Steelers front office makes short but thorough work of fixing fractured franchise

Jared Wickerham

After a disappointing 2012 season which was riddled with injuries, scrutiny began to expose minor flaws which were compromising the team's structural integrity; the organization has abandoned the duct tape for a welder.

When the roof caves in taking the master suite straight through the basement, it's probably too late to call in a contractor. Patching things back together may be a possibility, but temporary fixes by definition are never permanent solutions.

The front office of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization has found itself under a magnifying glass held by fans and journalists alike, after failing to create a trend of Super Bowl victories out of their trophies from 2005 and 2008. They reached the big game in 2010, but fumbled away every chance of a three-peat behind the leadership of a stumbling Ben Roethlisberger, who played the game basically in a cast.

Ben's boot is almost iconic of not only the largest hinge on which the advantage in Super Bowl XLV swung toward the Green Bay Packers entering the game, but also of the largest roadblock along his franchise's projected golden brick road.

Health issues and injuries have had more to do with the Steelers ring deficiencies over the four seasons since the team's last championship than anything performance or off-field related.

The presence of Ryan Clark alone may have altered the outcome of the 2011 playoff loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. Clark is prohibited from playing in high altitudes by the team, due to its effect on his condition involving sickle cell traits. Granted, Clark cannot be solely blamed for the loss, as the team could have posted a better regular season record and hosted the Broncos in Heinz Field; but his absence was ominous in the game, as it is every game held in the mile-high city.

The passion of Willie Colon may have prevented a once healthy Steelers rushing attack from falling into complacency and mediocrity, had he not missed basically two-and-a-half consecutive seasons to three separate injuries. How many losses could have been scraped off the edge of the turf by the missing fingers of a flying Troy Polamalu? Even players who normally remain virtually unscathed are eliminated at inopportune times, like Ike Taylor during the final stretch of the 2012 season, which allowed Cortez Allen to exhibit his strengths but exposed the weakness which lied in the depth behind him.

Frequent failure breeds frustration. While a healthy Roethlisberger may have changed the final score of the missed championship chance, a healthy Roethlisberger has also given up victories in the past to last-place teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. The largest perpetration of the injury bug, is the infection of instability which festers in its bite. When chaos ensues, most folks accept the mindset of "every man for himself".

With the passing of each unfruitful campaign, off-seasons and free-agency have lurked like wolves outside the Pittsburgh city limits. When teams fail to produce trophies, they still have players which produce statistics; and as professionals, those players wish to be compensated for their individual contribution. Most people don't want to get paid based on how well someone else did their job, or how well the company did as a whole.

What began as whispers and low grumblings grew into hungry growls as the 2013 NFL year officially began, which coincided which a free-agent exodus of Steelers players which had been, or had become established starters. Most teams which consider themselves to perennial contenders do not allow their top receiver, left tackle and left guard walk out the door; not to mention, a former defensive player of the year and the team's "other" starting outside cornerback.

Then the players, coaches and media began talking to one another. Fingers began pointing at LaMarr Woodley's hunger and lack of conditioning, and then turned inward after comments involving fractures within the locker room. The argument over rebuilding and retooling is still going today. The Steelers really did neither. They repaired, but not with patches; they simply replaced the aging, overpriced and faulty pieces which were the culprits of any perceived fractures in the first place.

James Harrison and Mike Wallace held themselves in higher esteem than the team could afford. Instead of stealing from Peter to pay Paul and Mary, the team simply cut bait and moved on to find new fish, like Jarvis Jones and Markus Wheaton. Previous years draft picks will also find more opportunities to establish worth, in Jason Worilds, Chris Carter and Emmanuel Sanders. Instead of struggling to persuade a player like Rashard Mendenhall to stay when he obviously didn't really want to, they wished him the best as he signed an easily affordable deal with the Arizona Cardinals.

Each player which was allowed to walk expressed self-first mentalities at various points in their careers. Mendenhall skipped a game which he was deactivated for. Wallace admitted to a lack of focus and was often the fuel behind the Young Money pan flash. Even Harrison, after being severely fined for administering a violent hit on an opponent, threatened to retire and quit on his teammates mid-season because he felt the league offices were over-scrutinizing his play. Harrison to this day still feels he should not have to alter the way he plays for safety.

As draft grades spill out of every venue now with the draft concluded, there are two things consistent with every single player they selected and most of the undrafted rookies invited to camp - quality character and self-less attitude toward the game of football. Take guys like Jones or Shamarko Thomas who play for more than just a paycheck or notoriety, and then realize they brought in the same types of free-agents. Ahmad Bradshaw, though his chances of signing with Pittsburgh are all but gone now, was the ultimate teammate when forced to split carries with Brandon Jacobs. LaRod Stephens-Howling doesn't care about being a starting anything, he just wants to play and will, anywhere you ask him to. Matt Spaeth didn't leave Pittsburgh initially because thought he deserved to be higher on anyone's depth chart. He had to find a new job because the Steelers were hoping to be better with David Johnson and Weslye Saunders behind Heath Miller - which in the end, they weren't.

While most who have scrutinized the actions of the front office over the past few years have not looked beyond depth charts and "madden" ratings, the organization has gotten back to the rule which allowed them to build such a strong modern roster in the first place. Football can be taught, character cannot; not in the NFL. The Steelers have fortified their house with unbreakable spirits, unwavering wills and insatiable hungers for team success; all without completely imploding and starting from scratch.

Injuries will always be a fear as no player is immune, but the Steelers have taken their weaknesses and turned them into strengths. This is the true measure of an organization, and the Steelers are once again setting the standard.

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