The signing of LeGarrette Blount at the end of last week appeared to be both the climax and the end of an unusually active period of Steeler participation in free agency. And then this week they just kept on going; entering double digits in player signings in obvious contradiction to the widely held belief that the team's financial situation would make such moves impossible.
So a week later the team has added a cornerback and a wide receiver with the common denominator being speed. And no one can say if they're done yet. At this rate if they had $2.95 of cap space remaining they might make a deal for an usher. What is clear is that the team is in territory that we have not seen in a long time, if at all; attempting to reload within the logic of the new CBA. What remains an intriguing mystery is what will be the full composition of the cast of characters competing for roster spots heading into training camp. The draft is still over a month away with nine picks pending at this time. That does not count the undrafted free agents that will be added as well. There will also be additional money available to add more free agents beginning in June, and given how things are going is there any reason to not think that the FO won't continue to push the envelope to acquire more players.
After a couple of years of being questioned and sometimes skewered for the team's shortcomings, Tomlin/Colbert are enjoying a bit of rehabilitation for, if nothing else, demonstrating a welcome sense of urgency, aggression and creativity in building a competitive roster with somewhat limited resources. However, though these two, plus Art Rooney II have been the face of team leadership, they are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of available resources. Let us not forget that team (and modern league) architect Dan Rooney is still around and is anything but a figurehead. Omar Khan is legitimate general manager material. The coaching staff boasts four head coaches (Tomlin, LeBeau, Haley and Munchak), two Hall of Famers, two (Butler and Mitchell) who would probably be coordinators if they were almost anywhere else, and one rapidly rising up and comer (Lake). Plus staff and advisors with championship pedigree (Greene, Porter, Nunn, Stallworth) hanging around all over the place.
All the moves may not make sense at the moment, and some will almost certainly be dry wells. But I don't recall anybody being able to accurately predict in advance the impact of a Mewelde Moore or the solid contribution of a returning William Gay. Its doubtful that anyone outside of the South Side facility fully grasps what the team is attempting to do, but there is a plan at work here. And over the past 45 years this team's plans have a better success rate than those of any other franchise in the NFL.
This move has been a hard one to understand. Is the need for depth in the defensive secondary so great that you sign the lowest rated corner in the league? Is he just a camp body? Of value on special teams? On the other hand, among Tomlin, LeBeau and Lake there could well be possibilities that us amateurs don't see. At the very least we must keep in mind that it will be a very rare rookie who will make any sort of significant impact with the LeBeau defense in their first year. Therefore, a certain amount of help must come from veterans.
Another signing that didn't exactly have folks dancing in the streets. Mike Wallace without the hands I believe was one of the comments I saw. What has been accomplished is that the veteran presence in the receivers room that was lost when Cotchery and Sanders left has been replaced. Whether the talent is in any way comparable remains to be seen. An interesting challenge for receivers coach Richard Mann. Some might have preferred a higher profile guy such as DeSean Jackson, but besides the expense, it is worth continually reminding ourselves that talent is rarely the sole determining factor in whether someone fits with the Steelers organization. This is not to say that wide receiver will not be targeted in the draft, but it allows for some flexibility as to when they draft that receiver.
Farewell to Ryan Clark
In Washington the excitement surrounding the signing of Jackson obscured awareness of the return of Clark, whose presence may prove to be just as valuable to the Skins. While I'm saddened that Clark's time in Pittsburgh is done, it will be nice to be able to continue to track his career from the proximity of the DC area.
Its less clear what the eventual fate will be for the Steelers' other defensive captain from 2013. He's being viewed as a bargain acquisition for someone by the national media. But one might wonder and perhaps hope that if he manages to still be on the market in June that he might find himself in Black and Gold for at least one more year.
Coming back to the issue of 'fit', you might be wondering if there was substance behind the hype of obtaining running back LeGarrette Blount. So Paper Champions provides us with one of his film room tutorials breaking down Blount's talents. I think you'll like what you see.
Munch and the offensive line
The excitement continues to build over having Mike Munchak as offensive line coach. Center Maurkice Pouncey and guard David DeCastro add their voices to the growing chorus that sings the praises of Munch. And speaking of film, Kelvin Beachum provides his own tutorial on film study. What is different and nice this year as compared to almost every year in recent memory is between their improved performance the latter half of the 2013 season and the acquisition of Munchak we are not wringing our hands this off season about the offensive line. As some have mentioned, the current group has eight players who have been in starting roles in the league. Very unusual. Our concerns are largely elsewhere.
Like the situation with Clark this week, Arthur Moats introduction to Pittsburgh was submerged under the excitement surrounding Blount, as well as the news coming out of the owners meeting. Here is an opportunity to get better acquainted.
Jones' first year performance was the subject of an evaluation by Pro Football Focus.
Dan Rooney’s impact on the Steelers franchise came almost as soon as he began making decisions. It was Rooney who hired Chuck Noll, an offensive line coach recommended by Paul Brown, setting in place a philosophy committed to consistency and to building through the draft. Since the NFL/AFL merger, no NFL franchise has won more games (437, including playoffs), division championships (20), conference championships (8) or Super Bowls (6).
And this is why Dan Rooney will be the recipient of the SportsBusiness Journal's Lifetime Achievement Award for 2014. His impact upon the success and direction of both his team and the National Football League cannot be easily overstated. Let me suggest that we not be fooled by his low profile. Dan Rooney is still a giant and a significant influence both in Pittsburgh and around the league. It would be both wise and respectful of us to recognize him at every opportunity.
Be like the 'Hawks?
It has become customary to engage in soaring hyperbole when teams reach the pinnacle these days. It is not enough to just win a championship. Teams are sometimes spoken of in dynastic terms after winning just once. Yet the conversation has been over the last two months how Seattle has now set the template for building champions. I guess it is to be expected given how the over hyped Broncos went belly up in the Super Bowl. As for me, I'll defer bending my knee to the Seahawks until they can prove that they at least can do it again. In the meantime Kevin Colbert and others weigh in on whether the Seattle formula is or needs to be transferable to the rest of the league.
The team has announced the implementation of variable ticket prices, addressing a long standing complaint from fans across the league that preseason games are overpriced for what often passes as a glorified scrimmage. They also made the business savvy move of raising the prices of some high profile games. I don't think many will complain paying a little more when the Ravens or Patriots come to town.
Grove moves on
Ryan Grove, an assistant athletic trainer with the Steelers for the past fifteen years has accepted the position of head trainer for the Miami Dolphins. Grove is the beneficiary of the fallout from the Richie Incognito affair which caused his predecessor to lose his job.
A recent survey has Pittsburgh ranked fifth in popularity among the teams in the NFL.
We have a celebrity in our midst.