Lessons, Failures & Successes of 2013 & 2014 Drafts Fuel Steelers Signings of Bostic and Burnett

In this great future you can’t forget your past….”
– Bob Marley, “No Woman, No Cry”

You don’t often see Bob Marley lyrics leading a column on the Steelers, but hey the Reggie legend did give his last concert in Pittsburgh back when Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene held a 2-1 mark in their quest for “One for the Thumb” in September 1980, so I guess that gives us some connection.

And while you can bet the mortgage Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin didn’t have the Marley’s words ringing in their ears the last week, the decisions to sign Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett show they’ve taken Marley’s wisdom to heart.

“How’s that?” you ask? Well, simply look back to the lessons of the 2013 and 2014 Draft.

Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones,

Jarvis Jones & Ryan Shazier during a Steelers practice in January 2016. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP via San Diego Union Tribune

Lessons of 2013 and 2014 Draft & the Arrival of Bostic and Burnett

In 2013, the Steelers were caught in a serious salary cap crunch. LaMarr Woodley had just finished his 2nd season on IR, Chris Carter wasn’t proving to be “the steal of the 2010 NFL Draft,” (as one journalist had claimed he’d be) and Jason Worilds had only shown flashes.

In hindsight, Steelers management erred in determining that James Harrison was nearing the end. Yet injuries had forced James Harrison to miss large chunks of both the 2011 and 2012 seasons and he’d played much of 2010 with an injured arm. And Harrison was set to make somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 to 9 million dollars.

Sure salary caponomics rather than X’s and O’s dictated that decision, but no amount of number crunching could save the Steelers from harsh reality that they had to come out of the 2013 NFL Draft with a pass rushing outside linebacker.

Today, it is easy to slam the Jarvis Jones pick. Jarvis Jones is legitimately Kevin Colbert’s only first round bust. Clearly SOMEONE else on the board could have delivered more value to the Steelers. Fair enough. But Mike Maycock was rating Jones as the 19th best player in the draft and some mocks actually had Jarvis Jones going off the board at 15, two spots before the Steelers took him.

But that’s not the point.

  • In 2013 the Steelers hands were largely tied, and no one likes having choices made for them

It leaves you with a detestable feeling. Think about the “voluntary” hoops you need to jump through during a pre-employment process that aren’t so “voluntary” if you actually want the job.

In football terms, being forced to let need dictate your first round draft choice is dangerous not necessarily because of who you pick but because of who you must pass over.

At the end of the 2013 season, it was clear that the Steelers secondary was in need of repair. Early on, the only question seemed to be whether the Steelers would go corner first and safety second in the draft or visa versa. Even after the Steelers signed Mike Mitchell, fans “knew” the Steelers would target cornerback early and perhaps often.

As it turns out, the Steelers had less at cornerback than they thought, erring in thinking they could get another year out of Ike Taylor while Cortez Allen’s career imploded in splendid fashion for reasons that have never been explained.

  • So when it came time to pick, the Steelers surprised everyone by drafting Ryany Shazier in first round.

The Ryan Shazier pick came despite the fact that with Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Sean Spence and Terence Garvin the Steelers entered the 2014 draft with quality depth at inside linebacker. But Ryan Shazier offered the Steelers generational talent and prior to his injury was flashing Troy Polamalu type playmaking ability.

By signing Jon Bostic and signing Morgan Burnett, the Steelers are trying to give themselves the freedom to make the same kind of pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Word to the Wise

Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett arrive in Pittsburgh with some risk in that both men have fought injuries, and the Ladarius Green experience teaches us just how quickly injuries can derail a promising free agent signing.

  • But the presence of both men will free Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin from having to reach to get an inside linebacker or a safety.

It’s also important to remember that drafting for need sometimes ends well, as the picks of Heath Miller and Santonio Holmes from the 2005 and 2006 drafts show us. But its sure is a lot better go enter a draft with the freedom of picking the player you want to pick, instead of taking someone you need to take.

Has Steelers free agency left you scrambling? Click here for our Steelers 2018 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2018 free agency focus articles.

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What Should The Steelers Do With Restricted Free-Agent Anthony Chickillo?

“Depth is the first victum of the salary cap.” It might be a cliche, but most cliche’s era their idiomatic status because they’re true. Unlike 70’s and 80’s, the salary cap has made it near impossible for any team to be as deep as it wants to be.

  • Sure, a team that drafts exceptionally well can stock its backup slots with true rising stars, but free agency renders such situations temporary.

Think of the Steelers recent history at inside linebacker.

Just a few years ago Pittsburgh boasted Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Sean Spence AND Terence Garvin. Bob Labriola described the Steelers depth there as “obscene.” That was then, this is now. In the space of a few series against Cincinnati, the 2017 Steelers went from having inside linebacker as a team strength, to having to call Sean Spence off of a couch in Florida to start the next week.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers gear up for 2018’s free agency period, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin would do well to keep that experience front-of-mind as they make decisions regarding restricted free agent linebacker Anthony Chickillo.  

Anthony Chickillo, DeShone Kizer, Steelers vs Browns

Anthony Chickillo closes in on DeShone Kizer. Photo Credit: David Richard, AP via PennLive.com

 

Capsule Profile Of Anthony Chickillo’s Steelers Career

Anthony Chickillo was a defensive end for the University of Miami Hurricanes who came to Pittsburgh as a sixth round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Given the Steelers long history as a 3-4 defensive team, Chickillo’s size (his draft profile listed him at 267 pounds) wasn’t going to translate well to the pro level–at least not in Pittsburgh. Therefore, the plan was for Chickillo to transition to outside linebacker under the tutelage of position coach Joey Porter.

But there was the matter of Anthony Chickillo making it onto the final roster during his rookie training camp. While Chickillo did initially make his first roster, he was waived days later and signed to the practice squad.

Fortunately for Anthony Chickillo, he was quickly promoted to the active roster and, according to his Wikipedia page, he made his NFL debut at Heinz Field against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6.

  • All-in-all, Chickillo appeared in seven games in 2015, forcing one fumble and recovering another.

However, it was in his second season when Anthony Chickillo, now fully transitioned to the outside linebacker position, would learn his craft via baptism by fire.

Anthony Chickillo was not only part of the team’s early-season plan to rotate its outside linebackers, he actually started seven games, after 2015 first round pick Bud Dupree was placed on Injured Reserve following offseason surgery.

Anthony Chickillo recorded 19 tackles and the first 2.5 sacks of his career in 2016, before ultimately taking a backseat to veteran James Harrison and the newly-activated Dupree down the stretch.

Anthony Chickillo’s finest hour occurred against the Browns in Week 1 of last year, when he posted two sacks while starting in place of Dupree and recorded the Steelers first touchdown of the season, after recovering a blocked punt by Tyler Matakevich in the end zone early in the first quarter.

Chickillo appeared in all 16 games a year ago, but he only added one more sack to his Week 1 total.

The Case For The Steelers Tendering Anthony Chickillo 

It shouldn’t take much more than a low tender to keep Chickillo around for another year. With veteran Arthur Moats about to hit unrestricted free-agency, the Steelers could soon be lacking in proven depth at the outside linebacker spot behind Dupree and second-year man T.J. Watt.

  • However, the Steelers need to be smart here.

Anthony Chickillo body of work, while not jaw dropping, certainly shows his can play in the NFL and his development is trending in the direction of “starter capable.” Offering Anthony Chickillo a tender that is too low might invite a team to extend him an offer.

And, if anything will be different than previous years, we know that James Harrison isn’t going to be around as an emergency outside linebacker.

The Case Against The Steelers Resigning Anthony Chickillo 

The case against the Steelers offering Anthony Chickillo a restricted free agent tender would go like this. At age 25, hasn’t evolved much beyond that of a depth player since making the transition from his college position. Sure, he’s trending towards “starter capable status,” but is he there yet?

  • The Steelers have to be stingy about using their salary cap space.

Its true that Pittsburgh’s depth at outside linebacker has befitted the team over the past few seasons, but depth isn’t a luxury that a team that borders on salary cap purgatory can afford.

While its true that Anthony Chickillo is the kind of player you’d like to get back for at least another year, the harsh realities of salary cap dollars an sense suggest that Pittsburgh’s best choice is to take the risk of making him a free agent, and bringing him back for the veteran minimum.

Curtain’s Call On The Steelers And Anthony Chickillo 

To reiterate, the Steelers depth at outside linebacker could be severely lacking if the veteran Arthur Moats decides to ply his trade elsewhere. At the end of the day, the Steelers really just need bodies at the position. Perhaps that’s not  a ringing endorsement for Anthony Chickillo, but he does know the Steelers system, and he has seen an awful lot of playing time over the past two seasons.

  • Besides that, Anthony Chickillo has been a regular on special teams, a unit that’s often overlooked during the free-agency period, as fans are more focused on the big names on offense and defense.

Anthony Chickillo might just be a backup outside linebacker, but he’s an extremely competent backup, and the Steelers may not be looking for much more than that for 2018.

Has Steelers free agency left you scrambling? Click here for our Steelers 2018 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2018 free agency focus articles.

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Ryan Shazier Wins Steelers Thanksgiving Honors for 2016 – Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation

Thanksgiving has arrived!. Today may mark the 15th straight Thanksgiving that I have celebrated in Buenos Aires, for the first 21 years of my life, Thanksgiving either meant a trip to Pittsburgh or a visit from relatives in Pittsburgh.

  • Pennsylvania Turnpike notwithstanding, either event was a welcome occurrence, and truth be told, something I’ve missed as an adult.

During high school those Thanksgiving trips gave me the chance to read a week’s worth of accumulated Pittsburgh Press and Post Gazette coverage of the Steelers. In those pre-internet days, that was like Christmas come early.

The days of having to rely in imported printed copies Ed Bouchette to follow the Steelers are long over. For 7 years running now Steel Curtain Rising has been publishing an annual column highlighting reasons for Steelers Nation to give thanks. Here is how our Steelers Thanksgiving honors series has gone so far:

2009 – Saw Rashard Mendenhall win Steelers Thanksgiving honors
2010Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, and Al Everest shared the honors
2011 Antonio Brown won Steelers Thanksgiving honors hands down
2012 – Attention turned to the emergence of Keenan Lewis
2013 – Stud in the making Cameron Heyward earned recognition
2014 – Honors went to Le’Veon Bell for his emergence as an All-Pro running back
2015 Steelers understudies earned Thanksgiving honors

Its also satisfying that even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight there’s no reason to regret any of our“ Steelers Thanksgiving honors” shout outs. Sure, Rashard Mendenhall might not have blossomed into the “franchise” running back he was picked to become, but Mendenhall played a huge role in getting the Steelers to the Super Bowl a year later.

Maurkice Pouncey has won Pro Bowl honors for each year he’s been healthy, Emmanuel Sanders is a first rate NFL wide out, and most fans would exchange Al Everest for Danny Smith as Steelers special teams coach. Antonio Brown is simply the best there is. Keenan Lewis did depart in free agency but honestly, have the Steelers had better play at cornerback since Keenan Lewis left?

Cameron Heyward has grown into the dominant player and leader on and off the field everyone thought he would be back at Thanksgiving 2013, and Le’Veon Bell is probably the most complete back in the NFL. And one year later, the 2015 contributions of DeAngelo Williams, Will Allen, Alejandro Villanueva and Cody Wallace look no less important to what the team accomplished a year ago.

With that in mind, we now turn our attention to this years Steelers Thanksgiving honors award.

Ryan Shazier Wins 2016 Steelers Thanksgiving Honors

It’s become cliché, but when the 2014 NFL Draft arrived the only question about the Steelers top choice was “Which cornerback will Pittsburgh take?” Of course the Steelers wanted Justin Gilbert (perhaps its good they didn’t get him), but when he wasn’t there, they shocked everyone (except Jim Wexell) by picking Ryan Shazier.

Given that the Steelers had Lawrence Timmons, and rising youngsters Vince Williams, Sean Spence and Terence Garvin, the moved struck many as a head scratcher.

  • Two and a half seasons later, no one who understands football should question the move.
Ryan Shazier, Josh McCown

Ryan Shazier sacks Josh McCown in the Steelers 2016 win over the Browns at Cleveland. Photo Credit: Cleveland.com

Josh McCown of the Cleveland Browns certainly understands why Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau called Shazier’s number in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Sure Shazier has spent more time than you’d like to see on the trainer’s table, but football is a violent sport. Sure Shazier might trail C.J. Mosley, who the Ravens took 2 picks later, in terms of sacks an interceptions.

But in addition to his uncanny athleticism, Ryan Shazier has shown that uncanny playmaking ability that paves the way for greatness:

While a lot of fans are down on Shazier, the simple fact is that he’s only broaching the beginnings of what he can do. This kid still has plenty of upside.

So for 2016, Steel Curtain Rising awards its Steelers Thanksgiving honors to Ryan Shazier, as he give Steelers Nation reason to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation

Of course Thanksgiving is never been about football (although I do painfully remember the Thanksgiving day Massacre of 1983). It’s about things that are far more fundamentally important for life. Family, friends and faith.

  • Our sincere hope here at Steel Curtain Rising is anyone and everyone who reads this has reasons to give thanks that have nothing to do with either football or the Steelers.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in Steelers Nation.

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Steelers 2016 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class Complete

With their 2016 NFL Draft Class complete, the Pittsburgh Steelers filled out the rest of their roster by signing their 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class:

Johnny Maxey, defensive line, 6-5, 283, Mars Hill
Tyriq McCord, linebacker, 6-3, 241, Miami
Will Monday, punter, 6-4, 210, Duke
Giorgio Newberry, defensive line, 6-6, 295, Florida State
Christian Powell, running back, 6-0, 235, Colorado
David Reeves, tight end, 6-5, 255, Duke
Jay Rome, tight end, 6-6, 250, Georgia
Quinton Schooley, offensive line, 6-4, 298, NC State
Canaan Severin, wide receiver, 6-2, 205, Virginia
Devaunte Sigler, defensive line, 6-3, 290, Jacksonville State

Now, will the next Super Bowl record breaker please step up? The Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class might not amount to anything, but Kevin Colbert has an uncanny knack for finding quality undrafted rookie free agents.

But the Steelers current roster boasts Ramon Foster, Robert Golden, and Roosevelt Nix who were undrafted rookie free agents, while the Steeler recently said goodbye to the likes of Will Johnson, Steve McLendon and Terence Garvin all of whom joined the Steelers as undrafted rookie free agents.

A Few Surprises in the Steelers 2016 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class

The Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class comes with a few surprises. First, the Steelers did not sign a quarterback. Given that the Steelers want and need an extra arm for rookie mini-camp in addition to training camp, that would seem to signal that the Steelers are looking to sign a veteran backup quarterback.

  • Prior to the draft, Kevin Colbert indicated the Steelers would make a roster move on quarterback after the draft.

The Steelers already have Dustin Vaughan on the roster who is seen as more of 4th arm type of quarterback than anything else. That would seem to indicate that if the Steelers want to bring in someone other than Landry Jones to backup Ben Roethlisberger, now would be the time. Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert like Brian Hoyer, but he signed a one year deal with the Bears.

So it was no surprise that the Steelers resigned Bruce Gradkowski after the draft.

  • The dearth of running backs in the Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class classifies as another surprise.

By their own admission, the Steelers wanted to draft a running back in the 5th round and where either unable to find a partner and/or unwilling to pay the price. The Steelers currently have Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Fitzgerald Toussaint which gives them 2 starter-capable running backs plus another backup. Given that, it is a mild surprise that the Steelers did not bring in more running backs.

Either these players will get a fair shot to impress their coaches and earn and NFL roster spot.

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Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Inside Linebacker – Time to Restock Depth or Stand Pat?

The Steelers experience since 2013 at inside linebacker shows just how quickly a depth chart can flip in the NFL. When Larry Foote fell to injury on opening day 2013, Kion Wilson, a man with all of 5 NFL games to his name, was the only player they had available to step in to replace him.

By the time the 2014 NFL Draft arrived, depth at inside linebacker was a strength, and by opening day 2015 the Steelers depth at inside linebacker was the envy of the league. But free agency has plucked two players off of that depth chart, which begs the question – should the Pittsburgh Steelers begin restocking at inside linebacker in the 2016 NFL Draft?

Steelers Depth Chart @ Inside Linebacker Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters

Lawrence Timmons will return for his 10th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers this fall, and he’ll do so having played in 142 games, 110 of which he’s started, with 10 interceptions, 33 sacks and 12 forced fumbles to his name.

  • All of those came before his 30th birthday.

Timmons has been a real pillar of stability on a defense that has lost many of its marquee names, and while he’s in the final year of his contract, the Steelers have shown every sign of offering him that precious third contract that would likely keep him in Pittsburgh for the duration of his career.

Playing opposite of Timmons is Ryan Shazier, the man the Steelers took in 2014 when all of Steelers Nation both wanted an expected them to get a cornerback.

ryan shazier, forced fumble, steelers, bengals, playoffs

Ryan Shazier forces a fumble in Steelers playoff win over Bengals (Photo Credit: John Minchillo)

Fans who were upset on draft day 2014, can see the wisdom of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s decision not to reach for need vindicated with Shazier’s forced fumble that flipped a certain loss to the Bengals in the playoffs.

The Steelers are set with Shazier.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Inside Linebacker Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

Behind Timmons and Shazier is Vince Williams, who will enter the final year of his rookie contract. The Steelers drafted Vince Williams in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and Williams was starting by late September. Williams struggled, but came on strong late in the season, and has been an excellent back up provided a hard hitting presence whenever he’s entered a game.

They did however replace Garvin by signing Steven Johnson and they also will return L.J. Fort who held a roster spot but did not play in 2015, although he does have some game experience from his time with Cleveland and Seattle in 2014 and 2012. 2014 draftee Jordan Zumwalt will also get another shot at making the roster after spending his first two season on injured reserve.

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Inside Linebacker

Everyone knows that, based on a pure needs analysis, secondary is the Steelers primary concern heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. But that was true in 2014 and 2015. Both times the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin ignored the conventional wisdom and took a player with a higher value in the first rounds.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016

  • Might they do it again in 2016 and might that move involve an inside linebacker?

Perhaps, but don’t expect them to draft another inside linebacker early.

It is conceivable that the Steelers would want to part ways with Timmons after this season is done, but it is highly unlikely they would invest a first round pick this spring based on that inclination.

The Steelers won’t enjoy the depth they enjoyed at inside linebacker in 2015, but that depth was largely a product of Sean Spence making a recovery that they could not count on him to make. But the Steelers depth at inside linebacker is still strong, between Williams, Johnson, Fort and Zumwalt. Arthur Moats also has experience playing on the inside.

Given Pittsburgh’s two strong starters and quality depth behind them the Steelers 2016 draft need at inside linebacker must be considered Moderate-Low.

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Steelers Nation Speaks: Steelers Free Agency 2016 Poll Results Complete

In the end, Brandon Boykin got a lot of love from Steelers Nation. Or at least this corner of it. As the Steelers 2016 pre-draft visits have begun, Steel Curtain Rising has taken down its Steelers free agency 2016 poll. While it is possible, perhaps even probable the Steelers will make move free agent moves before convening training camp in Latrobe at St. Vincents, the organization’s focus has clearly shift to the draft.

steelers 2016 free agents, steelers nation, votes, william gay

Steelers Nation voted on Steelers 2016 Free Agents

  • But over the last 45 days or so, Steelers Nation has had a chance to vote on what they think Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin should be doing.

Brandon Boykin was the third most popular Steelers free agent, William Gay was first with 51 votes and Ramon Foster was second with 46, followed by Boykin’s 41. The Steelers resigned William Gay and Ramon Foster, but let prance to the Carolina Panthers. Darrius Heyward-Bey came in fourth, whom the Steelers also resigned.

No one outside of that group got more than 30 votes. Almost as many people wanted to see Kelvin Beachum protecting Ben Roethlisberger (25), as want to see Bruce Gradkowski back him up (24). No one else got more than 20 votes.

  • The next highest vote getter is somewhat of a surprise: Doug Legursky who got 19 votes.

Steel Curtain Rising sung Legursky’s praises when he first reached free agency in 2013 and warned the losing Legursky could carry consequences (it did) and scolded the Pittsburgh media for not even bothering to cover it when he signed with the Buffalo Bills. Nonetheless, this site did not call for Legursky’s return to Pittsburgh, but a good chunk of our readers have.

Both remain unsigned and at this point will likely stay that way until after the draft. The Steelers may still bring back Will Johnson, but word is Will Allen will not return. Steelers long snapper Greg Warren also got 18 votes, although the Steelers had already resigned Warren before the voting began.

Below Warren and the Wills, only Antwon Blake and Terence Garvin found double digit support in Steelers Nation, with Michael Vick, Byron Stingily, Clifton GeathersCam Thomas, Jordan Todman and David Nelson (who?) all polling in single digits.

Of the group above, only Jordan Todman has signed elsewhere, and the Steelers are not likely to resign any of those players. Steel Curtain Rising thanks everyone who voted in our poll, and encourages you to vote in our Steelers 2016 Draft Needs Poll.

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

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Steelers Sign Steven Johnson Inside Linebacker & Special Teamer from Tennessee

In the first month of free agency the Pittsburgh Steelers have lost a cornerback, an offensive tackle, a nose tackle, two inside linebackers and a running back while picking up a tight end and an offensive lineman.

  • That’s 5 free agent defections vs. 2 free agent acquisitions, for those keeping tabs.

Pittsburgh took a step towards righting the balance today in a move that saw the Steelers sign Steven Johnson to play special teams, and provide depth at inside linebacker.

Steven Johnson broke into the league as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012 with the Denver Broncos where he appeared in 11 games as a rookie and followed that up with appearances in all 16 games during his second year. Johnson’s most extensive play came in 2014, when he made seven starts for the Denver Broncos and appeared in 14 games.

  • The Broncos did not retain him after the season, and Johnson signed on with the Tennessee Titans

Playing in Dick LeBeau’s defense appeared in sixteen games. Per Pro Football Reference, Steven Johnson has 33 total tackles, 14 assists, one half sack, 1 forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.

Johnson Signing Shows Tomlin, Colbert March to Own Drummer

Two of the Steelers 5 free agent losses thus far have come where Pittsburgh’s depth remains at its thinnest – cornerback and defensive line. In contrast, the Steelers lost inside linebackers Sean Spence and Terence Garvin yet with Vince Williams, L.J. Fort and perhaps Jordan Zumwalt, the Steelers still have solid depth behind Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier.

  • So how do the Steelers respond?

They out and sign a reserve inside linebacker/special teams player while Mike Tomlin declares that the Steelers won’t sign a free agent cornerback.

This comes as no surprise – Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert rarely make personnel decisions out of fear, and steadfastly march to their own drummer.

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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Scratch Another Steelers Inside Linebacker: Redskins Sign Terence Garvin

Pittsburgh’s “free agent exodus” continues as the Steelers lost their fourth player as the Washington Redskins sign Terence Garvin to play inside linebacker.

As Simon Chester of USA Today’s Steelers Wire confirms, because the Steelers did not tender Terence Garvin a restricted free agent offer, Garvin’s free agent defection will not count into the NFL’s compensatory pick calculations next spring.

  • It has been standard operating procedure in Pittsburgh to extend tenders to restricted free agents.

A year ago the Steelers tendered Will Johnson, Antwon Blake, and Robert Golden, however this year the Steelers did not tender Garvin freeing him to negotiate with any team.

Inside Linebacking Depth Thinning but Still Strong

For the past two seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacking depth has been the envy of the NFL, with Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier starting, backed up by Sean Spence, Vince Williams and Terence Garvin. Now Sean Spence is in Tennessee and Garvin is in Washington, leaving only Vince Williams and potentially Jordan Zumwalt as backups.

  • Depth, however, is often the first victim of the salary cap

The Steelers depth at outside linebacker may be thinning, but is still fairly strong headed into 2016, as Vince Williams is more than capable. The Steelers also have L.T. Fort who did not play in 2015 but did hold down a roster spot. Zumwalt also offers potential, but the Steelers exposed him to the Injured/waived list.

While Garvin is certainly the type of player you want to bring back to your team, the fact that the Steelers are letting him walk without a whimper is a testament to how quickly an NFL depth chart can change.

Garvin made the Steelers after getting a tryout invitation to the Steelers 2013 rookie minicamp. During the latter part of the season, he began to work himself into the Steelers 3rd down package while making a name for himself on special teams. Mike Tomlin, in fact, called him “a big safety.”

  • As the Steelers 2014 off season began, Garvin looked to be pushing Vince Williams for time in coming season.

However, Sean Spence recovered from his knee injury and the Steelers drafted Ryan Shazier. As consequence Terence Garvin’s defensive snap count dropped from 31 in 2013 to 11 in 2014 to 8 in 2015.

With Terence Garvin leaves Pittsburgh without having many quantitative measures to mark his time as a Steeler, but he did leave one qualitative mark:

Terence Garvin sure did know how to hit!

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

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Steelers Success Story Sean Spence Signs with Tennessee Titans

The Pittsburgh Steelers may have started free agency with a splash, but that feel-good story line couldn’t alter one fundamental off season reality:

  • The Steelers were going to lose several players who helped them reach the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

Yesterday that reality translated into Kelvin Beachum signing with the Jaguars and Steve McLendon agreeing to terms with the New York Jets. Today it means that Sean Spence has signed with the Tennessee Titans where he will be reunited with his former Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapport is reporting that Spence signed a 2.5 million dollar contract and based on the data available on the site Over the Cap, that salary would make Spence the 32nd highest inside linebacker in the league.

So while Sean Spence’s contract qualifies as “starter money” there is also a sort of “Prove It” element to it, given its one year length.

Sans Spence, Steelers Inside Linebacking Depth Still Solid

Sean Spence’s free agent defection was hardly unexpected. The Steelers drafted Sean Spence in 2012 with an eye toward replacing recently retired James Farrior and soon to depart Larry Foote. Spence suffered a gruesome injury in preseason, and the Steelers drafted Vince Williams in in the 2013 NFL Draft and then Ryan Shazier in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Sean Spence is clearly the type of player you’d like to have on your team, but paying an backup inside linebacker 2.5 million dollars a year is not a luxury that the salary cap affords the Steelers. For comparison’s sake, Vince Williams will make $675,000 and Ryan Shazier will earn $1,284,292.

In 2016, Vince Williams will play out the final year of his rookie deal and Jordan Zumwalt will come to training camp with a shot to earn a roster spot. The Steelers opted to make Terence Garvin an unrestricted free agent by not offering him a restricted free agent tender, although he could still resign with the Steelers, although he has visited with other NFL teams.

Timmons Stays with Steelers

Finally, Sean Spence’s departure from Pittsburgh without an offer from the Steelers should put to rest any rumors that the Steelers were considering releasing Lawrence Timmons as to save salary cap space.

Given the fact that Mike Tomlin thinks highly of Timmons, and given the large dead money hit the Steelers would take by releasing him, those rumors were hardly credible.

Still, these persisted, but they should end now.

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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4 Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agency Week One Takeaways

Free agency began with a bang in Pittsburgh, not a phrase you hear very often, as the Steelers resigned four of their own players and brought in free agent tight end Ladarius Green from the San Diego Chargers.

Regardless of how you cut it, there’s been a lot of activity over the past few days, so were do the Steelers stand? Well, here are 4 quick takeaways from the Steelers first week of free agency.

steelers, free agency, robert golden, william gay, ben roethlisberger

Robert Golden and William Gay will remain with Ben Roethlisberger on the 2016 Steelers. (Photo credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

1. The Steelers  are NOT acting out of character.

The Steelers don’t make “splashes” in free agency. That’s true. In 1969 this franchise committed itself to building through the draft and promoting from within. 6 Lombardy trophies prove philosophy works.

But even back when Three Rivers Stadium’s limited revenue constrained Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher’s free agent budget, Dan Rooney pulled the trigger on big free agent signings.

In the spring of 1993, the sky was falling in Pittsburgh over the free agent defections of former Pro Bowler Tunch Ilkin, former first round pick Aaron Jones, current Pro Bowler Hardy Nickerson, and seemingly budding superstar Jerrol Williams.

The Steelers wanted Williams back, but when they lost him they signed Kevin Greene. The signing wasn’t the lead story on ESPN that night and didn’t get much coverage outside of Pittsburgh, but when Kevin Greene signed his free agent offer, he became the highest paid Pittsburgh Steeler in history.

  • The bottom line will never win the “Off season Lombardi” but have leveraged free agency to find players that helped them win Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.

The Steelers pioneered the practice of focusing on resigning your own free agents so inking William Gay, Ramon Foster, Robert Golden and Darrius Heyward-Bey to contracts is par for the course. Making a big, day 1 free agency signing is rare, but the Steelers did something similar just 2 years ago when the signed Mike Mitchell.

2. The Steelers are spending smart, not big.

Signing 5 players certainly lends itself to the appearance of big spending. But the numbers tell a different tale. Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Steelers have only committed themselves to 11.5 million in guaranteed money, or about seven million less than Ben Roethlisberger’s salary cap hit for 2016. Further more, the Steelers have only added about 10 million to their 2016 salary cap.

Looking at the numbers, they almost certainly did. Not a bad business decision for players in their 30’s who’d like another chance to taste Super Bowl glory before they retire. But Ladarius Green’s contract is also team-friend, with only 4.75 million in total guarantees.

Even if Green suffers a catastrophic injury or washes out completely, and the Steelers have to cut him this time next year, his dead money hit will only less than Cortez Allen’s 2016 dead money hit.

3. The Steelers are doubling down on offense.

Even with all of the injuries and suspensions in 2015, the Pittsburgh’s offense was potent. Assuming “The Triplets” stay healthy, putting Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell along side Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Ladarius Green and Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Steelers offense in 2015 can become lethal.

  • At least that’s what Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are betting heavily on.

No one doubts the potential of the Steelers offense in 2016, and few are disputing the Steelers efforts to resign Ramon Foster, Heyward-Bey and the decision to get Green has been well received. However, Pittsburgh journalist Ken Laird had this to say:

This isn’t just negative nay saying. As the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Joe Starkey points out, only one of the NFL’s top 15 all time scoring offenses has won a Super Bowl. The most recent one, the 2013 Broncos, looked like a juggernaut until they got schooled by a superior defense in the Super Bowl.

The dollars and sense would of salary cap decisions, a tight end of Ladarius Green’s caliber probably gets your more bang for your buck than does a defensive back.

  • But the Steelers depth charts at both safety and cornerback are pretty shallow.

Beyond that, the Steelers have not come to terms with Steve McLendon, which figures to be another cost-benefit, nor did they offer a restricted free agent tender to inside linebacker Terence Garvin.

Like all free agent decisions, these choices are calculated risks. But the Steelers are taking fewer risks with their offensive firepower than they are with their defense.

4. Steelers free agents are getting attention from the rest of the NFL.

Talk can be cheap at this time of year. Every agent’s moral imperative is to convince all 32 NFL teams that the other 31 NFL teams are ready to offer his client a gzailliion dollars at any moment. So take some of these reports with a grain of salt:

  • The Seahawks are talking to Cam Thomas (and Seattle wants to get to a Super Bowl?)
  • The Jets, Bears, Chargers and Titans all would LOVE to sign Will Johnson
  • The all knowing, all seeing Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network tells us the Ravens are eyeing Kelvin BeachumBeachum’s name has also been linked to the Jets.

The Steelers are also apparently looking at the Detroit Lion’s defensive end Jason Jones, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Take that for what you will. Often times the biggest free agent moves come completely under the radar.

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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