Colbert, Tomlin, Steelers Made Correct Call on LaMarr Woodley

To put it mildly, critiquing Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s decision making is in vogue now within Steelers Nation. And, truth be told, some of the personnel decisions the two men have made are open to question (Who exactly decided to trade up to get Alameda Ta’Amu, for example?)

  • But when it comes to LaMarr Woodely, Colbert and Tomlin called this one spot on.

NFL Draft Diamonds couldn’t have chosen a more apt photo. A year ago the Steelers suffered their latest meltdown at Oakland’s Black Hole, and as you can see, Woodley was rushing Terrell Pryor. Which is what the Steelers had in mind when they resigned him to 6 year 61.5 million dollar contract in 2011.

Woodley, put simply, was a sack machine. At that point in his career, Woodley’s sacks-per-game pace far outstripped Steelers legends such as Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter, or James Harrison. And it continued that way for a while. Woodley opened up 2011 on a tear, with 9 sacks in the first 8 games, including two drops of Tom Brady in the Steelers upset of the Patriots.

  • But that’s when Woodley suffered his first soft tissue injury.

It’s been downhill ever since. 2012? Ruined by injury. 2013? Ruined by injury. By the 2014 off season, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had seen enough and made the collective decision to bite the bullet. The Steelers cut LaMarr Woodley, but it’s a move that’s costing them $5.6 million against their 2014 salary cap and 8.6 million in 2015.

  • But it was clearly the correct move.

Woodley was a total bust in Oakland, massing all of 5 tackles in six games. Yes, he’d moved from outside linebacker to defensive end, but these are numbers that do not lie.

Time to Take Our Own Medicine

Regular readers are familiar with Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower, which analyzes the job done by those who cover the Steelers. The chief focus on the Watch Tower is to seek to understand what makes the press tick – what gets covered (or not covered) by who and why. But, truth be told, the Watch Tower does like to play a little bit of “gottacha” now and then, pointing out when journalists get things wrong.

  • Well, Steel Curtain Rising got this one wrong, and in a big way.

In our 2014 Steelers Free Agent Focus run up, Steel Curtain Rising reviewed the pro’s and con’s of keeper or cutting Woodley. And while we correctly read the tea leaves which indicated the Steelers were going to cut him, our final conclusion was:

The Curtain’s call is that the Steelers stick with Woodley for one more year, but the Steelers themselves seem inclined to take the cap hit move on.

It’s time for the Watch Tower to take its own medicine — there’s a reason why Colbert and Tomlin get paid to do what they do and this is just a non-commercial fan site. They were right on Woodley, I was wrong.

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Steelers Quarterly Assessment: Reviewing Free Agency Decisions

Successfully managing free agency and the salary cap in the NFL comes down to getting the most bang for your buck. The Steelers had one of their most active off seasons ever in terms of free agent signings, and at the quarter point of their season, it’s time to do some comparisons.

Steelers Free Agent Quarterly Assessment:  Wide Receivers

Steelers, Free Agency, wide receiver, sanders, cotchery, wheaton, brown

The Steelers biggest off season risk was their decision to let two of Ben Roethlisberger’s top three targets depart, as they did when Emmanuel Sanders left for Denver and Jerricho Cotchery left for Carolina.

Sanders is thriving under Peyton Manning, already projecting out at over 100 catches for the year. Cotchery is doing well, but has yet to score a touchdown, something he did with regularity in Pittsburgh.

This is one case where numbers don’t quite tell the tale. Markus Wheaton has proven to be an effective compliment to Antonio Brown and at a far lower price tag. Justin Brown has been OK, but again, the numbers neither show his end zone drop nor his fumble.

Lance Moore is just working into the line up, and if the Pittsburgh press corps has anything to say bout it, he’ll see more time soon.  Darrius Heyward-Bey has mostly played on special team, but did draw a pass interference penalty that helped the Steelers get going vs. Carolina.

Steelers Free Agent Quarterly Assessment:  Outside Linebacker

Steelers, Free Agent, Linebacker, Woodley, Jones, Worilds, Moats

The Steelers took another big risk here in parting with LaMarr Woodley. While Jarvis Jones is hurt and Jason Worilds hasn’t done much to impress, it is hard to argue this decision, based solely on the numbers. Both men have out performed Woodley, who admittedly is playing a new position, as has Arthur Moats. James Harrison’s name appears for continuity’s sake, as he has only been around for 1 game.

Steelers Free Agent Quarterly Assessment:  :  Running Back

Steelers, free agency, decisions, running back, dwyer, blount

This one is incredibly easy. LeGarrette Blount has performed exceptionally well, while Jonathan Dwyer was doing OK, before he was suspended….

Steelers Free Agent Quarterly Assessment:  Defensive Line

Steelers, Free Agency, Defensive Line, Hood, Woods, Thomas

This is one is tricker than the numbers suggest. Ziggy Hood isn’t doing anything to impress anyone, even in practice, down in Jacksonville. Al Woods numbers in Tennessee look pedestrian, but they’re better than Cam Thomas.

Again, Cam Thomas struggled particularly during the first two games of the season, and his being out of position prevented others such as Cameron Heyward and/or Steve McLendon from being where they were supposed to be. None of that is reflected in the numbers. So its hard to say if the Steelers are getting comparable value for the $500,000 that they saved by choosing Thomas over Woods.

Steelers Free Agent Quarterly Assessment:  Safety 

Steelers, free agency, Ryan Clark, Mike Mitchell

The Steelers started free agency with a bang, but signing Michael Mitchell on the first day to a large, although not excessive, deal. The Steelers have a history of free agent signings at safety, and of course the man Mitchell replaced, Ryan Clark, arrived as a free agent.

Mitchell however, has not delivered much on the field, other than perhaps penalties. While he has played better during the second two weeks, he has not yet provided an upgrade to Clark, who seems to be holding his own in Washington, if the numbers are to be trusted.

Steelers Free Agent Quarterly Assessment:  Inside Linebacker

Steelers, free agency, linebacker, Shaizer, Spenc, Foote

The story of Larry Foote is perhaps as a little bit of a shocker.  The Steelers struggled mightily in Foote’s absence, but when he was cut, it was a ho-hum non-story, and this was long before it was clear that Sean Spence would play again and/or Ryan Shazier would be drafted.

The numbers show that Foote is in fact playing very well for Pittsburgh West, and certainly has something left in the tank. Ryan Shazier hasn’t done poorly, but hasn’t made any splash plays. Spence only has one game as a starter so it’s a little too early to judge.

Quarterly Reports to Continue as Time Allows

Steel Curtain Rising will continue to do these “Steelers Free Agent Quarterly Reports” as time allows. It will be interesting to see how the numbers comparison evolves over the season.

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Steelers Extend Contract of Cortez Allen for 5 Years

The Pittsburgh Steelers are about as conservative (in the non-political sense) of an organization as you can find. No cheerleaders. Decal on 1 side of the helmet. A single head coach press conference during the week.

  • But no one can accuse Kevin Colbert for lacking a flair for the dramatic.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a regular season contract negotiation black-out policy since 1993 that they never violate. So it appeared that the Steelers would take to the field vs. the Cleveland Browns without extending Cortez Allen’s contract.

This mark’s the second time in three years that the Steelers have had an 11th hour contract signing. In 2011, prior to the Debacle in Baltimore, Troy Polamalu signed his contract extension at the airport prior to departing for Charm City.

The Steelers drafted Cortez Allen in fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Allen showed promise on special teams, and even worked into the team’s Dime packages, seeing significant playing time in the Steelers 2011 upset of the New England Patriots.

Allen was expected to push for a starting job in 2012, but was held off by Keenan Lewis, who budded into top NFL corner during the course of the season. However, injuries to Ike Taylor brought Allen into the starting lineup during the end of 2012, and in just 5 quarters of play, Allen forced 5 turnovers.

With Allen on the rise, and the Steelers mired in salary cap purgatory, Keenan Lewis walked as the Steelers opted instead to resign William Gay. Allen won the starting job in 2013, but was injured vs. Tennessee  in the opener (who wasn’t?), and didn’t regain his penchant for splash plays until the end of the year when an Allen pick six helped put the Steelers over the top vs. the Packers.

While Cortez Allen’s 2013 season was inconsistent, his 3 year totals see him out performing Lewis and are on par with Ike Taylor’s (note, the totals in the graphic above are for 3 years, not four.)

Prior to signing this contract, Allen was scheduled to be a free agent at the end of this season. As the off season began, Art Rooney II declared that the team would wait to extend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s contract in favor of renewing other deals.

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Steelers Resign Brett Keisel; Da Beard Back for Final Year

The Pittsburgh Steelers today answered what has perhaps the biggest question of the 2014 off season  “What would the Steelers do about Brett Keisel?” by resigning the veteran defensive end to a one-year deal.

Entering free agency, Kesiel made twin vows – One that his playing days were not over, and two that he didn’t see himself making the minimum salary.

  • The free agency period started and the Steelers almost immediately lost Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, their numbers 3 and 4 defensive ends. 

While the Steelers did add Cam Thomas, Kevin Colbert immediately pronounced him to be a back up. And still, Kesiel got no offers. The Steelers further muddied the situation by drafting Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Jim Wexell predicted Keisel would get lost in the numbers game, while Scott Brown revealed that Heath Miller told him “Keisel’s not here yet” and Dale Lolley informed Steelers Nation that the Steelers never cleaned out 99’s locker.

  • Yet, during OTA’s Cameron Heyward moved to left defensive end, and remained their through out training camp.

Perhaps it took Bruce Arian’s attempt to entice Keisel to come to Pittsburgh West, perhaps it was their plan along, but the Steelers committed to bringing back Keisel for one final year.

  • In the final analysis, this is a smart football move. 

Brett Kesiel’s best days are behind him, but he clearly showed last season that he has something left to contribute on the field, and the leadership that Kesiel will bring off the field remains priceless.

Keisel’s Return Creates Numbers Game on the Defensive Line

While no set role has been announced, Mike Tomlin did commit to continuing to rotate his defensive ends.

The safe money says that Kesiel will remain the nominal starter, but quickly yield to the younger players behind him and if that happens, he’ll be playing a role similar to the one that Jerome Bettis played in the 2005 season that culminated in Super Bowl XL.

  • And one of those younger players just found his claim on a roster spot a lot more complicated.

Two Steelers rookies, 6th round pick Daniel McCullers and undrafted rookie free agent Josh Mauro, are hoping to make the team, in addition to 2013 7th round pick Nick Williams and practice squad stand out Brian Arnfelt.

Prior to the news of Keisel’s resigning, veteran journalist Dale Lolley predicted that the Steelers would only keep 6 lineman, and that Williams and Arnfelt would be the odd men out. Now it looks like someone else will join them.

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Fernando Velasco Signs with Carolina Panthers

Behind the Steel Curtain editor Neal Coolong couldn’t have put it better:  “The safety blanket has been removed.”

That coupled with the headline “Steelers free agent signs with another team” coming less than 24 hours before the Steelers arrive at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe for training camp could cover a number of players, from Brett Keisel to James Harrison to wild cards such as Plaxico Burress and and even LaRod Stephens-Howling.

  • No, this one involves someone with far less history with the team (well, he has more that LaRod Stephens-Howling, but how doesn’t?)

No, this latest defection involves Fernando Velasco signing with the Carolina Panthers, a player who in less than a full season of starts, managed to develop something of a cult following in Steelers Nation.

Last year when David DeCastro was taking out Maurkice Pouncey‘s ACL 8 plays into the season opener vs. Tennessee, Fernando Velasco was sitting in a church in Nashville. A week later he was starting for the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.

Although the Steelers lost that night, and the next two nights, the play of the offensive line steadily improved, and the Steelers eventually started winning.

  • Unfortunately for Velasco, his ride on that train ended vs. the Ravens on Thanksgiving, when he tore his Acillies late in the season.

Cody Wallace did a respectable job in snapping the ball to Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers opted to resign Wallace instead of the recovering Velasco. Any thoughts that the Steelers might still opt for the Velasco-Wallace combo at center ended when the Steelers renewed Pouncey’s contract in early June.

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Foote Surprised He Got Boot from Steelers

On of the first moves the Pittsburgh Steelers made to open their 2014 off season was to wave veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote. And by Foote’s own account, the caught him by surprise.

Speaking on Pittsburgh sports radio station 93.7 “The Fan” Foote recounted:

My agent met with (the Steelers) down at the Combine in Indianapolis. The talk was that we couldn’t get lined up, we lost a few games early on because we couldn’t even get lined up.

Based on that conversation, Foote assumed he would be spending 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania instead of Pittsburgh West aka at the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers gave Foote the boot, clearly having made other plans.

The move itself is not surprising. While the Steelers did struggle with Vince Williams starting, Williams improved, and could certainly be expected to deliver more value for the salary cap dollar than 34 year old Foote.

Insight into How the Steelers Function?

The main function of stories like these is to tide Steelers Nation’s voracious appetite for news until training camp starts. This one might, however, offer some insight into how the Steelers do business.

  • Before proceeding, it’s important to acknowledge that Steel Curtain Rising has no inside information here.

It’s impossible to understand the meaning of Foote’s story without knowing the context of the conversation. What’s most likely is that Foote struck up a causal conversation with a Steelers coach or scout, who said something like “How’s Larry doing? You know, we missed him dearly last year. We couldn’t even get lined up right for the first half of the year….”

It’s also possible the Steelers arrived at Indianapolis intending to bring Foote back but saw enough of the available inside linebackers to make the veteran expendable.

But there’s also a chance that the conversation reveals a split between Steelers scouts and coaches over whether to bring him back or not. Such disagreements are common.

At the end of the day, Steelers Nation will never know and even if there was disagreement, it is healthy for coaches and front offices to have differing opinions.

Regardless, despite subtracting Foote and his 12 years of experience, the Steelers nonetheless have to potential to see inside linebacker swing from one of the thinnest to one of the deepest units on the team in years.

Lawrence Timmons will return to start, and 1st round pick Ryan Shazier is already projected as a fellow starter. Sean Spence recovery has progressed far enough to give him a serious shot at a roster spot, and the there’s incumbent starter Vince Williams. Free agent Arthur Moats can also play on the inside, and of course there’s Kion Wilson, the man who took the field when Foote got hurt vs. Tennessee.

That’s all on paper of course. Things will start sorting themselves out for real on the fields at St. Vincent’s very, very soon.

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Cortez Allen at the Crossroad – Kevin Colbert’s Choice

Once upon a time, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a cornerback in the third round.

His rookie year he mainly played special teams, but even then flashed greatness. Coaches and fans alike expected great things going into year two, yet the up and coming 3rd rounder failed to crack the starting lineup. Nonetheless, in his third year he did earn a starting slot, and even began shadowing opponents’ top receiver.

  • Inconsistency aside, the third rounder left the Steelers with a difficult choice.

Six years later, the Steelers took another corner in the third round. He little as a rookie year, sitting behind sixth rounder. He played more in his second year, but disappointed nonetheless. Many coaches wrote him off as a lost cause. Yet, in his third year, his play improve dramatically, leaving the Steelers with another difficult choice….

If you haven’t guessed it already, the two third round corners in question are none other than Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, and the choice they both left the Steelers was whether or not to commit long-term money based on a three year body of work.

  • The Steelers ponied up big money to lock Ike Taylor down long-term, prior to the 2006 season

And although he faltered in that campaign, earning himself a slot of Bill Cowher’s dog house, he bounced back with Mike Tomlin’s arrival and the organization hasn’t looked back since.

  • The Steelers declined to offer Keenan Lewis a long-term deal and allowed him to play out the final year of his rookie contract. Lewis blossomed into an good if not great NFL corner in his fourth year.

The Steelers, hamstrung in salary cap purgatory, were unable to make Lewis and offer, Lewis left, and Steelers Nation has suffered buyers remorse since.

All This Has Happened Before, and Will Again…

This experience is important, because Kevin Colbert is now faced with a very  similar situation with yet another inconsistent, yet up and coming corner in the form of Cortez Allen.

The Steelers drafted Cortez Allen out of the Citadel in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Unlike Taylor and Lewis, Cortez Allen saw playing time as a rookie, play a key role in the defensive effort that led to the Steelers Halloween upset of the New England Patriots.

Allen made a bull rush at Keenan Lewis for the starting job, but Lewis held him off. Allen’s name didn’t get mentioned much during the disappointing 2012 season, yet as the rest of the team was floundering, Allen flourished. Vs. the Bengals, Allen picked off two passes and forced a fumble, and vs. the Browns Allen forced two more fumbles.

  • In two games, Allen single handedly accounted for the lion’s share of the Steelers takeaways.

Even if that stat says a lot about the Steelers defense chronic inability to generate turnovers, it also shows Allen’s game-changing potential, and that was one reason why the Steelers let Lewis go.

  • Yet, like Taylor and Lewis before him, Cortez Allen has weaved threads of inconsistency into his own story.

Allen won the starting job was expected during Steelers 2013 training camp, yet got injured vs. Tennessee. His return in London vs. the Vikings is something that Steelers Nation would rather forget as he managed to both get burned and miss tackles on long touchdown plays.

Indeed, as the Steelers began their rebound, it was William Gay, (dubbed “Big Play Willie Gay” by my friend Tony Defeo), who won the accolades as Allen reverted to the bench. But Allen didn’t take his demotion sitting down, and recorded two interceptions and a crucial pick-six in the win over Green Bay.

What to Do About Allen?

Since the advent of free agency in 1993, the Steelers have made it their practice to resign the players the want to keep in the final year of their contracts. On a few occasions, think Levon Kirkland and of course Kordell Stewart, this has gotten them into commitments to players who ultimately proved unworthy.

  • But by an large, the philosophy has paid the Steelers dividends both on the field and on the salary cap ledger.

Now they need to decide if they want to do the same with Allen.

Some number are helpful

cortez allen keenan lewis ike taylor steelers stats
Cortez Allen compared to Taylor, Lewis

Of the three players, Ike Taylor had both the most solid body of work and the most consistent line of development. Lewis’ first two years were for naught, and his third year while solid, hardly projected “spectacular.”

However, compared to Lewis, Allen’s third year was gang busters, and while he’s lacked Taylor’s consistency, he arguably authored more splash plays in his limited time than Taylor’s entire career – save of course for Super Bowl XL.

The Steelers also have greater salary cap flexibility here in the summer of 2014 than they did in the summer of 2010.

Curtain’s Call

There are no guarantees in pro football. But Ike Taylor is probably playing is final year, and William Gay is the only other Steelers cornerback with experience. The Steelers aren’t going to offer nor will Cortez Allen’s agent allow him to sign, a low-ball, long term offer. Yet, the Steelers almost certainly keep him off the market in July or August 2014 for far less than he will command in come March 2015.

Ultimately, Carnell Lake, Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin know Allen and his work habits.

If he is in fact as diligent as he’s said to be, then the Steelers would be wise to resign him this off season.

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Steelers Resign Pouncey for 6 Years, 48 Million Dollars

For nine years and two Super Bowls, Ray Mansfield anchored the center of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. Mike Webster took up the call for another 13 years 2 Super Bowls and 1 Hall of Fame induction. After that, the duty fell to Dermontti Dawson for the next 12 years. Finally, Jeff Hartings did the honors for 6 more years and another Super Bowl.

  • Since 2010 that responsibility has fallen to Maurkice Pouncey and after today, at least on paper, he’ll carry that burden for another 6 years.

June first’s arrival not only brought OTA’s to the South Side but also money freed up by LaMarr Woodley’s release. The question of “What will the Steelers” do with their salary cap largesse has been on the minds of everyone in Steelers Nation.

At this point, the answer is “None of the above,” as the Steelers are focusing on resigining their own, after inking Maurkice Pouncey to a 6 year 48 million dollar deal, that reportedly includes a 9 year signing bonus.

Maurkice Pouncey was one player that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert fell in love with at the 2010 NFL scouting combine, so much that Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had no compunction or reservation in saying he was the Steelers pick right then and there.

Pouncey did not disappoint, becoming the first rookie to start for the Steelers in the Mike Tomlin era, capping the season off with a Pro Bowl appearance followed by two more.

Who’s Next?

With Pouncey resigned, attention will immediately shift to who is next. Dale Lolley suggests it will be Cortez Allen, who is entering the final year of his contract and the Steelers likely have no wish to repeat what happened with Keenan Lewis.

Ben Roethlisberger might also be a possibility, given the current escalation of quarterback contracts, but that is a far more complicated contract to negotiate.

Nonetheless, although the deal makes Pouncey the NFL’s highest paid center, it actually gives the Steelers some short term salary cap relief, given them greater flexibility.

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Will June’s Arrival Bring Brett Kesiel’s Return to the Steelers?

We have now entered the month of June. For Steelers fans that means that the non-prorated portion of LaMarr Woodley’s salary gets credited to the Steelers books, freeing the team to sign the rest of their draft picks, think about contract renewals for players like Maurkice Pouncey, and do any free agent bargin hunting.

  • Regarding the latter option, there’s one name on everyone’s mind, and that’s Brett Keisel.

When free agency started, the word to the wise via the press was that Keisel was not expected back. However, Al Woods was expected back, and he is gone. So is Ziggy Hood. The team did sign Cam Thomas in free agency, but he’s viewed primarily as a backup at nose tackle who can also play defensive end.

It would seem like the door opens for Kesiel’s return. The question remains, is the team and is Kesiel interested in walking through it?

Will Kesiel Return – Divided Opinion

Prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were asked about the team’s situation at defensive line. Both men indicated that the team’s work was not complete there.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporter Mark Kaboly wasted little time in offering his interpretation of that message:

The Steelers 2014 draft only seemed to bear that out. Not only did the team unexpectedly take Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second round, they also grabbed nose tackle Daniel McCullers in the 6th.

Yet ESPN’s Scott Brown reported provided Steelers Nation with some interesting insights regarding Brett Kesiel. In speaking with Heath Miller, Brown got the veteran tight end to share this with him:

  • “Keisel’s not here right now and he was well into his 30s last year.”

Brown wasted little time in in dissecting this one observing that “’Not here right now’ implies that Keisel will be back with the Steelers at some point.” To be clear, Brown quickly qualified his conclusion, admitting that he could be reading too much into Miller’s words.

Is There Room for Kesiel, and at What Price?

Steel Curtain Rising has been on the record in support of Kesiel’s return, and remains so, but any objective analysis must concede that the situation is far from clear-cut.

  • As mentioned above, the Steelers lost two players from 2013’s defensive line, Al Woods and Ziggy Hood.

They added Cam Thomas, Tuitt, and McCullers. While McCullers isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, its unlikely the Steelers would cut such a large lineman with so much potential. Nor is the team likely risk trying to sneak him on the practice squad.

In addition, the Steelers also have Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams, and Hebron Fangupo who are return from inactive list, practice squad or injured reserve duty in 2013. That brings the Steelers current total (excluding undrafted rookie free agents and futures contract signers) to 8.

Last season the Steelers carried 7 defensive lineman on their roster for the bulk of the season, with Arnfelt getting activated late in the years.

  • Adding Kesiel would give them nine.

A big motive for keeping Brett Kesiel would be his potential to mentor the younger lineman much the same way Jerome Bettis mentored Willie Parker.  Arnfelt and Williams will already enter training camp as roster spots numbers 50 and above/practice squad candidates.

Nonetheless, the Steelers still appear to be committed to youth on the defense, and that would seem to leave Kesiel as the odd man out, particularly if he is serious in his stated desire not to play for the minimum salary.

Ulitmately the decision will come down to Kesiel’s willingness to play for less, and the calibration of youth and experience that Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and John Mitchell desire.

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Off the Market: Cameron Heyward to Stay in Pittsburgh in ’15, Steelers Pickup 5th Year Option

During the last two off seasons Steelers Nation has renewed its acquaintance with the phenomena of free agent defections. Keenan Lewis blossomed into a star and was gone. The Steelers investment in training and development of Al Woods went up on smoke. Jerricho Cotchery bolted for Carolina.

  • But the Black and Gold faithful can lay their minds at ease that Cameron Heyward’s name will not be in play next year.

As expected, the Pittsburgh Steelers have exercised their 5th year option on 2011’s first round draft pick, Cam Heyward. The option will pay Heyward 6.969 million dollars and is guaranteed.

Heyward’s development was slow, although it’s a legitimate question as to why he was not pushing Ziggy Hood for more playing time if not the starting role in 2012. Nonetheless, he remained a backup until the Steelers 0-4 start, which saw Mike Tomlin promote him to the starting role. And indeed, Heyward gave Steelers Nation something to be thankful for last fall, as he seized the reigns and making splash play after splash play.

As a high schooler, I desperately wanted the Steelers to draft Pitt’s “Iron Head” Craig Heyward, Cam’s father, but the Steelers passed on him, taking Aaron Jones instead. (Think Chuck Noll and Dick Haley would have liked to have had that one back.) “Iron Head” never got to play in Pittsburgh, but his son will remain there for another year.

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