Alert – Road Grading Ahead in Pittsburgh: Steelers Sign Roosevelt Nix to 4 Year Contract

Free agency is still a month away, but things are already heating up on the South Side as the Steelers signed restricted free agent fullback Roosevelt Nix to a 4 year contract, binding him to the team through 2021.

  • What is it about undrafted rookie free agents from Kent State University and the Pittsburgh Steelers?

James Harrison was of course a Kent State product, as was Roosevelt Nix, who while playing defensive line in college, joined the Steelers in January of 2015 signing on to play fullback. Rosie Nix did well enough to make the 2018 Pro Bowl.

Roosevelt Nix, Le'Veon Bell, Roosevelt Nix contract

Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix clearing the way for Le’Veon Bell. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via The Athletic

When training camp ended in 2015, segments of the fan base howled over the decision to carry two fullbacks (the other was Will Johnson), yet Nix proved his worth on special teams, including forcing a fumble at a critical moment in the Steelers win over the Oakland Raiders.

With Roosevelt Nix guiding the way, Le’Veon Bell broke the Pittsburgh Steelers regular season AND post season rushing records, helping Bell do something that neither Jerome Bettis nor Franco Harris was ever able to accomplish. Nix has also helped pave the way for the success of backup running backs DeAngelo Williams and James Conner, while providing an extra pair of blocking hands to protect Ben Roethlisberger when need be.

While Roosevelt Nix is a Steelers fullback more in the mold of Dan Kreider than Merril Hoge, Nix has caught 6 of the 8 balls thrown his way, including catching his first NFL touchdown in 2017 during the Steelers Christmas win over the Houston Texans.

  • They say the fullback is a dying position in the NFL, but players like Roosevelt Nix are helping keep it alive.

Roosevelt Nix follows Jordan Berry as the second Steelers restricted free agent to sign a new contract before testing the market. Last week the Steelers signed Jordan Berry to a 1 year deal.

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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Steelers Sign David Johnson, Is Matt Spaeth’s Roster Spot in Jeopardy?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed tight end and fullback David Johnson, who returns to the team following his departure as a free agent in 2014.

Few if any outside of the South Side are privileged to hear Kevin Colbert’s conversations with outgoing free agents, but one can only imagine that Colbert’s parting words include some variant of “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

  • In contrast to his predecessor, Tom Donahoe, Kevin Colbert has readily welcomed back departed free agents.

The Steelers drafted David Johnson in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and Johnson worked in as a tight end/fullback. Todd Haley wanted to convert David Johnson into a full time to fullback, but Johnson unfortunately tore his ACL during the 2012 preseason. ACL Tear. In 2013 Johnson recovered, but injuries to Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, along with the emergence of Will Johnson at fullback, forced Johnson to take the starting tight end role.

Johnson performed well enough, but alas was injured in early in the season.

The Steelers allowed Johnson to depart, and he landed in San Diego, where, per Pro Football Reference, he appeared in 30 games and started 6. Johnson’s projected role in his return with the Steelers has not been formally clarified, but expectations are that he will play in a tight end and/or H-Back role.

  • Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell has pointed out that since 2011, the Steelers have opened every season with 4 tight ends.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamanski adds that the Steelers only use a fullback on 1/10 of their offensive plays, and appear to be more or less set at the position with Roosevelt Nix.

Matt Spaeth’s Roster Spot in Jeopardy?

As of know the Steelers depth chart at tight end looks like this: Ladarius Green is number one, followed by veteran Matt Spaeth, “rising sophomore” Jesse James holds down the third spot, while 2015 practice squad alumni Xavier Grimble is penciled in as the number 4 man. Undrafted rookie free agent Jay Rome also has a roster spot.

  • The player most threatened by David Johnson’s return is Matt Spaeth.

While Matt Spaeth’s unheralded return has most certainly played a role in the rushing success and pass protection enjoyed by Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Ben Roethlisberger, Spaeth is 33 years old has a 1 million dollar base salary with just over 100,000 dollars in signing bonus money allocated to him. Assuming David Johnson signed for the veteran minimum, the Steelers could get younger while saving on the salary savings by cutting Spaeth in favor of Johnson.

  • But for that to happen, Johnson would clearly need to beat out Spaeth.

Spaeth’s role as a blocker up front might go largely unnoticed by fans and even the press, but rest assured that Mike Tomlin, Mike Munchak and Todd Haley appreciate it. That, combined with Johnson’s own injury history will place the burden on Johnson.

Competition tends to bring out the best, and the Steelers have given themselves a low-risk option to bolster their depth at tight end. Welcome back to Steelers Nation David Johnson!

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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 @ Running Back – A Higher Priority Than You Think…

No team has rushed for more yards since the AFL-NFL merger than the Pittsburgh Steelers. In January 2010, Steelers President Art Rooney II described quality rushing as a “foundation of the franchise.”

In contrast to Bill Cowher, during Mike Tomlin’s tenure, the Steelers have looked to running back earlier and more often in the draft having used 3 premium picks on running backs. Will that trend continue or, perhaps better stated, should that trend continue in the 2016 NFL Draft?

Steelers Depth Chart @ Running Back Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starter

Although he finished 2015 on injured reserve, Le’Veon Bell will enter 2016 as the Steelers starting running back, and if Art Rooney II’s statements are any guide, the Steelers will look to lock him up to a long-term contract.

  • It is easy to understand why, as Bell’s dynamic ability as a double threat teases to reestablish the concept of “franchise running back.”

Such lofty visions must be tempered with the reality that the shelf life of running backs in the NFL is short and continues to grow shorter, and Bell has already missed 16 of a 51 possible games to injury, including 3 playoff contests. The Steelers have confidence in Bell’s ability to recover, but on the outside that looks like a leap of faith.

While it almost seems quaint to acknowledge a fullback as a “starter” the Steelers chose undrafted rookie free agent Roosevelt Nix over Will Johnson.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Running Back Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

A year ago the Steelers signed DeAngelo Williams as an insurance policy, and many were skeptical that a 32 year old NFL running back coming off an injury and with 1432 carries on his frame could deliver.

  • Those skeptics were dead wrong.

DeAngelo Williams had his best season rushing since 2009, and showed himself a dangerous double threat, not only did Williams do damage on the ground, but he also gave Ben Roethlisberger an enticing target underneath.. Williams almost literally saved the season.

In late November, the Steelers made a curious move – they activated a guy named Fitzgerald Toussaint from their practice squad. This came before DeAngelo Williams injury, and after Mike Tomlin had assured reporters he would not attempt to groom an understudy for Williams.

The move came shortly after the Ravens put Justin Forsett on season ending IR and activating Toussaint looked like a proactive move to protect him from practice squad poaching. When the playoffs arrived, Toussaint vindicated the Steelers faith in him as he collected over 120 all-purpose yards in the playoff win against the Bengals.

For the record, the Steelers also have running backs Abou Toure, 2015 practice squader Rajion Neal and Daryl Richardson who has experience with the Rams and Browns.

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Running Back

Running back is one slot on the depth chart where Steel Curtain Rising’s analysis likely differs from much of Steelers Nation and likely Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016

  • The Steelers have now been forced to start their 4th string running back in three consecutive post-season contests.

OK, 2014 is somewhat of an aberration, as LeGarrette Blount’s insubordination and Dri Archer’s total failure couldn’t have been foreseen, at least not while something could be done about it. Yet, in 2015 the Steelers essentially chose to enter the season with a running back’s depth chart that was two backs deep.

By season’s end, both Bell and Williams were hurt….

  • Sure, Jordan Todman and Toussaint played well, but do you really want pin post season hopes practice squaders and waiver wire pickups?

Sure, the days when the Steelers staffed their depth chart with three or four quality running backs may seem like an anachronistic memory of a bye gone era, but it’s no secret that the Steelers won their last Super Bowl with a depth chart that went Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell and Carey Davis – all of whom were on the opening day roster, and all of whom were at “Above the line” ball carriers.

  • It says here that drafting running back in the first round would be a mistake.

Drafting one in the second round might be too high as well. But the Steelers have rolled the dice on running back depth in two straight seasons and it has cost them in two straight post seasons which means that the Steelers 2016 draft need at running back must be considered Moderate High.

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Giants Sign Will Johnson Steelers Free Agent Fullback

The Arizona Cardinals have long been known as “Pittsburgh West,” the Tennessee Titans have made a play to call themselves “Pittsburgh South” and the Buffalo Bills could arguably be called, “Pittsburgh North East.”

  • IS it time to start calling the New York City Pittsburgh on the Hudson?

That may be a little premature, but today’s free agency news saw the New York Giants sign Will Johnson, Steelers hybrid fullback and tight end. This comes on the heels of the New York Jets decision to sign Steve McLendon. Former Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon signed with the New York Jets in 2013 after being cut by the Steelers and played there in 2014 and 2015, although he remains a free agent.

Will Johnson caught the Pittsburgh Steelers eye at a West Virginia Pro Day after he’d been out of football for a year. The Steelers signed Johnson as an undrafted rookie free agent, but went into training camp thinking that David Johnson would be making the transition to full time fullback under Todd Haley’s first season as offensive coordinator.

Will Johnson’s role with the Steelers began to evolve in 2015, as Roosevelt Nix’s emergence allowed the Steelers to use Johnson as a tight end, although he did serve as a short yardage back in relief of DeAngelo Williams while Le’Veon Bell was suspended.

Normally, Will Johnson is the type of free agent the Steelers want to keep, but Roosevelt Nix, a converted defensive lineman, did quite well at fullback this season, making Will Johnson expendable.

Terms of Will Johnson’s contract are not currently available, but it does run for two years, binding him to the team until 2017.

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 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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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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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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Steelers Fullbacks in Flux? Will Roosevelt Nix Cost Johnson His Roster Sport?

The Pittsburgh Steelers might have more difficult and more interesting free agent decisions to make in 2016, but none lends itself to such a catchy, if a bit corny, headline. All jesting aside, the “quandary” is real for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.

This time a year ago it looked like a major injury was all that separated fullback Will Johnson from a his first full-fledged second contract. The emergence of Roosevelt Nix however changes things. Or does it. Let’s find out….?

Capsule Profile of Will Johnson’s Career with the Steelers

In the spring of 2012 Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert took a road trip south to attend West Virginia University’s pro day. If memory serves, they were going to scout another player. But a hybrid tight end, running back, and wide out who’d played for four years for the Mountaineers for four years but sat out 2011 without as much as an invite to an NFL training camp caught their eyes.

  • The Steelers brought him to Pittsburgh as an undrafted rookie free agent to play fullback.

One of Todd Haley’s first moves as Steelers offensive coordinator was to officially restore the fullback to the Steelers offense, and he tapped David Johnson to make the transition to full time fullback. Johnson unfortunately go injured in preseason; fortunately Will Johnson had impressed the coaches, and started at fullback in his place.

As a fullback Johnson doesn’t have a very long stat sheet, although he’s generally been a reliable target on the few times that Ben Roethlisberger (or Charlie Batch, Michael Vick, or Landry Jones) has chosen to throw a pass his way. He’s also rushed 8 times for 14 yards. That’s not terribly impressive, but the sample size is quite small….

A year ago the Steelers offered Johnson a restricted free agent tender, and he was back with the team in 2015, working both at fullback and at tight end.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Will Johnson

Perhaps Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell said it the best when he declared:

An easy call for me. I bring Johnson back with a cheap two or three-year contract. Versatile, smart and plays a position that’s looking at age issues.

And that was before Heath Miller retired. The fullback position is getting harder and harder to staff, and Johnson’s experience at tight end is a definitive plus.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Will Johnson

The argument for keeping Will Johnson can be summed up, as the headline implies, it two words: Roosevelt Nix.

Like Johnson, Nix joined the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent, and during the course of the season Nix showed himself to be a capable play maker on special teams, and he performed quite well as a fullback.

  • The argument flows accordingly: Fewer and fewer NFL teams carry one fullback, how can the Steelers justify carrying two?

Roosevelt Nix can do what Will Johnson can do, but at a far lower salary cap value, and the Steelers do not have salary cap space to spare.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Will Johnson

What’s implicit in Wexell’s argument is that Will Johnson return as a tight end. In that light, Heath Miller’s retirement could be a game changer. Matt Spaeth is aging and Jesse James showed flashes but has yet to prove consistency.

  • Will Johnson isn’t going to command a lot of attention or money on the free agent market either as a tight end or as a fullback.

If the Steelers can sign Will Johnson to a cost effective contract, he could provide valuable depth at tight end while Roosevelt Nix installs himself as a full time fullback.

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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What to Do about Steelers Restricted Free Agent Terence Garvin?

The Pittsburgh Steelers might not be entering 2016 with the type of high profile free agent class that Steelers Nation was forced to endure in the 1990’s (think Neil O’Donnell, Yancey Thigpen, Chad Brown etc….), but almost without a doubt, the Steelers have some complicated choices in front of them.

Steelers restricted free agent Terence Garvin illustrates just how complicated those choices can get.

Capsule Profile of Terence Garvin’s Career with the Steelers

While its true that OTA’s, minicamp’s and other spring workouts are generally much to do about nothing, Terence Garvin proves that events with real news value really do occur during spring practices.

Terence Garvin’s phone didn’t ring during the 2013 NFL Draft. He didn’t even get a call from then linebacker’s Keith Butler offering him an undrafted rookie free agent contract the day after the draft. But the Steelers did offer him an invitation to rookie mini-camp.

He impressed enough to earn a futures contract that got him a ticket to Latrobe. Garvin did well in Latrobe, and although he did not make the final list of cuts, the Steelers did sign him to their practice squad. But Garvin’s stint on the practice squad was short lived.

Then Matt Spaeth suffered a lisfranc injury during training camp, the Steelers put Spaeth on IR and activated Garvin. Garvin dressed for 15 games in 2013, but for the first half of the year he toiled in obscurity on special teams. However, during the later half of the season, attentive fans noted that number 57 would line up with the defense on third downs, replacing Vince Williams.

Then came the signature moment of Terence Garvin’s Steelers career (available as of 2/26/16):

The Steelers had been all but eliminated from the playoffs, the Cincinnati Bengals still had a shot at securing a bye, but Terence Garvin’s hit on Kevin Huber revealed just how badly the Bengals were unprepared for prime time.

Garvin also got injured in that game, but he seemed to have a bright future ahead of him. Mike Tomlin called him “a big safety” and he seemed to be ahead of Williams when it came to pass coverage. The Steelers then of course went and drafted Ryan Shazier in 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft and Sean Spence made a full recovery.

Terence Garvin fell off the radar screen of most Steelers fans, but has remained a solid contributor on special teams.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Terence Garvin

With Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, and Vince Williams the depth of the Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacking corps has been the envy of the NFL for the past two seasons. Garvin has barely been a footnote on that depth chart.

That might make him seem like a luxury, but Sean Spence is due to become a free agent this year and will probably depart for greener pastures and Vince Williams will likely follow the next year.

Those two facts alone, combined with his steady special teams play, make the case for bringing Terence Garvin back to Pittsburgh.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Terence Garvin

The case against bringing Terence Garvin back to Pittsburgh is a pretty weak one, but it would say that if Garvin dressed to play special teams but couldn’t press Spence or Williams for playing time while Ryan Shaizer was nursing injuries, should the Steelers really settle for 5th best?

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Terence Garvin

At the end of the day, the question isn’t really whether the Steelers want Terence Garvin back or not it is whether they offer Garvin a restricted free agent offer. Last year the Steelers offered restricted free agent tenders to Will Johnson, Antwon Blake and Robert Golden even though Golden was seen as little more than a special teams player.

  • Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell has estimated that the Steelers could not tender Garvin and save about $900,000.

There is a predicent for that. The Steelers didn’t tender Stevenson Sylvester in 2013 but still brought Sylvester back. But franchise practice has been to tender restricted free agents, and given future uncertainty at the position, the Steelers will likely do that with Garvin.

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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