick with the Jets to select James Farrior in 1997, and played the James Madison University graduate at right outside linebacker for 5 years. Farrior played well enough in that role, but Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher saw something that Parcells and his successors missed.

  • The Steelers signed James Farrior as a free agent in 2002 to replace Earl Holmes and neither side ever looked back.

Farrior immediately established himself as a leader of the defense, leading the team in tackles in ’03, ’04, ’06, ’07, ’08, and ’09. Farrior earned Pro Bowl honors in 2004 and 2008, and incredibly only missed two games to injury between 2002 and 2011.

During that entire time, whenever a tackle was being made, regardless of where it happened on the field, if Farrior wasn’t making it you were almost certain to see number 51 coming into focus before the whistle blew.

As important as those measurables were, Farrior’s contributions in the huddle and off the field were indispensable. Farrior was a team leader who not only set the tone on the field but also functioned as a player who enforced discipline in the locker room.

  • Farrior also set an example with his dedication and ethic of responsibility.

Farrior was a second late on two key plays late on the Bengals winning drive at home vs. the Steelers. Farrior seemed to take those plays, as well as other mishaps as a personal affront.

Accordingly, he redoubled his off season training regime, reported to camp in the best shape of his life, and rebounded in 2010 with a 109 tackle, six sack, 5 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery performance.

James Farrior’s Last Stand

Longevity is one of the signs of greatness in the NFL and Farrior had his share. Even the great ones can cheat father time for just so long.

Age began to impact Farrior’s game in 2011, evident in his declining production and increasing difficulty in covering receivers downfield. Farrior’s age, his salary for 2012, and the Steelers salary cap woes prompted the team to decide to move on.

  • Like his counter part and fellow captain Hines Ward, Farrior must make way for younger, and cheaper, players on the roster.

And just as is the case with Hines Ward, Mike Tomlin will not easily replace the leadership void created by James Farrior’s absence.

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