Let's continue looking at the various Pittsburgh Steelers players whose contracts expired after the 2010 season. Once again, it's obviously somewhat pointless to speculate what may or may not happen with 2011 free agents while we wait to hear what new provisions might be added to free agency under the terms of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Nevertheless, we can likely assume that there were only be minor tweaks to the existing free agency system, so let's carry on with a discussion about Mewelde Moore and what his future might hold in Pittsburgh.
2010 Salary: $1.475 million
2010 Salary Cap Allocation: $1.975 million
The back story:
Moore signed a three-year contract before the 2008 season to join the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Tomlin, who knew Moore from their time in Minnesota, recruited the versatile back to join him in Pittsburgh. After Rashard Mendenhall was lost for the season early in his rookie year, Moore proved to be an invaluable asset as Willie Parker struggled to stay healthy. Moore rushed the ball 140 times for 588 yards (4.2 ypc) and 5 TDs. He was also a receiving threat, catching 40 balls for 320 yards and 1 TD. Without Moore's contributions, I'm not sure the Steelers earn the No. 2 seed and in the '08 playoffs. Without those home games, the Steelers maybe don't get one for the other thumb.
Medenhall's return to the lineup in '09 relegated Moore back to third-down duties. He had just 35 attempts and was less successful with them, accumulating just t 118 yards (3.4 ypc). Moore was again a part of the passing game though, finishing with 21 receptions for 153 yards and 2 TDs.
After the '09 season, I thought there was a distinct possibility that Moore might get cut. Not because he was a terrible player or anything like that. I just thought that he was on the books for too much money in '10. He had a base salary of nearly 1.5m. Perhaps the fact that there was no salary cap in 2010 benefited Moore since the extra $500k cap allocation that would have usually counted against the team's salary cap didn't much matter. Perhaps though Tomlin and Bruce Arians put a high price tag on the fact that Moore was the only proven, reliable veteran behind Mendenhall on the running back depth chart. Mendenhall stayed healthy for the second consecutive year, and it was Isaac Redman, not Moore, who spelled Mendy sparingly throughout the season. His rushing attempts decreased to 31 last season. Moore did again contribute in the passing game, hauling in 26 passes for 205 yards.
The BTSC consensus: Late last week, I opened up the floor to you all to see what you thought the Steelers should do with their various free agents. Moore was one of the many players there was no real consensus on. A number of you thought he should be released with Redman and Jonathan Dwyer as viable options behind No. 34. Others thought he should be retained for one or two more years, but only if the price was right.
Moore's Estimated Market Value: Moore knows he's not going to command a lot of attention or a huge payday either in Pittsburgh in elsewhere. But for a guy that's not yet 29 years old and been a part of winning teams this past three years, it's also unrealistic to think that he can be retained for the veteran minimum. Considering that Chester Taylor signed a 4-year deal worth over $12m, including $7m in guarantees for the '10 season, it's just not likely that Moore won't garner some attention on the open market for teams looking for a steadying presence in their backfield.
My guess at what Moore could get paid outside of Pittsburgh is somewhere in the ballpark of 3 years, $7m, $2.5m guaranteed.
What I'd do: I, like the rest of Steeler Nation, am a big believer in Isaac Redman's ability to fill many of the roles that Moore handled in recent years. He's shown an aptitude for picking up third-and-short opportunities, proven he has solid hands catching the ball, done his job in pass-protection, and perhaps most importantly, not made any big mental miscues like fumbling the football. Therefore, I'd personally increase Redman's role significantly in '11, and roll the dice that neither he nor Mendenhall goes down with an injury for any extended period of time.
Let's be clear though. Guys like Mewelde Moore don't grow on trees. That might be hard to agree with considering that Moore lacks the ability to rattle off a huge play due to his limited speed. But in a league where wins and losses are decided by the thinnest of margins, having a guy like Moore (or Kevin Faulk) who (1) protects the football, (2) allows your starters to catch their breathe from time to time, and (3) knows what he and everyone of his teammates should be doing on all plays, all make him extremely valuable to an NFL coach.
Really this one likely comes down to whether Moore wants to remain in Pittsburgh with a team that's in great position to win this next couple of years. Moore is a big charity guy -- he and his wife have done great work with their foundation. On the one hand, that makes me believe that he might (understandably) want to cash as big a payday as possible as he approaches the age of 30. On the other hand, if the Moores have made a happy and complete transition from living in Minneapolis to Pittsburgh and would like to remain there for the foreseeable future, than maybe Moore is less inclined to uproot his family to chase a few more dollars in another market. We'll see, but regardless of what Moore decides, it will be for the right reasons -- to stay with a winning team in a city he enjoys living in and giving back to; or wanting to maximize his earning power while he can in order to better be able to serve others once his playing days are done.
So, with all that said, I'd offer Moore a deal that has (1) less guaranteed money...(2) is back-loaded in the final years which would allow the Steelers to release him at a later date.
How about: 3 years: $4.8m, $1m signing bonus. ( Year 1= $1m; Year 2 = $1.6m; Year 3 = $2.2m)
With a deal like that, it's hard to 'lose'. You either retain a steady hand for very little money, or know you've offered something reasonable in the event he signs elsewhere. If he does stay, the Steelers could then see if Jonathan Dwyer and Redman are indeed ready in '11. If they're not, Moore all of a sudden becomes well worth the cost not only in '11, but in '12 as well. He could then be released prior to the '13 season, unless he somehow looks to be every bit as fresh and physically capable as he has the last few seasons. And if he signs with a new team, you're saving money to distribute elsewhere, and at least feel somewhat confident that the rest of the depth chart at RB will be able to more than pick up the slack.
Anyway, you've got to figure that more money is going to be allocated for veterans under the new CBA, while the rookie pay scale is cut back. That should free up a little money to pay guys like Moore solid sums without committing too many resources on guys that have proven they'll provide a solid return on investment even if there's next to no chance they'll all of a sudden be game-changers.