Successful personnel decisions in the NFL are more than just about good talent evaluation. The Kansas City Chiefs signing Nick Williams from Steeler practice squad drives home the point.
Success doesn’t simply involve spotting talent, but also aligning it with your team’s needs, and developmental cycles.
- Sometimes the three just don’t sync up.
In 2012 the Steelers had already fingered Brian Hoyer as the heir apparent to Charlie Batch as Ben Roethlisberger’s back up. But injuries to the Steelers cornerbacks took their toll, the Steelers had to cut him, and Arizona scooped him up.
- The Steelers knew they had something special in Mike Vrabel when he forced the fumble to seal victory vs. the Patriots in 1997.
But a series of injuries, position changes, and the emergence of Joey Porter prevented Vrabel from finding a place in Pittsburgh and hence he was lost to New England.
Before training camp, Steel Curtain Rising assessed the chances of Brett Keisel’s return, and concluded that bumper crop of talented but raw defensive linemen the Steelers were bringing along would cost him a roster spot.
Steelers coaches had the same idea, opting to give the youth movement an entire summer to strut its stuff. It was only after it became apparent that Stephon Tuitt wasn’t ready to start, and Cam Thomas was struggling that the Steelers brass brought Keisel back.
- Keisel has been the Steelers most consistent, if not best defensive lineman this year.
Clearly, Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Dick LeBeau and John Mitchell made the right decision. But every choice comes with opportunity costs, and bringing Keisel back cost a promising younger player a roster spot.
One such player was Josh Mauro, whom Jim Wexell predicted would make the Steelers 53 man roster even after Keisel returned. The other was Nick Williams, who defensive line coach gushed after the Steelers took him in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft, comparing him to a young Steve McLendon.
- The Steelers ended up cutting both men, and succeeded in bringing them back via the practice squad.
Both men caught the attention of other teams in the league, because Pittsburgh West, aka the Arizona Cardinals, opened November signing Mauro off of the Steelers practice squad and now the Chiefs are closing it by signing Williams.
Time will tell whether either move will come back to haunt the Steelers. But Brett Keisel’s not getting any younger and, based on his play, Cam Thomas had better be renting in Pittsburgh. Even if Tuitt is ready to start and Daniel McCullers ready to play 16 games, the Steelers will still conceivably have two spots opening up on the defensive line.
Undoubtedly they’ll find bodies to fill them with. It’s just unlikely that they’ll find them on the practice squad.