It was Steelers Dynasty Week on the NFL Network, and the memories of that legacy provided a backdrop for the efforts of an organization that is trying to craft a path back to greatness. A popular player who contributed significantly to what success the team enjoyed in 2013 has moved on. Another player also left, leaving controversy in his wake. There was significant conversation this week about whether a very popular former player could be returning to the fold. A new veteran was added and a couple of utility players re-upped for the year. A final verdict was rendered on a coaching misstep. As the Steelers' roster undergoes its changes the league will meet in Florida to determine changes to the rules and structure of the game.
The Steelers would not match the offer made by the Carolina Panthers, so after two solid seasons Cotch is off to Charlotte. The other free agent loses and releases suffered to this point might have been viewed as irksome by a few, but the verdict on Emmanuel Sanders, Ziggy Hood, Jonathan Dwyer, Al Woods, Larry Foote, Curtis Brown, Levi Brown and Ryan Clark (anticipated) was met with either approval, or at worst a mixed reaction. The loss of Cotchery was different. It was hoped in all quarters (team, media and fans) that he would be retained. Yours truly, and a lot of others were bummed when that turned out to not be the case.
Cotchery is an old school type who fit in well with the Steeler Way who brought a sense of grounding to the receivers room and a non flamboyant contrast on the field to that of the remnant of the Young Money group (Sanders and Antonio Brown), two talented, but still somewhat immature players. Even more importantly, he stepped into the gap, catching passes from the slot that counted greatly, and might have otherwise gone to Heath Miller who was rounding back into form while recovering from the knee injury suffered at the conclusion of the 2012 campaign. Much of the comfort felt over the almost certain departure of Sanders was due to the belief that the retention of Cotchery, coupled with the anticipated development of Markus Wheaton would render Sanders expendable. However, after taking a breath, Neal Coolong provided a level headed assessment that emphasized that though losing Cotch was disappointing it reflected a necessary amount of fiscal discipline and, given the evolution of the offense was not likely to cause any insurmountable obstacle to matching the lost production.
The newest Steeler is a veteran wide receiver formerly from New Orleans and represents the team's second free agency acquisition. The need for such a move would seem to be obvious given a group that has talent but is woefully short on experience. Moore has shown to have been effective in the past but has had the misfortune of having suffered injury just prior to coming into free agency, thereby suppressing his market price. Being sorted out now is what, besides a favorable price tag does he bring to the table moving forward. Included in the upside is plenty of successful work with a franchise caliber quarterback (Drew Brees) and championship experience, which is something that Cotchery didn't bring. The downside? The injury history and the fact that he's not Harold Carmichael (younger readers might have to look this up).
While on the subject of wide receivers we might as well do a followup of, now former Steeler Emmanuel Sanders, who did quite well for himself in that he has landed with a Super Bowl contending team AND a likely Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning. Last week it was known that Sanders was signing in Denver, what transpired afterward were allegations that Team Sanders may have engaged in some shaky tactics in securing a contract. But, as our own Anthony Defeo points out, the league's franchises are standing on pretty thin ice if they want to get into a conversation about ethics in regards to contract negotiations. The Jerome Bettis quote 'Its no fun when the rabbit gets the gun' has particular resonance here. If one of the consequences of the CBA is that unethical behavior is more equally distributed then perhaps that's a good thing.
It might be interesting to see, as a possibility first floated in these parts by Rebecca Rollett and now being bandied about some now that he's been released, if James Harrison might be brought back (at veteran's minimum) for spot duty and leadership purposes.
Obviously, just about everyone in Steelers Nation, including James Harrison and the Steelers themselves think this is a very good idea. Word is coming from a variety of directions that this would not only be a hugely popular and desirable move, but strategically sensible as well. I don't believe anyone is expecting Harrison to return to his previous high level of performance, but the fact that he graded very well in a system that most felt was not ideally suited to his talents would suggest that he might be quite effective in a limited role within the system for which he is extremely well suited. The need for his leadership and attitude might be even greater. Of course, everyone thought that bringing back Cotchery was a great idea as well. We saw how that turned out. Wait and see.
Whimper and Palmer
Clark is still trying to find a place to land as a free agent, but he has secured a leadership position with the NFLPA. This is a good place for the outspoken, opinionated safety. The Players Association needs relatively fearless advocates in opposition to an owners class that clearly has no qualms about exploiting the players if they can.
More free agent news
Compared to other years, when they seemed to approach the market with more caution Steeler free agent activity is pretty high. But, of course we are speaking in relative terms. There has been a lot more conversation with outside players than would be considered typical. The big story coming up is a visit by New England Patriot running back LeGarrette Blount, originally scheduled for this weekend but now pushed back to the end of next week after the owners meeting in Orlando. You can keep up with the day to day ebb and flow of Steeler free agency news and rumors here. And the leaguewide tally here.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, formerly of Jacksonville was in conversation with the team this past week. For now it doesn't look like anything will come of it. And frankly, it wasn't something that seemed to make a great deal of sense to me, but it has to be mentioned as news.
The league this week decided to not go through on its threat to deprive Pittsburgh of a draft choice as a consequence of the Baltimore sideline incident involving head coach Mike Tomlin. Given the fact that the outcome did not materially effect the fate of either team and the fact that similar situations were not handled with any level of consistency, it is hard for me to imagine how any other decision could be considered defensible. I think everyone understands this needs to just go away.
As fascinating as the free agent frenzy has been, it is clear that the more important news this coming week will be coming from the owners meeting in Florida. And given the breaking news concerning Blount, it may be likely that some of the free agent activity may be tied to the rhythms of this particular gathering over the next several days. Steelers brass including Mike Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert will be in attendance. And a good deal of attention will be on proposals by the Competition Committee of which Tomlin is a member.
Competition Committee rules proposals
Here are the proposed rule changes put forward by the competition committee that will be addressed by the owners this week.
Art Rooney II
The Steelers president gives a detailed take on three of the issues coming up at the owners meeting; playoff expansion, elimination the kick for extra points after touchdowns, and sportsmanship (specifically the n-word controversy).
The proposed rule change would mean that, if approved, probably beginning in 2015 an additional playoff slot would be added in each conference. If this proposed rule had been in effect during the 2013 season the Steelers would have made the playoffs. One thing is certain if the change is approved, more money for the league. That would probably be reason enough. However, Jack Finn digs a little deeper concerning the probable pros and cons of this proposed move.
OTAs and minicamp
You may have been wondering how the change in the league schedule, particularly pushing back the date of the draft may have effected the scheduling of OTAs and minicamp. here is this year's schedule.
Steelers defensive legacy
The shadow cast by the great Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s can be so great that it obscures some of the great units that came after it. Steeler cornerback Ike Taylor makes the case for the 2008 Steelers defense; a group that had to overcome the twin challenges of the most brutal schedule foisted upon an NFL team in three decades, plus an offense that had been rendered anemic at times due to a steady diet of injuries. Given the flavor of the year hype that the media loves to engage in hyperbolizing whomever is on top at the moment, in this case the Seattle Seahawk defense, you might be tempted to believe that the template for defensive success lies in the Pacific Northwest. Sober analysis would suggest otherwise. The Steelers would be wise to look no further than their own backyard, and among some of their elder players to find the living roadmap back to dominance.
In this week's tutorial Paper Champion counsels to think outside of the box when it comes to thinking about defensive line prototypes, arguing that players such as Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald will eventually lead to a reimagining of what is an appropriately built player.
10 yard splits
The Steelers brain trust (Tomlin, Colbert and Joey Porter) took a different approach to their evaluations conducted at the Notre Dame Pro Day. Instead of conducting timings in the 40, they instead focused upon 10 yard splits, this being a more effective way to assess the ability of player to make an effective burst to get to the quarterback as opposed to a capability that is of little relevance in actual game situations. As someone who had terrible 40 times but had a great short burst, all I can say is that its about time someone caught onto this.
Pittsburgh cross pollination (cont.)
A couple of weeks ago we focus attention on the unusual relationship among the three major sports franchises in Pittsburgh. In many cities there is little or no indication that the various franchises are even aware of the existance of the others. This not the case in Pittsburgh where Penguins' goalie Marc Andre Fleury paid homage to the city's football franchise by wearing a mask designed to look like a Steelers' helmet. This behavior continued earlier this week as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin visited the Pittsburgh Pirates' training camp in Florida (accompanied by GM Kevin Colbert and offensive coordinator Todd Haley). Per the request of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, Tomlin delivered a motivation talk to the team. The three teams continue to promote and support each other, no doubt to the absolute delight of a shared fan base.
The former Steeler and Steel Valley High quarterback will be honored in May with induction into the Western Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. Another, lesser known Steeler, with ties to a couple of us at BTSC will also be inducted that evening. George Radosevich who played for Brentwood High, the University of Pittsburgh, the Marines and the Steelers will be honored as well. Radosevich was the head football coach at Peabody High when our own Homer J attended there. He was also my first high school coach. Congratulations Coach!
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wife Ashley welcomed a daughter into the world when Baylee Marie made her entrance on Wednesday morning.
We all know that Steelers Nation is does not respect borders. Once again this year the team will be conducting camps in Mexico.