Mike Tolbert Watch Turned into a Mike Tolbert Warning

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 05: Running back Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers reacts after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 5, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Anyone who jumped immediately at the thought of Chargers RB Mike Tolbert signing with Pittsburgh in free agency must feel kind of foolish today.

Those publications know who they are.

Tolbert, a talented power back, fits the Steelers mold in the sense he runs hard and he wasn't drafted. The real difference, though, is Tolbert wants to get paid. The recent trend in Pittsburgh doesn't center around paying running backs a whole lot, and sticking with the idea they can find productive players in the undrafted free agency realm, not the unrestricted free agency realm.

Obviously, Rashard Mendenhall being a first-round pick is the exception to this rule, but it's instructive to point out he's in no way a lock of receiving a high dollar extension with the Steelers. The guy who will carry the slack early in the season as Mendenhall recovers from a torn ACL is Isaac Redman, an undrafted free agent from 2009. There's Jonathan Dwyer, a sixth-round pick in 2010. And John Clay, a 2011 undrafted free agent, who joins Baron Batch, a seventh-round pick from that same year.

Mewelde Moore has been a part of the system for four seasons, and is a free agent. Are the Steelers going to cast off a veteran who's proven to be effective on this team for an injury-prone free agent who will probably cost more?

None of the purely speculative report that surfaced when San Diego Union-Tribune writer, Kevin Acee, tweeted Tolbert was "expected to land" in Pittsburgh.

This is really no different than the report suggesting Bears TE Kellen Davis was a possible target for the Steelers. I'm sure that's what Davis's and Tolbert's agents want people to think.

It doesn't matter to Pro Football Talk, though, who, through "writer" Evan Silva, stepped up the speculation with a headline "Chargers may not re-sign Tolbert, who may head to Pittsburgh."

The story itself didn't reveal any new information (not surprising from that site), but the headline, combined with Acee's tweet, set SteelerNation abuzz with the possibility of a new player.

Nevermind the lack of precedent for such a move, or a backfield chock-full of younger backs, all of whom (except Batch) got carries last year due to injuries, and performed well. Nevermind the salary cap limitations the team is up against, or the lack of contract for WR Mike Wallace, GM Kevin Colbert's proclaimed top priority of free agency.

Acee tweets later his opinion was Tolbert would end up in Pittsburgh, again not referencing a source, in name or otherwise, strongly indicating his opinion was just that; an opinion.

At this point, the Steelers are leading a contest they're not participating in, and the seed Turner's agent planted is thriving.

Until the dark cloud that is Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette intervenes.

Now, Silva writes another non-story story, making perfectly clear he was not the one who reported the news. He does point out there was some rationality behind a Steelers and Tolbert marriage, but takes no responsibility for the increased amount of speculation. He does throw Acee under the bus, though.

Acee may have been misled regarding the Steelers' alleged interest.

It's almost comical now. Acee wasn't the only one misled, Mr. Silva. You may not have broken the story, but your report of his words shows you bought into the information as well. Just admit you got suckered, it's ok.

I get what Pro Football Talk is trying to do, and it appears Acee was, in fact mislead. It happens. The problem comes in the strength of the language Silva uses in his report, and the lack of attribution to a source on Acee's report.

Pro Football Talk will never be caught dead picking up a phone to try to confirm a story like this, or doing any kind of reporting of their own. It's certainly not rare in the illustrious world of Internet writing. The point I'm making is it takes three groups to create speculation: An original source, the inevitable re-treaded report from a second source, and throngs of fans who believe whatever anyone is writing.

And yes, I'll return for a mea culpa if Tolbert does sign in Pittsburgh. But here's some free speculation based on several areas writers who cover the NFL should not miss; they aren't interested because they don't have money and they don't need him.

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