Watch Tower: Coolong Leaves BTSC for USA Today Steelers Wire, Plus Insight on Jarvis Jones

The Pittsburgh Steelers have weathered two full weeks of free agency, but the biggest event from a Steelers media analysis involves one Steelers Nation scribe who doesn’t even have press credentials (yet.) The Watch Tower takes a look at that, plus an interesting nuggets on James Harrison and Jarvis Jones.

Neal Coolong Bolts BTSC for USA Today Steelers Wire

Brice McCain’s defection to the Dolphins might be the Steelers biggest on the field free agency loss this off season, but perhaps the biggest off season “free agency” move for Steelers Nation in general involves a Steelers scribe.

Two weeks ago Neal Coolong announced that he was leaving Behind the Steel Curtain after nearly 6 and a half years with the publication, with close to the last three as the site’s editor.

  • Just how big is the move? In a word it is major.

Before proceeding some important disclosures are in order. Yours truly is an occasional, non-paid contributor to BTSC. More over, I both know Coolong well and consider him to be a friend. In fact, it was a Watch Tower column analyzing Stanley Druckenmiller’s media savvy (when Druckenmiller was trying to buy the Steelers) which put Steel Curtain Rising on the map for Coolong.

Behind the Steel Curtain is a venture sponsored by SB Nation, which in turn is owned by VOX Media, an emerging media company. Michael Bean was BTSC’s founding editor, and even before Coolong joined in 2008, BTSC had already established itself as the top Steelers fan site on the net.

Coolong has a background in journalism, having worked for the Minnestota Star, having cut his teeth on tasks such as covering “track meets in the freezing April temperatures of the upper Midwest.” Coolong left the Star to work in the corporate sector, but still found himself longing to write which drew him to Steelers Fever.

Steelers Fever provided what the Star lacked – immediacy. But Coolong’s ambitions quickly outgrew his role at Steelers Fever – publishing just once a day wasn’t enough. Happenstance brought him in touch with the owner of Die Hard Steel and in Coolong’s words:

That’s when I got the immediacy I wanted. And no editorial oversight. It was awesome.
Suddenly, I found myself wanting to get up early so I could write before I went to work. I’d pound a few cups of coffee, write out a few stories and I’d keep my eyes glued on the site’s traffic numbers.

Unfortunately for Coolong, the Die Hard Steel network suddenly shut down in 2007 without even an explanation, let alone a final pay check, to Coolong. Undaunted, Coolong moved on to Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider and Real Football 365.

  • He also started his own short-lived site On the Black Side blog which featured excellent work during its short lifespan.

But On The Black Side neither gave Coolong the exposure he sought, nor did it give him the exposure he deserved.

That wouldn’t come until Coolong saw Michael Bean put out a call for writers at the end of October 2008. Coolong’s contributions began with his “Pregame Zone Blitz” and quickly morphed into multiple entries per day.

Regular BTSC writers won’t bat an eye when learning of what Coolong considers his greatest accomplishment on the site:

…is the amount of people who appear convinced I’m a beat writer. That I’m at the South Side facility, firing questions at Mike Tomlin, every day. I tell them I’m not a beat reporter, and that I have a full time job outside the site. The question is always the same: “How do you write that much?”

Indeed, anyone who has ever tried to blog, if only for a few weeks, asks the same question. Coolong’s production at BTSC was both legendary, sometimes writing as many as 9 articles per day. While Coolong’s features can stand with the best and most experienced pro football writers (see his commentary on the day the Steelers cut James Harrison), he’s become a true master at the art of “Content aggregation.”

“Content aggregation,” for those unfamiliar with the term, is the process of taking a news story published elsewhere, summarizing it and, when done right, adding your own spin, interpretation, or additional value-added observation. Content aggregation is a staple of any fan-based sports blog and this site is no exception.

  • But Coolong has learned to do it better than just about anyone else. And at BTSC he did it. Everyday for over 3 years.

Coolong explained the process of taking a 140 character tweet and “Learning to recognize the bigger story in the small details, then figuring out how to get it written (heds, lede, copy and teasers) in five or six minutes along with keeping an eye on regular work takes a slight amount of work.” Coolong learned his craft well and to his credit, and unlike some other “big name” Steelers fan sites, he did it ethically, always crediting the original source and always providing a back link.

With Coolong gone BTSC remains in good hands with new editor Jeff Hartman, someone who is already showing his own knack for content aggregation, and someone whose capble of writing strong features as well.

Preview of USA Today’s Steelers Wire

In his new venture, Coolong is going to be editor of USA Today’s Steelers Wire, a stand alone site dedicated to the Steelers. It is believed that USA Today will be creating similar stand alone sties for all 32 NFL teams.

  • At Steelers Wire, Coolong’s task will be similar to what it was at BTSC, but it will be more visually focused, relying more heavily on USA Today’s impressive photo and video archive.

In addition to his BTSC experience, Coolong will bring the same passion to “Prove it again” that has driven him out of bed at 4:15 every morning for over 3 years. The Watch Tower wishes him the best of luck.

Potential Problem for SB Nation’s Model

The motto of SB Nation is “Fans passion, professional” and during the tenures of both Michael Bean and Neal Coolong the Watch Tower repeatedly praised BTSC for producing features that offered depth and insight that the professional press rarely provides.

  • But Coolong’s departure also hints at a weakness of that model.

SB Nation editors are paid for their work, and while it’s unknown how much, most of those editors have primary jobs elsewhere. The sites also pay minimal stipends to some of their regular writers.

  • But beyond that, the site’s model is based on semi-professional, quasi-volunteer contributors.

Coolong’s has now just parlayed his work a bigger opportunity with a “mainstream” outlet, and he is not the first editor of an NFL SB Nation site to do so. What makes this so interesting from a business perspective, is that USA Today’s Steelers Wire isn’t the only mainstream media outfit that’s gearing up to greatly expand its Steelers coverage.

  • This would not be happening if the NFL wasn’t a hot commodity, and there wasn’t money to be made in generating page views covering the NFL.

It will be interesting to see who sites with models similar to SB Nation adapt to the new competition.

Interesting Insight on Jarvis Jones from Wexell and Lolley

There’s also been new news regarding Jarvis Jones that carries a journalistic twist. Jarvis Jones of course has been the subject of intense discussion this off season, which is logical because when free agency began he was the only outside linebacker under contract AND because after two year’s he still represents a big ? on the Steelers depth chart.

One of the biggest arguments in favor of bringing James Harrison back both in 2014 and for 2015 was because Harrison could serve as a role model or mentor for younger players, including Jarvis Jones.

  • In early March, Steel City Insider threw a monkey wrench into that story where Jim Wexell explained to his readers that Harrison indicated Jones had never approached him about being mentored.

That’s news which warrants legitimate worry, but because it came in a subscription-only article it wasn’t wide spread.

But knowledge of it made reading a Dale Lolley piece all the more interesting. Just days before the Steelers resigned James Harrison, Lolley wrote that he expected Harrison back, and shared a picture of Vince Williams, Jarvis Jones, Sean Spence, and James Harrison and Ryan Shazier training together in Arizona.

James Harrison, training, Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Ryan Shazier

James Harrison mentoring Jarvis Jones, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, and Ryan Shazier

This photo certainly doesn’t contradict Wexell’s story, and one might even wonder if Wexell’s work in “outing” Jones somehow prompted the young player to seek out the veteran.

Regardless, the whole sequence of events shows how subscribing to a paid service can and does enhance the value a reader gets from information gleamed from free news sources.

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Steelers Resign Darrius Heyward Bey to 1 Year Contract

You’ve got to love the Steelers when it comes to free agency and contracts. Last week both Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney II both went on record essentially declaring that the Steelers were done in free agency. Almost less than 24 hours later, the Steelers resigned James Harrison. And now they’ve done it again as the Steelers resign Darrius Heyward Bey to a one year contract. Once again, the men on the South Side prove the old adage:

  • Watch what the Steelers do about personnel, not what they say.

At the end of the day the neither the case for resigning Darrius Heyward Bey nor the case for letting Heyward Bey walk was overly strong. While Bey might have entered the league as a the 7th overall pick, at this stage in his career he’s essentially a role player, and one of those player’s whose existence in the NFL is now a year-to-year affair, as he clings to one of the final roster spots available.

  • Still, as a role player, Bey has done a pretty good job.

Yes, he only caught 3 passes in 2014, but he was only targeted 5 times. And he got a helmet in all 16 contests, which shows that Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith regards him highly.

And with his speed, Bey could be in play for the 4th wide receiver slot that was vacated when the Steelers cut Lance Moore.

Wither Will Allen?

The decision to resign Darrius Heyward Bey is an interesting one in another respect. Most observers expected the Steelers to continue to resign their own players, and with the Bey deal being completed, on might ask if they’re done.

  • If that is the case, then safety Will Allen could be looking at beginning his “Life’s Work.”

As a free agent, Will Allen did not figure to get much attention from either the Steelers or anyone else in the NFL when signing period began, but the Steelers defense was playing its best ball late in the season when Allen was starting and Troy Polamalu was on the bench.

While the Steelers certainly could and perhaps should look to boost their depth at safety in the draft, Will Allen remains a viable option at least on paper.

Perhaps the Steelers see him that way, but if so they’re in no hurry to sign him.

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Silverback Returns! Steelers Resign James Harrison

The Pittsburgh Steelers plan at outside linebacker going into the 2015 off season was remarkably similar to their plan on defensive line for the 2014 off season:

  • Allow unrestricted free agents to test the market
  • Do bargain hunting for veteran free agents as needed
  • Address the position via the draft and existing youth
  • Resign an stalwart veteran as a contingency measure

A year ago on defensive line the Steelers let Ziggy Hood and Al Woods hit the market, and declined to overpay for either of their services (assuming their was ever entertained bringing Ziggy Hood back). When both Hood and Al Woods found greener pastures, they signed Cam Thomas. They also drafted Stephon Tuitt on second round and Daniel McCullers in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

This year at outside linebacker the Steelers were content to let Jason Worilds test the market, but they did keep Arthur Moats off the open market. Presumably, the Steelers at least looked and perhaps talked to some free agent outside linebackers, although none visited the South Side. It is no secret the Steelers are looking to outside linebacker in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The case for the Steelers resigning James Harrison was strong. Like Keisel, Harrison indicated he still wanted to play. Here things turned tricky. Brett Keisel didn’t have a suitor in waiting outside of Pittsburgh. Bruce Arians waited until deep into August even to call Kesiel. The Steelers saw the move, and Keisel never made it to Pittsburgh West.

LeBeau made no secret for of his love for his players, and James Harrison was almost moved to tears when asked about LeBeau.

So James Harrison wanted to play, the only question was were, in Pittsburgh on in Tennessee. The Steelers were interested in bringing Harrison back, but wanted to wait until August. And as of Friday, the conventional wisdom was that Harrison would get the Keisel treatment from the Steelers.

Silverback Forces Steelers Hand

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin do not make personnel decisions scared. But they do make smart ones. Yesterday James Harrison (again) made it known that he would only play for the Steelers or for the Titans. What’s more, he let it be known that his kids were divided as to where he should go.

It can be no coincidence that his Instagram post saw the Steelers resign James Harrison Harrison in less than 48 hours.

Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell concurs:

Outside of that nothing else has changed. The Steelers will still give Howard Jones, Jordan Zumwalt and Shawn Lemon a chance to earn roster spots. They will seek a young outside linebacker early in the 2015 NFL Draft. But they have also ensured that James Harrison will be on their depth chart.

The Steelers are simply making a proactive personnel move, very similar to the one they made when Green Bay worked out Steve McLendon when McLendon was a restricted free agent in 2013. In doing so, they give themselves important breathing space in the 2015 NFL Draft.

There’s a big difference between entering the NFL Draft wanting to get a top cornerback and a top outside linebacker early on and needing to take both a corner and an outside linebacker early on.

Realism Must Accompany Harrison’s Return to Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers resigned James Harrison for all the right reasons. He proved that he still has something left in the tank, he still has the desire to play, and he can serve as an excellent role model in the locker room.

  • But neither the Silverback of 2008 nor Deebo of 2010 will is returning to Pittsburgh.

Indeed, Harrison’s own agent has said as much, declaring that Harrison will be in a “supporting role”

And that’s fitting. James Harrison raised hell vs. the Baltimore Ravens at midseason, but was held in check in the Steelers playoff loss to Baltimore. To mix sports metaphors, Harrison certainly won’t be Willie Mays final stint with the Mets, but will rather likely be more like Michael Jordan’s final seasons with the Washington Wizards – as a player who can still perform at a high level, but only sporadically.

And by itself, that should be enough to help the Steelers in 2015.

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Analyzing the Steelers Cornerback Situation…. What Options Does Pittsburgh Have?

The Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback situation entering the 2015 off season in general and free agency specifically was pretty simple: They needed to upgrade. How are things going so far? Well let’s do a quick review:

Sounds rather dire doesn’t it? Clearly, the Steelers cornerback situation isn’t evolving under ideal circumstances. But from a historical perspective, it has been worse in past off seasons, a lot worse.

Steelers Cornerback Situation Circa 1997

It has been a while, but think back to the 1997 off season and the Steelers look set at corner by comparison. The Steelers cornerback situation beginning the 1997 season saw their top three cornerbacks heading to free agency. Here’s how things played out:

  • Rod Woodson signed with San Francisco, calling the Steelers offer insulting (even though he’d turned down a very lucrative deal the previous summer)
  • Willie Williams, who started 15 of 16 games in 1996 signed with Seattle
  • Deon Figures signed with Jacksonville

At one point in the off season, the top cornerback on the Steelers depth cart was none other than Randy Fuller (the guy whose claim to fame was breaking up the Hail Mary in the 1995 AFC Championship game — Fuller never did anything else.)

So while the current Steelers cornerback situation is hardly ideal, they’re way better off today than at this point in the 1996 season.

Which isn’t to say the Steelers shouldn’t be concerned about cornerback because they should.

Steelers Options at Cornerback in 2015

But there’s a difference between being concerned, and making personnel decisions out of fear. And if there’s one thing Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have shown, is that they very rarely if ever make personnel decisions out of fear. The Steelers obviously had interest in Robinson and Moore or else they would not have brought them in for a workout at the South Side.

  • But they also wanted Brice McCain back, but had zero intention of overpaying for him.

That’s proven to be a sound personnel and salary cap strategy. After all, one could argue that extending Cortez Allen’s contract last season was a move motivated by fear, and right now it looks like it was a mistake. So don’t be upset that Kevin Colbert refused to panic.

But it will be interesting to see what decision he makes next. Right now the Steelers options would seem to be:

  • Go all in on Cortez Allen’s rebound and Antwon Blake’s development
  • Engage in some serious bargain hunting at the bottom of the free agent pool
  • Commit to getting a projected starting caliber corner in early in the 2015 NFL Draft

So the Steelers cornerback situation does leave them with options. Cortez Allen bouncing back is the ideal situation, but Cortez’s performance since his late season flashes at the end of 2012 has left a lot to be desired. Antwon Blake can be counted on to continue to improve, but he really doesn’t project as a starter.

Last year the Steelers picked Brice McCain off of the scrap heap and it turned out well, and Kevin Colbert has an incredible eye for finding talented players who no one else seems to want. But even Colbert can’t always transform a lump of cast-off coal into a golden edition to the roster. Look no further than Cam Thomas for evidence.

And the Steelers will most certainly target cornerback in the draft, something they were expected to do in 2014 NFL Draft.

How Things Played Out at Corner in 1997…

Incidentally, the last time the Steelers drafted a cornerback in the first round of the NFL draft was 1997, when they took Chad Scott out of the University of Maryland. Chad Scott won the starting job and turned out to be a pretty good corner over the course of his career, protestations of some fans to the contrary.

The Steelers also signed Donnell Woolford on the same day they drafted Scott.

  • Unfortunately, Wolford struggled mightily as a starter, and had to be benched.

Once again, Carnell Lake made the switch from safety in time for a key Steelers victory over Denver, and his move ultimately helped the Steelers reach the 1997 AFC Championship game. Carnell Lake of course remains with the Steelers as a secondary coach.

Hopefully whatever moves the Steelers make at corner don’t prompt Lake to suggest the Steelers relive the old day by shifting Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden or Mike Mitchell to cornerback.

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Ben Roethlisberger’s Performance Between Contracts

News that the Steelers resigned Ben Roethlisberger spread like wildfire on Friday the 13, as you’d expect it to. The next question that was on everyone’s lips was of course, “How much did the Steelers pay Ben.” Those numbers have slipped out, as it’s a 5 years 99 million dollar contract, with incentives that could take it to up to $108 million.

Thanks to Ed Bouchette’s reporting in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, we now know that Roethlisberger’s contract comes with a 31 million dollar signing bonus in addition to a 4.25 million dollar roster bonus, both of which he can pocket this year.

  • Roethlisberger only brings the Steelers about 1.5 million dollars in salary cap relief, although that’s because his number was high already from restructures.

The breakdown of Roethlisberger’s contract falls like this:

2015: $17,245,000
2016: $23,950,000
2017: $18,200,000
2018: $23,200,000
2019: $23,200,000

Dejan Kovacevic has said that the deal’s structure represents a new approach to managing the cap hit that all franchise quarterbacks carry. It remains to see how that will play out, although Kovacevic and others expect the first restructure to happen in 2016, when Roethlisberger’s cap value jumps to almost 24 million.

Roethlisberger, Between Contracts

This of course is Ben Roethlisberger’s second 100 million dollar contract. He signed the first one on March 4th 2008 and a lot has happened since then.

Here is a look at Ben Roethlisberger’s performance between contracts, by the numbers:

1 Super Bowl victory, which came less than a year after he signed is first extension, as the Steelers triumph in Super Bowl XLIII.

2 Super Bowl appearances, Super Bowl XLV in addition to Super Bowl XLIII
2 children born to Ben Roethlisberger and his wife, Ben Jr. and Baylee Marie
2 sexual assault accusations but 0 criminal complaints lodged against Roethlisberger (sorry, folks, but its very much part of Ben’s story.
2.8 – the average number of players to start at quarterback, per season, for the Cleveland Browns

3 quarterbacks not named “Roethlisberger” started games for the Steelers during this time, namely Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich

4 games were missed by Ben Roethlisberger due to suspension
4 games were missed by Ben Roethlisberger due to injury (so much for the “oft injured Roethlisberger” thesis)

5 The number of playoff victories quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger
6 Different Steelers caught playoff touchdown passes from Roethlisberger

7 rushing touchdowns were score by Ben Roethlisberger
12 separate players started at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns (yeah, let’s rub it in!)

19 post season interceptions
21 touchdown passes were thrown in the post-season by Roethlisberger

23 Different receivers caught touchdowns thrown to them by Roethlisberger
31 the length of his longest rush between contracts (vs. Oakland, in the game he got cold cocked in)

67-36 Roethlisberger’s record as a starter between contracts
167 touchdown passes

94.3 Ben Roethlisberger’s passer rating between contracts
273 number of times Ben was sacked between contracts

2,565 days passed between Ben Roethlisberger contract signings
3,518 completed passes

27,384 yards – Ben’s regular season passing yardage total between contracts

While all of these numbers are impressive (except for perhaps the suspension related ones and the sacks), the ultimate value of Ben Roethlisberger’s contract will be measured in Lombardis.

Let’s hope number 7 can help the Steelers climb the Stair Way to Seven.

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Steelers Antwon Blake Arrested, Is Pittsburgh More Interested in Patrick Robinson, Sterling Moore?

On the heels of Brice McCain’s defection to the Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson on Monday and on Tuesday are scheduled to host Sterling Moore a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback.

Tomorrow morning both men will find their bargaining position with the Steelers stronger, if just a tad bit, because Steelers restricted free agent cornerback Antwon Blake was arrested over the weekend in California for public drunkenness.

  • The news was first broken by TMZ, but has since been picked up and confirmed by major media outlets and blog-based sites such as Behind the Steel Curtain.

Pittsburgh Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten issued the following statement “We are aware of the report and are still gathering information. We will have no further comment at this time.” Of course this is close to a word-for-word recitation of the statement Lauten makes every time a member of the Steelers gets mentioned for the wrong reasons.

The restricted free agent tender will allow the Steelers to match any offer for Blake, it is not guaranteed and can be removed by the Steelers. It is unlikely that the Steelers would remove the tender following Antwon Blake’s arrest, given that an arrest for pubic intoxication pales in comparions with the drunken rampage which Alameda Ta’amu went on in October 2012 which drew only a suspension from the Steelers.

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Steelers Resign Ben Roethlisberger – Can Pittsburgh Reload for Another Super Bowl Run?

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Ben Roethlisberger to a 5 year contract extension reportedly valued at 99 million dollars with a potential to escalate to 108 million depending on incentives. The deal binds Ben Roethlisberger to the Steelers until 2019, when he’ll turn 37.

Specific terms of the contract were not  immediately disclosed, but the key to understanding any NFL contract is the signing bonus and other salary guarantees, but during the press conference Steelers President Art Rooney II described the deal as “Very fair to Ben Roethlisberger, very fair to the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review however has reported that Ben Roethlisberger’s contract includes a 31 million dollar signing bonus, and his overall compensation puts him just below the Packer’s Aaron Rodgers.

While Ben Roethlisberger’s contract extension was not real “news,” it does put to rest rumors that surfaced in 2013 that Roethlisberger was unhappy in Pittsburgh and desired a trade.

In fact, when asked about his vision for the future, Roethlisberger made no bones about it, declaring:

Our goal is to win Lombardi Trophies. I am excited to be able to really put the pedal to the metal. I think we have a good, young football team that has a lot of talent and a lot of ability. Walking over here I asked if there was room in that trophy case for more trophies, because that has to be our ultimate goal.

Yes, the Lombardi Trophy is Pittsburgh’s only measure of success. With the Steelers resigning Ben Roethlisberger to a 5 year contract, Art Rooney has ensure that the most important element for getting another Lombardi is in place.

But Ben Roethlisberger is only one element. He can’t do it himself.

Can Pittsburgh Put Enough Talent Around Ben Roethlisberger for Another Super Bowl Run?

When the Steelers last extended Ben Roethlisberger’s contract in 2008, Steel Curtain Rising opined, “The Steelers have Resigned Roethlisberger, now comes the hard part.” The hard part was namely protecting him.

  • After only being sacked 25 times en route to Super Bowl XL, Roethlisberger’s sack total soared to 46 in 2006 and then 27 in 2008.

The Steelers had neglected the offensive line in the draft, and the tendency continued in their 2008 and 2009 drafts. However, with Maurkice Pouncy’s arrival in 2010, followed by Marcus Gilbert’s in 2011, and David DeCastro’s in 2012 that changed.

  • Todd Haley was brought in largely to help protect Ben from himself.

And while it took a while, Ben’s sack total was down to 33 in 2014, even though he started every game. And, if the performance of the Steelers offense during the later half of 2014 is any guide, the Steelers have the offensive fire power to make a run at another Super Bowl.

  • The Steelers defense, however, is another question, altogether.

With Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt, and Daniel McCullers the Steelers have a solid base on the defensive line. Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shaizer, Vince Williams and Sean Spence give the Steelers excellent depth at inside linebacker.

  • Outside linebacker and the secondary remain BIG question marks, however.

There’s no need to rehash the question marks that surround Jarvis Jones, the lack of someone to start opposite him, and those surrounding Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, and Cortez Allen. Not to mention the lack of depth at corner, even if Allen does bounce back.

Comparison of 49er’s of ‘80’s Not Steelers of ‘70’s Most Apt

Its inevitable that any talk of Ben Roethlisberger and Lombardis will draw comparisons to the Steelers of the 70’s. And so it should. But those comparisons, while fun and interesting, are not quite accurate.

  • The Steelers of the 1970’s got drafted together, won Super Bowls together, and grew old together.

In contrast, when the Steelers took Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, they were a Super Bowl ready team, although few called it that way. During the Steelers 6-10 2003 campaign even Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriolia compared the Steelers to an someone with a serious weight problem who didn’t get that way overnight and wouldn’t rebound over night either.

  • No, the better comparison is the 49’ers of the 80’s.

Joe Montana serves as a contestant for those teams, but the make up for the 49’ers ’81, ’85, ’88 and ’89 teams is remarkably different. The 49er’s managed to constantly re-load and keep the team competitive while Montana’s health allowed him to continue to play at championship caliber football.
The Steelers efforts of the past several seasons have aimed at doing the same thing.

Can the Steelers and Roethlsiberger pull it off? Who knows? For the record Roethlisberger turns 33 this year and Joe Montana was 33 when he won his last Super Bowl….

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Steelers Sign DeAngelo Williams to Back Up Le’Veon Bell

If nothing else, the Pittsburgh Steelers are consistent. The big news out of the South Side last week was of course the Steelers resigning Ben Roethlisberger to a 5 year contract extension.

But that wasn’t the only deal they made.

The Steelers also signed running back DeAngelo Williams to a 2 year deal valued at 4 million dollars. While Williams is coming to Pittsburgh to back up Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers need him to be more than just a change of pace back, as Le’Veon Bell faces a minimum two game suspension for last August’s DWI arrest.

What makes the Williams deal interesting, is that the last time the Steelers extended Ben Roethlisberger’s contract, they also signed a backup running back, coming to terms with Mewelde Moore.

Moore’s signing and then his presence on the Steelers roster was almost totally ignored by the press, and his role was different from Williams. In addition to Willie Parker, the Steelers were about to draft Rashard Mendenhall, and had Gary Russell and Carey Davis on their roster.

Moore was buried deep on the depth chart, and the biggest question behind Mewelde Moore’s signing was tied to Mike Tomlin’s abilities as a talent evaluator – his first several signature personnel moves – signing Sean Mahan, trading for Allen Rossum, drafting Dan Sepulveda and picking Matt Spaeth with a third round pick were already seen as questionable 14 months into the job.

Moore of course turned out to be phenomenal value free agent signing, and Steel Curtain Rising has long argued that Mewelde Moore served as the unsung hero of the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII season.

DeAngelo Williams Signing Raises Different Questions

The DeAngelo Williams signing raises different questions, namely whether or not he has anything left in the tank. Williams was drafted by Carolina in the first round of the 2006 draft. Since then he’s started for 5 full seasons and split time in four others. He’s rushed for close to 7,000 yards in his career, with his best year coming in 2008 when he ran for over 1500 yards and scored 18 touchdowns.

  • Williams however, did not play well in Carolina during 2014.

Injuries limited him for much of the season, and he only gained 219 yards averaging 3.5 yards per carry. On Steel City Insider Jim Wexell reports that Williams was not happy with the support he got in Carolina after the death of his mother, and is quite motivated to show he still has something left.
Indeed, William’s own words back this up:

Steelers Nation welcomes DeAngelo Williams to Pittsburgh, and does so with the hope the he indeed has something left.

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Understanding Jason Worilds Sudden Retirement

Jason Worilds sudden retirement shocked everyone in Steelers Nation, if not the entire NFL. Here was a young man, a second round draft pick out of Virginia, who cut his teeth in the league playing behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and being the guy that the passed on Sean Lee to take.

  • Between injuries and the pedigree he was playing against, he struggled under the rader for 3 seasons.

Finally, in 2013 he sized a starting role in his on right and never looked back, sacking quarterbacks with reckless abandon. The Steelers weren’t quite sure what to make of him, and slapped the transition tag on Worilds, keeping him off the free market.

  • Not that the move hurt Worilds much financially, he pocked a check for just below 10 million dollars.

Then he went out and played his first full season as starter. He hardly missed a down. He tied with Cameron Heyward as the Steelers sack leader. In market that puts a premuium on pass rushers, Worilds looked set to cash in.

  • Except he didn’t, and instead chose to walk away from it all.

Several reports out of Pittsburgh say that Worilds religious faith drove his decision. So be it. Its his choice and if it’s what he thinks is right, he should be commended, as Dan Gigler of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed.

But Jason Worilds sudden retirement isn’t the first and will not likely be the last, and there’s a simple reason for it that has nothing to do with increased concern about head trauma, CTE or tau proteins….

At the end of the day, Football is about “The Want It.”

Steelers Nation has Seen This Before

Jason Worilds is actually trodding a path that is well worn by former Pittsburgh Steelers, a tendency that began long before the current concern about concussions came to fore.

For example, David Woodley went 4-2 in six starts in 1985 and then mysteriously retired.

In 1992 Bill Cowher’s Steelers approached the first playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium in over a decade, Barry Foster infamously threatened to hold out the entire 1993 season for more money.

The Steelers gave it to him in 1993, but then Foster’s attitude problems forced them to trade him for a song to Carolina after the 1994 season. Carolina cut Foster, who later signed with the Bengals. But after his first practice in Cincinnati walked up to David Shula, handed him his bonus check and said his heart wasn’t it in.

Rashard Menendhall played a season for Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals, and then hung it up rather than seek another payday.

The lesson then is the same is it is now:

  • Football is about having “The Want It.”

Yes, you need athletic talent. Yes you need football skills (see the track stars that have tried and failed). Yes you need commitment and dedication (see Troy Edwards “I can’t race air” comment – how long did he last?)

  • Those elements are all necessary to in football, but even taken together they’re insufficient for success.

There’s a reason why Chuck Noll held 6 week training camps and actively campaigned to see the preseason returned to its original 6 game length. This was necessary, he explained during one of his final training camps, to get both the mind conditioned to use the body as a projectile.

  • Using your body as a projectile is an inherently unnatural act.

Yet it’s been a fundamental part of football, long before shoulder tackles and “kill hits” came into vogue. This means that something, other than money, has got to fuel your desire to play football. And that’s why the best football games often come down to tests of will – who wants it more.

Steelers had lost, and were on the ropes. John Harbaugh sought to establish, in the words of Behind the Steel Curtain editor Neal Coolong, “Who is the bitch in this relationship” by ordering 5 straight running plays.

  • The Steelers won no moral victories on holding Baltimore off, but they did send a clear signal – they wanted it.

When Rashard Mendenhall retired, Steel Curtain Rising observed that his sudden retirement potentially explained a lot about his erratic performance – benched one week by Mike Tomlin for being “off the details,” only to start the following week vs. San Diego and gain over 150 yards.

  • Jason Worilds sudden retirement likely offers no such insights.

Worild’s focus and effort were never at issue. What held him back where likely lack of opportunity, injury, and having good but not great talent. But he’s reached a point in his life when he’s realized he has other things he wishes to do.

In other words, Worilds lacks “The Want It.” If that’s the case retirement is the right decision, and Steel Curtain Rising wishes Jason Worilds only the best.

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As Brice McCain Bolts to Dolphins, Steelers Scramble

In some ways free agency is like the NFL Draft. While the big names get all the money and generate all of the headlines, fans gripe when their team isn’t make a sufficient splash early on.

Yet, just as there are quality players to be found later rounds of the draft, there are also 3rd line free agents who can contribute.

  • You just have to be wise enough, and smart enough to find them.

In 2014 Brice McCain proved to be a true a testament to Kevin Colbert’s ability to find talent in the most unlikeliest of places. McCain’s signing a year ago was panned by much of Steelers Nation, but by the end of the season it was McCain and not Cortez Allen who was making splash plays.

McCain’s rejuvenation story is something for Pittsburgh to be proud of, but sadly he won’t be finishing it with the Steelers as McCain bolted to the Miami Dolphins for a reported 2 year deal that included 3 million dollars in gurentted money.

McCain’s Dolphins Defection Unfortunate, But Unsurprising

McCain’s loss is bad news for the Steelers, who now only have William Gay, Antwon Blake, and Cortez Allen under contract for the coming season. Of the three only Gay is a proven starter, and Blake realistically only projects as a 3rd corner – at best.

  • But the news of his departure should shock no one.

As our Steelers 2015 Free Agent Focus indicated, McCain was in a similar situation to Arthur Moats – someone who wasn’t going to get a ton of money thrown at him, but quite possibly someone who would get more than the Steelers could or would pay.

The Steelers, it would seem are not quite out of salary cap purgatory yet. Which doesn’t mean that they would have signed McCain for anyway, as the Steelers rarely entertain bidding wars for free agents and have even more rarely been guilty of overpaying.

Steelers Restructure Pouncey Contract, Eyeing Johnson

While the Steelers are expected to target cornerback early in the 2015 NFL Draft, they’re likely to address the need in free agency and word is they’re interested in Patrick Johnson of the New Orleans Saints.

The Steelers are clearly angling to make some sort of move, as they restructured the contract of Maurkice Pouncey and gained an additional 3.5 million in salary cap space, according to reports.

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