Frenzied free agency activity quieted in the second week, at least in Pittsburgh as what news there was occurred largely elsewhere. By no means did this mean that there was nothing going on. The NFL owners met in Arizona this week and a number of changes have been made that will have impact both on and off the field.
The results of team activity last week, though not much of a deviation from some of the anticipated scenarios was, nonetheless, a shock to the system of Steeler Nation. When the dust settled James Harrison and Willie Colon had been released, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Mundy had signed with new teams. Emmanuel Sanders was reportedly mulling over an offer from the Patriots, and there has been ominous silence concerning the fate of Max Starks and Casey Hampton. While the rush to the exits has been fairly robust those coming in the door seemed to be a trickle by contrast, and not very exciting; a backup quarterback (Gradkowski), a couple of returning prodigal sons (Gay and Spaeth), a few welcome, but unspectacular re-ups (Foster, Burress and Dwyer).
Those unfamiliar or unconvinced with the Steelers methodology have been reacting, wondering how or if the team will respond to the hemorrhaging of talent. Even those sold on the Steeler Way were not pleased with the outcome and nervous about the future. After some understandable 'Woe is us' talk, some commentary appeared from among other sources, Neal Coolong, Dale Lolley, PaVaSteeler and yours truly who suggested that it might not be the end of the world, the Barbarians are not at the gate, Steeler Nation is not about to be sacked (that would be next week). Anthony Defeo reminds us that free agency serves as a blunt and sobering reminder to fans that there are business realities that will from time to time overwhelm those things we associate with sport.
Rumors and reality
It wouldn't be correct to say that there was no free agent activity of note concerning the Steelers. Rumors have been swirling surrounding possible moves involving prominent players and the Steelers.
This time last week it was believed and shared in many corners that the Steelers wide receiver had signed an offer sheet with the New England Patriots with Pittsburgh placed in the position of either matching the Pats offer or suffering another loss of a talented veteran. New England had parted ways with both Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd so the move certainly seemed plausible from a need perspective, however it turns out that the news is, at best, premature and maybe completely unfounded. A week later no offer sheet has been signed and for now the story has faded.
Elvis Dumervil and Dwight Freeney
The circumstances under which Dumervil finds himself on the open market are tragicomic. Since then the now former Bronco has been linked with a number of potential new homes with Pittsburgh being mentioned prominently as a potential landing area, as well as Denver and the Ravens. Former Colt Dwight Freeney is also being discussed in the same equation. The arguments against Dumervil coming to the Steelers is that he is expensive and perhaps run adverse.
It was rumored that before the former Miami Dolphin offensive tackle signed with the St Louis Rams the Steelers made a play for his services. Adam Schefter reported this, the same Adam Shefter who reported that...
The former Giant running back would be coming to Pittsburgh. Given the recent departure of Mendenhall, the non signing of Beanie Wells and the lack of any credible alternatives on the horizon Steeler Nation would be inclined to believe anything involving a recognizable name at running back. The Bradshaw story would suffer a quiet death a couple of days later.
There is a tweet that reports that the former Bears linebacker is in negotiations with the Steelers.
(editor's note: the Steelers Gab story does not say the team is in negotiations with Urlacher, it says there is a rumor the Steelers will meet with him to discuss that as a possibility.)
The result of all this intrepid reporting and rumor mongering so far is that Matt Spaeth signed a contract to return to the team on Monday.
"We're a team in transition as we always are. Players are ascending, players are descending. We're acquiring players and losing players. I think that's part of this time of year. ... Change is a part of football.
Some wanted to make a big deal out of what they felt was a difference of opinion between head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Ken Colbert concerning the issue of whether or not the Steelers are 'in transition'. My interpretation of this quote from an Alan Robinson piece is that when Tomlin speaks to transition he refers to a constant process of movement both between and within teams as the status of players rises or declines based upon performance and financial issues. That is different from what Colbert was responding to which is situational to the Steelers at this time.
The occasion of the meetings in Arizona provided an opportunity for Tomlin to speak to a broad range of issues, and he provided a feast of observations for Tomlin watchers with plenty of perspective for fans to chew on in the coming weeks. Tomlin, as well as Colbert and team president Art Rooney II hold to the position that though the performance in 2012 was below the Steeler standard, the team is not in decline. It is a position I find myself in agreement with. A team that goes 8-8 (not even a losing record) and could have made the playoffs if they had gone 9-7 does not signify an occasion to run around with one's hair on fire. It is heartwarming that the standards of Steeler Nation are so high, but the situation does not merit such an undignified reaction as that which has been on display from many who, frankly have been following this team long enough to know better.
He acknowledged the team needed to add talent. That they work in particular to get running backs. He spoke to physical football and keeping ugly plays out of the game. And PaVaSteeler has noted that the challenges he's facing is bringing him into uncharted territory as a head coach.
The Steeler GM also spoke to the press this week reiterating his belief that the team's losses, real and imagined, would not be sufficient to prevent Pittsburgh from being competitive in a manner in which we have all been accustomed.
"You could also argue that we lost pieces from an 8-8 team."
In other words you can't argue on one hand that a team is mediocre and on the other hand claim that any individual pieces are irreplaceable.
Other free agent activity
Speaking of losing pieces, we have understandably been preoccupied with our own sorrows in this regard, but Pittsburgh is by no means the only team that has had to cope with big losses due to free agency. As Dale Lolley points out in the piece linked above, the Baltimore Ravens have so far lost eight starters to free agency with Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard signing with Houston and Tennessee respectively this week Chicago has parted ways with linebacker Brian Urlacher. We have mentioned the snafu that led to the severing of ties between the Denver Broncos and Elvis Dumervil. Some are wondering that with the departure of Jake Long to the Rams, how Miami will be able to provide the necessary time that Tannehill will need to connect deep with Mike Wallace. Its not easy to find teams that are not struggling to plug holes while new ones are being created by the minute. Think of it this way, in spite of all the losses suffered by the Steelers so far, it could be argued that at this point the Ravens have lost ground relative to Pittsburgh, and the Bengals haven't gained any. The name of the game moving forward is who does the best job managing the remainder of free agency, drafts decently, gets some help with UDFAs and successfully creates a competitive blend.
The Tuck Rule
The owners banished this controversial rule this week. What was significant is that the Steelers were the only team to vote in favor of retaining the rule. The guess is that the team believes that having the rule is advantageous to Ben Roethlisberger's style of play.
Probably the more significant rule change is one where running backs will not be penalized for using the crown of their helmets to initiate contact once they are out of the tackle box. As SteelerCityRoller points out complaints may be coming in from a variety of corners including Hall of Famer and NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk. But until this point the defense has had to bear the brunt of adapting to the evolving demands of player safety and the offense had clearly reaped the benefits. This is an attempt at balance and a measure of justice. Imperfect? Absolutely. This is Goodell's NFL. Would you be expecting anything more? In this case the Steelers voted with an overwhelming majority of teams in favor of the new rule.
The Rooney Rule
Both Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II spoke out on strengthening the rule designed to help minority applicants gain fair consideration for head coaching and general manager hires around the league. The issue arises because of the results of the recent round of coaching hires following the 2012 season where no minority candidates were hired. In the revised state the rule would also include candidates for offensive and defensive coordinator positions.
As the disappointment of the James Harrison release begins to subside, attention is starting to move in the direction of Worilds and whether he is capable of living up to the promise and demands placed upon those who play this position for the black and gold. To a lesser extent similar questions are beginning to arise concerning cornerback Cortez Allen as well.
Art Rooney II
The Steelers president spoke about Worilds as well as a settlement of a class action lawsuit involving retired players and the use of their images by NFL Films early in the week at the owners meeting.
Steelers gain compensatory draft pick
It is a sixth round pick that the Steelers gain for losing, coincidentally as Neal Coolong points out, William Gay whom the team just resigned.