Steelers Sign McLendon, Proactively Keep Him From Packers

My what a study in contrasts.

When word leaked that Emmanuel Sanders had visited the New England Patriots, the Steelers Braintrust calmly watched as confusion spread about his signing, debated the pros and cons of keeping him, and matched the offer at the 11th hour.

  • While the Steelers value Emmanuel Sanders, clearly there is another restricted free agent who was “more equal” than Sanders.

When news broke that starting nose tackle Steve McLendon had worked out with the Green Bay Packers it sent, in Dale Lolley’s words, “shockwaves” through the front office.

  • Less than 24 hours later, the Steelers had resigned Steve McLendon to a 3 year deal.

According to reports published by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, McLendon’s deal is for 7.25 million dollars and includes a 1.67 million signing bonus. The move likely spells the end to Casey Hampton’s time in Pittsburgh – Dale Lolley commented that Hampton’s agent expects his client to land an offer during training camp.

Steve McLendon joined the Steelers practice squad during the 2009 season, and saw his first action in week 2 of 2010, earning his stripes vs. the Tennessee Titans in what was one of the finest defensive performances in franchise history.

McLendon worked his way past Chris Hoke in the starting line up, and by training camp 2012 many fans felt that McLendon was outperforming Hampton. Hampton started all 16 games for the Steelers in 2012, but McLendon got plenty of playing time, and when he did he disrupted.

This was one player the Steelers needed to bring back, and they’ve taken care to do just that.

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Hidden Costs of Resigning Emmanuel Sanders: Batch and Legursky Could Ben Done in Pittsburgh

After almost a month of intrigue, confusion, and debate, Steelers Nation now knows that Emmanuel Sanders will remain a Pittsburgh Steeler, for 2013 at least. By matching the New England Patriots 2.5 million dollar restricted free agent tender, the Steelers gave themselves a new lease on their draft pick from the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have next to nothing left below the NFL salary cap.

Some of the consequences are obvious. The Steelers cannot sign Ahmad Bradshaw before June 1st without either cutting a player or mortgaging even more money against future salary cap years with a restructure.

Likewise, should another team make a run at Isaac Redman and/or Steve McClendon (and the Green Bay Packers could be signing McClendon as you read this) the Steelers would face the same unwelcome choice of losing a prospective starter or accumulating more unwelcome salary cap equity towards salary cap hell.

Alternatively, the Steelers could rescind their restricted free agent tender to Redman, as Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong had suggested.

  • Those are the known consequences that everyone else is discussing.

There’s also the unpleasant possibility that the decision to keep Sanders will end Charlie Batch’s and Doug Legursky’s tenure with the Steelers.

Batch entered free agency already on the bubble, that much was clear when the Steelers signed journey man Bruce Gradowski. One of the general lessons of the 2012 season was that the Steelers needed to inject youth into the depth cart below Ben Roethlisberger. A specific corollary to that was that Byron Leftwich simply could not be relied upon.

Gradowski’s signing ended part of the issue, but that still left Batch. Kevin Colbert had indicated that the Steelers might bring Batch back, depending on their luck in the draft.

  • Now it is perhaps as much as a numbers game is a question of chance.

A late or mid-round rookie signal caller will cost less than Batch, and that might force the Steelers hand alone.

No Love for Legursky? 

Then there’s the question of Doug Legrusky’s status. As Steel Curtian Rising predicted in his Free Agent Focus piece of Legursky, no team has tripped over itself to offer Legrusky a contract.

  • Legursky figured to be the Steelers to bring back if they wanted him.

The assumption was that they did. Yet, he remains unsigned, apparently a lower priority that Stevenson Sylvester. OK, the decision to resign Sylvester was driven by lack of depth.

But shouldn’t depth figure into the Steelers decisions on offensive line?

If the Mike Tomlin era has proven anything to Steelers Nation, it should be that you can never have enough good offensive lineman. An Doug Legursky is has shown that he is more than a capable guard or center who can and has come in during heat of a game and provided stability.

  • Yet he remains unsigned, and likely will need to remain available and unsigned until after June 1st.

Salary cap purgatory means that the Steelers must make tough choices and gamble with some personnel decisions.

They made such a gamble when they only offered Emmanuel Sanders an orginal round tender. That move cost them another million dollars.

It may also end up costing them two proven veteran back ups.

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Steelers Worst Nightmare Comes True: Steve McClendon Works Out with Packers

Could the Steelers worst nightmare be about to come true come true? For three years, nary an offer was made on a restricted free agent in the NFL. Part of that is due to the lockout uncertainty regarding the CBA.

But another part of it was due to the fact that for whatever reason, in today’s NFL draft the potential and promise held by picks seem to more valued than experience.

Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster joined the Steelers as rookie free agents. When they reached restricted free agency a year ago Pittsburgh rolled the dice that they could offer them original round free agent tenders which would have entitled the Steelers to zero compensation.

The Steelers gamble played off in spades. They left two proven players virtually unprotected, got both men back, and both where there when the Steelers needed them to start.

This year the Steelers made the same gamble with restricted free agents Emmanuel Sanders, Issac Redman, and Steve McClendon.

With three days left before the restricted free agent signing deadline Steelers Nation crossed its fingers, held its collective breath, and prayed that no team would make a move on either Redman or McClendon.

  • Unfortunately now one has.

Behind the Steel Curtain is reporting that the Green Bay Packers have worked out Steve McClendon.

BTSC’s source is a tweet from Ravens Insider, but Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Mark Kalboy of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review have commented on the Twitter feed, lending credibility to the story, although neither of the two dailies is carrying the story on their website, or is there mention of it on ESPN.

Ed Bouchette, however did go so far as to suggest this:

“@nollschooled: @edbouchette Packers gonna pay McLendon more than Hamp is gonna cost?” … Steelers tendered Mac more than Hamp wd cost
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) April 18, 2013

While Casey Hampton did show he had something left and appeared to get stronger as 2012 progressed, the Steelers have said they were not planning to resign him.

Steelers Hamstrung by the Salary Cap

It promises to be a stressful 48 hours on the South Side of Pittsburgh. The Steelers have no money to match an offer for Steve McClendon’s. And unlike Emmanuel Sanders, there is zero depth at nose tackle as the only other nose tackle they have under contract is Alameda Ta’amu, who recently pleaded guilty to a number of charges tied to a drunken rampage from last October.

If an offer for McClendon does materialize, the Steelers would have no choice but to cut a veteran player and/or take another step towards ensuring that they reach salary cap hell by restructuring yet another contract.

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Steelers Match New England, Emmanuel Sanders Stays in Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately decided that Emmanuel Sanders was indeed worth more than a third round pick and have matched their offer, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In doing so the Steelers are bucking conventional wisdom of both the press and, if reports are accurate, their front office. Dale Lolley reported that the Steelers front office was prepared to let Emmanuel Sanders to and take the draft pick. Numerous commentators of the Steelers press corps also concluded that letting Sanders go and taking the pick was the right move.

  • Mike Tomlin and his offensive coaches ultimately won the day.

The next question is, did they make the right move?

Hard to Understand the Steelers Logic on Sanders Unless…

Although there are pros and cons to resigning Sanders, taken at face value, this move is very hard to understand. Move brings the Steelers available salary cap space down to around $700,000, all but foreclosing the option that they will sign someone like Ahmad Bradshaw.

And should a team make a run at signing the Steelers two remaining restricted free agents Isaac Redman and/or Steve McLendon the Steelers would be virtually powerless to stop them – unless they wanted to do even more contract restructuring, which they clearly want and need to avoid..

In this age of the flat salary cap winning comes down to getting the most bang for your salary cap buck, and in that light it is not too hard to think that a low-priced rookie could produce the same kinds of numbers that Sanders produced.

However, the case for keeping Sanders is strong, particularly if the Steelers can meet one condition, namely, get him to agree to a more salary cap friendly long-term deal this summer in Latrobe.

As it stands, the Steelers will enter the season with Sanders as a starter. Sanders has shown promise since his rookie year, and even was elevated to co-starter status by Mike Tomlin last fall.

  • But like the rest of the Steelers receiving corps, Sanders play suffered.

Beyond injury and consistency concerns, Sanders return assures a few things:

While this isn’t a reason to resign Sanders, per se, Sanders return also lowers the potential opportunity cost of seeing yet another player drafted very recently depart to another team.

Ultimately the Sanders decision will come down to two things – is the real Emmanuel Sanders the Hines Ward-like receiver they saw in the first half of 2012 and if so can they agree to a long-term deal at a reasonable salary?

If the answer to those two questions is yes, then the Steelers will have made the right move.

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The Pros and Cons of Letting Emmanuel Sanders Defect to the Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a decision to make on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

As Steelers Nation now knows, after one false alarm the New England Patriots have tendered an offer to Sanders as a restricted free agent, and the Steelers are divided over whether to match it.

And as Dale Lolley reports, the division between keeping Sanders and letting him walk falls between the coaching staff and the front office. For good reason, there are pro’s and con’s to both keeping Sanders and letting him go.

The Pro’s of Keeping Emmanuel Sanders, And the Cons to Letting Him Walk

One of the strongest arguments in favor of keeping Sanders was he drafted in 2010 and that mean he should be entering his professional prime. With weak drafts in 2008 and 2009, Steelers have precious few players in that “peak” point of their careers.

But what does that really mean? Objectively speaking you can say:

  • Sanders still has some upside, having his development struggled with injuries in 2011
  • Sanders performance in the first half of 2012 was strong, looking at times like a young Hines Ward
  • Depth. After Antonio Brown the Steelers have Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery, who are now closer to retirement than their rookie years

Add to the factors above, losing Sanders would severely limit the weapons the Steelers have downfield. Heath Miller will not start the season, Chris Rainey is gone, and David Gilreath doesn’t exactly project as the next Yancey Thigpen.

  • Sanders is a known commodity, who will deliver value to the Steelers in 2013.

A draft pick simply delivers potential. Two third round picks could bring the Steelers the next Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis, or the next Anthony Smith and Willie Reid.

Yes, Sanders and Brown contributed as rookies, but recent experience with the likes of Willie Reid and Limas Sweed show how dangerous it is to bank on rookie receivers.

You could add that to the fact that, immediately after the 2012 NFL Draft the Steelers projected Mike Adams, David DeCastro and Alameda Ta’amu be early contributors and that did not work out so well.

The Pro’s of Letting Emmanuel Sanders Defect to the New England Patriots

If there is an upside to keeping Sanders and a downside to losing him there is both a football and business case for letting him go.

Experienced Steelers writers such as Dale Lolley and Jim Wexell have said that the 91st pick is far more valuable than Sanders, and that the Steelers would never give up their third round pick to trade for a player of Sanders caliber. And that is only part of the football case for letting him walk to New England:

  • Percentages. Yes, the draft is uncertain, but without Sanders the Steelers get 4 picks of the top 91 prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft, which statistically improves their chances of striking gold
  • Flexibility. With an extra third round pick the Steelers gain a buffer against the temptation to reach and improve their ability to move up
  • Durability. Sanders has had injury issues. How much these impact him in the future remains a question
  • Consistency. Sanders was the offense’s unsung hero in the first half of 2012, in the second half, not so much

In 2013, personnel decisions in the NFL never come down to pure X’s and O’s, there’s the business side. Sanders signed a 2.5 million dollar tender, according to ESPN. The business side boils down to this:

  • Matching Sanders offer means sacrificing the ability to make any other moves until June 1st
  • Allowing Sanders to leave, gives the Steelers 1.3 million more to their cap, improving flexibility
  • Investing towards the long term. Match the offer and the Steelers only keep Sanders for a year vs. applying that cap space towards the future on their terms

There’s also one other consideration not being discussed

The Steelers even have less depth at running back and on defensive line. Matching Sanders now would hamstring their ability to match tenders for Redman or McLendon and the Steelers get nothing if they lose McLendon or Redman.

What Decision Should the Steelers Make on Emmanuel Sanders?

When Steel Curtain Rising concluded its Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus on Emmanuel Sanders with a call for the Steelers to sign Sanders to the a long term deal.

That made good football sense then and still makes good football sense now.

  • In spite of that, the Steelers should probably allow Sanders to walk

The full picture of the Steelers salary cap situation is known now, unlike in early February and the Steelers are in salary cap purgatory.

The idea of using some of the money gained by Willie Colon’s departure to sign Sanders while at St. Vincents is a good one, but the Steelers don’t have t he luxury of waiting that long.

  • In a perfect world the Steelers would sign Sanders to a 3-4 year contract this summer. 

But the Steelers salary cap world is far from perfect, and the economic realities of the game say that they the Steelers should let Sanders walk.

This move will hurt and the toll would be immediate and likely heavy in early 2013. But if the Steelers play their cards right the dividends they could reap in the long term could outweigh the costs in the here and now.

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Emmanuel Sanders Reportedly Signs Offer Sheet with New England

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Steelers fourth year receiver Emmanuel Sanders has signed a one year offer sheet from the New England Patriots. If the reports are true, Pittsburgh has five days to match the offer or lose Sanders, a restricted free agent, in-exchange for the Patriots’ third round draft pick.

Sanders caused quite a stir and a bit of a panic in Steelers Nation during the end of Week 1 of free agency when he visited New England and was rumored to have signed a deal.

According to Schefter’s sources, the money in the deal shouldn’t scare the Steelers away from signing Sanders if they want him to return, which they might, considering Mike Wallace was signed away by Miami last month, and Sanders’ departure would leave the team with three veteran receivers–Antonio Brown, Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery–heading into the 2013 season.

And to compound matters, tight end Heath Miller suffered a serious knee injury in the next-to-last game of the 2012 season and isn’t expected to be ready in time for the upcoming campaign.

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Steelers Sign Stevenson Sylvester; Workout Howling and Gooden

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered free agency both salary cap strapped and dangerously thin at inside linebacker. And with one bold* roll of the dice they helped shore up depth at inside linebacker while (probably) saving themselves at least 500,000 dollars in the process, when the resigned unrestricted free agent Stevenson Sylvester. (*Ok, that’s “bold” with a very lower case “b”)

The Steelers drafted Sylvester in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL draft and could have secured right of first refusal or compensation in the form of a 5th round pick by offering Sylvester a restricted free agent tender of 1.33 million.

However, the Steelers opted not to offer Sylvester any tender making him an unrestricted free agent, allowing him to sign with a team of his choosing. But as obersved here in the free agent focus on Sylvester, no one was going to offer Stevenson Sylvester big money.

Sylvester had a strong rookie season looking good on special teams, but struggled with spot duty in 2011 and saw his 2012 season hobbled by injuries. The reality is that Sylvester will likely have to fight for a roster spot in training camp, especially of the Steelers end up making linebacker a priority in the 2013 NFL Draft as their pre-draft visits indicate.

Nonetheless, the Steelers now have a body at inside linebacker with experience in a Dick LeBeau defense to back up Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote, which is something they could not say 48 hours ago.

Free Agent Running Back, Linebacker also Pay Visits

The Steelers also entertained former Pitt running back LaRod Stephens-Howling who most recently played for Pittsburgh West (aka the Arizona Cardinals) and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tavares Gooden.

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Steelers Work Out Antoine Caldwell – Wither Doug Legursky?

Amid a flurry of visits from collegiate linebackers in advance of the 2013 NFL Draft the Steelers managed to work out another veteran free agent. Unlike visits from Ahmad Bradshaw or others by linebackers or safeties, this one came from a veteran who doesn’t play what is seen as a position of need.

  • Yesterday the Steelers worked out former Houston Texan Antoine Caldwell, who played as a part time starter at center and guard for the Texans. 

Although Willie Colon has departed, the Steelers count on recently resigned Ramon Foster and their 2012 1st round draft pick David DeCastro at guard.

Clearly the Steelers are exploring ways to build their depth at guard, and in that sense Caldwell’s visit is a little curious. Doug Legursky, whom the Steelers developed from an unrestricted rookie free agent into a reliable back up center and/or sometimes starter at guard, remains unsigned.

Steel Curtain Rising’s Free Agent Focus, tagged Legursky as one player the Steelers could probably get back if it wanted back, however, the same was said about Will Allen and Ryan Mundy, both of whom now play for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, respectively.

Perhaps the Steelers are still considering Legursky, perhaps they’re just window shopping to get a feel for what’s in the market, perhaps they’re only planning to bring back Legursky but after the draft and want an insurance policy in case he signs elsewhere.

But clearly the Steelers are at least contemplating the possibility of an offensive line bench without Doug Legursky for the first time since 2009.

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Another Bradshaw Visits Pittsburgh

If you’re an NFL free agent hoping to catch on with the Steelers, you’d be wise to have been drafted by them first, as resigning former players has been their M.O. of late.

The Steelers have window shopped free agents, bringing running back Beanie Wells, linebacker Victor Butler and tight end Kellen Davis to the South Side for work outs, but have declined to pull the trigger on any of them.

That could perhaps change tomorrow, as former New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw will visit with the Steelers. Bradshaw was a member of both Giants Super Bowl squads and has rushed twice for over 1000 yards in his NFL career.

  • Yet he has had injury problems, which led the Giants to cut him and have made other teams wary of signing him.

The Steelers have already lost Rashard Mendenhall in free agency to the Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are both restricted free agents and expected back, although neither made seized the starting job when given the chance in 2012.

The only other running back the Steelers have is Baron Batch, who is an exclusive rights free agent with the Steelers, but has the look of a player who will fight for a roster spot each training camp.

The Steelers are expected to look towards selecting a running back in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft, but Ahmad Bradshaw might allow them to seek one in later rounds.

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Cowboys Lasso Stelers Safety Will Allen

Jerry Jones is a man who knows what he wants and goes out and gets it. When Will Allen traveled out to Dallas the word was that the Cowboys were merely “Window Shopping.”

The Dallas Cowboys became the latest NFL team to poach a member from the Pittsburgh Steelers, this time wresting away Will Allen, who had severed as a back up safety since 2010.

Allen came to the Steelers from Tampa Bay in after the 2009 season, where he’d worked with Mike Tomlin. Allen played little in 2010 and 2011, but started seven games for Pittsburgh in Troy Polamalu’s absence, and was a noticeable upgrade from Ryan Mundy, whom the Steelers lost to the New York Giants.

Will Allen figured to be one free agent the Steelers could keep if they’d wanted him – perhaps they didn’t.

  • The loss of Allen is far from critical, but it does rob the Steelers of their only experienced back up at safety. 

Now behind Polamalu and Ryan Clark the Steelers can only count Robert Golden and Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith, who have a total of 21 NFL games between them – the bulk of come from Golden playing special teams.

The Steelers knew they needed to inject youth into the depth chart at safety entering the off season. Allen’s defection to Dallas only reinforces that.

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