Extending Maurkice Pouncey isn't a huge gamble

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers newly-extended three-time Pro Bowl center, is one of the few draft picks to excel on a team sorely lacking in young talent in recent years. Despite his season-ending knee injury a year ago and his past problems with high-ankle sprains, Pouncey is about as close to a sure thing as the Steelers can get among their young players, and locking him up lock-term isn't a gamble.

Thanks to the Maurkice Pouncey five year contract extension that was first reported on Thursday, people now have one less thing on which to speculate, what with the perennial Pro Bowler now locked up through 2019 (at least on paper), and removed from any sort of lame-duck contract status in 2014.

Of course, "lame duck" would have been better than what Pouncey was a season ago, when he was just "lame," thanks to his season-ending knee injury, suffered in Week 1 of last year.

The torn ACL that Pouncey sustained when David DeCastro dived into his knee is obviously cause for concern about his ability to stay healthy (let's not forget about those two high-ankle sprains). But after doing some research, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, for all the talk of him not being able to stay healthy for a full-season, Pouncey started 45 of a possible 48 regular season games, prior to his fateful moment with DeCastro last year.

Yes, Pouncey missed Super Bowl XLV due to a high-ankle sprain suffered in the AFC Championship Game, and he also missed the wildcard game in Denver the following year thanks to another high-ankle sprain to the same ankle late in the 2011 season, but, other than that, I'd say he's been a pretty durable player, freak torn ACL, aside.

High-caliber, high-performance players like Pouncey, 24, are just what a team in transition needs to have on the roster in order to make it back to playoff-contention.

Some people would have you believe that, even if Pouncey was an iron man who never missed a play, $48 million (the full amount of Pouncey's new deal if it goes the distance) for a center isn't a sound investment.

It's a rather puzzling sentiment, considering the guy that he will be hiking the ball to is a very valuable quarterback who has suffered through his fair share of bumps, bruises and sprains over the years and is also seeking a lucrative contract of his own.

If you're the Steelers front office, would you rather have a Pro Bowl center as the leader of your offensive line--a guy who knows the line calls and apparently is one of the "generals" on the field--or would you rather have a journeyman hiking the football to Ben Roethlisberger, with defensive tackles the caliber of Haloti Ngata just waiting to take advantage of a center without Pro Bowl credentials on the way to pulverizing the quarterback?

Everyone wants to focus on where Pouncey is rated at his position, such as his ranking as the 12th best center, according to Pro Football Focus. (How many times have we already heard or read that in the past day or so?)

To me, it doesn't really matter where Pouncey is rated on certain sites, his value to the Steelers should be the only focus. How many heated discussions have fans gotten into over the years about where Roethlisberger should be ranked among the elite quarterbacks, and how often has his ranking been less than desirable?

Quite a bit, right? However, is there any disputing what Roethlisberger means to the Steelers?

To a lesser extent, you can say the same thing about Pouncey, and his importance to the offensive line, and his importance as a young leader on the team.

The Steelers have already wagered that Jason Worilds can replace LaMarr Woodley, but that gamble has yet to pay off in the form of a long-term contract.

Pittsburgh is also betting that Markus Wheaton can finally be the successor to Mike Wallace, and that Lance Moore will be able to replace Jerricho Cotchery's production.

We're still not so sure if Cortez Allen will be able to man the cornerback position for the long haul, while Keenan Lewis is quickly emerging as one of the best young players at that position, as a member of the Saints.

In Pouncey, the Steelers know what they have and what he'll be able to give them over the long-haul.

The draft classes of 2008 and 2009 have produced no long-term members; how many more young players can walk away before a two year playoff drought turns into a decade-long malaise of mediocrity?

As far as young players go, Maurkice Pouncey is about as close to a sure thing as the Steelers have had in recent years.

I'd say locking him up for the long-term isn't quite the risk everyone is making it out to be.

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