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Imagine if Malik Hooker was a member of the Steelers...since 2017

If Malik Hooker had started his career with the Steelers in 2017, folks would have long-since soured on him and his history of major injuries.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the day, depth used to be something the Steelers just added during the offseason. It occurred mostly under the radar and didn’t make much noise on the newswire.

That day is gone. Today, depth can be a major star during the Steelers offseason. As it pertains to those that follow and cover the team, adding depth has been a continuing concern since before the free-agent period kicked off in March.

Actually, if we’re being honest, starters were what people were initially after, but with the Steelers credit score? I mean, come on! Anyway, offensive lineman Joe Haeg wasn’t enough to scratch that free-agent itch, neither was his colleague from Chicago, what’s his face. How about Miles Killebrew? Please! At best, he’s a slightly more respected version of Jordan Dangerfield. As for Dwayne Haskins and B.J. Finney, two free agents the Steelers signed before the frenzy officially began, I believe those deals did nothing but scare the bejeezus out of the fans in a “Is this their answer for the heir apparent/Maurkice Pouncey’s replacement!” kind of way.

The Steelers didn’t do much to satisfy the urge for a new high during the first few weeks of free agency, and now that the 2021 NFL Draft is fully out of our systems, the cries to sign more depth have returned.

At this point, we’re like one of Big Chicken’s junkies in an episode of the original Hawaii Five-0. (“Please, Chicken, I need!” “Don’t worry, baby, I’ll spot you.”) We’re desperate to board a Love Boat and be whisked away to a Fantasy Island (RIP to Gavin Macleod and Ricardo Montalban) where there’s nothing but free-agent depth that is willing to (say it with me) sign for vet-minimum prices.

Malik Hooker, a former first-round pick of the Colts, is the latest free-agent crush thanks to his visit with the Steelers last week. Hooker, who was taken 15th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, plays safety. Pittsburgh can certainly use depth at the position. But does the team need it so bad, it would be willing to sign a player like Hooker, who has only appeared in 36 of a possible 64 games due to various physical ailments—including a torn ACL and MCL, a torn meniscus, and a torn Achilles?

Man, this guy has the same injury history as your average rec-league softball player.

Anyway, this was all just my way of saying that, if Hooker was actually the Steelers first-round pick in 2017, folks wouldn’t be tweeting the “praying” emoji hoping he’d sign like they were doing last week when they heard the New Castle native was spotted at the Pittsburgh International Airport; they would probably post the devil emoji anytime they discussed his lack of reliability due to his injury history.

So, why the fascination with Hooker? I guess it’s like what Macklemore said: “One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come up.”

There are even people who think Hooker would be an upgrade over Terrell Edmunds, the Steelers first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. “Sign Hooker and cut Edmunds,” some have said (you know who you are). Yes, I know that Hooker is a free safety, while Edmunds is a strong safety, but as if logic and facts matter when discussing stuff like this.

I realize Hooker showed great promise over the first half of his rookie season, intercepting three passes and looking like he was headed for superstardom. But that was before his first MAJOR injury—the aforementioned torn ACL/MCL. Also, 2017 was a long time ago. Heck, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he didn’t really trust the draft prospects who opted out of their 2020 college seasons. Why would he have any faith in a guy who hasn’t done much more than rehab his injuries over the past four seasons?

Maybe Hooker would actually make sense in terms of depth—even a bit more than that in terms of his role in Pittsburgh’s defense—but at what price? Hooker, who became a free agent after the Colts elected not to pick up his fifth-year option prior to the 2020 campaign, may value himself as more than a depth piece. (The Steelers weren’t his only visit.)

That’s fine. I can’t deny Hooker his belief in himself. But the Steelers certainly shouldn’t feel extra pressure to sweeten any deal simply because Hooker is from Western Pennsylvania. It didn’t work for James Conner, a 2017 third-round pick who couldn’t stay healthy and eventually fell out of the good graces of the fans and media. His story no longer mattered by the time he left. The fact that he was from Erie, Pa. and played his college ball for the Pitt Panthers (btw, Malik, thanks for choosing The Ohio State Buckeyes over my Panthers) was of no consequence.

Actually, Conner is who Hooker would be, right now, if he started his career with the Steelers. He’d be a player people couldn’t wait to see leave town.

Unlike Macklemore and those clothes he found at the thrift store, I’m not saying Hooker is trash. I’m just saying he’s injured a lot. That wasn’t attractive when James Conner donned the black and gold. Why should it be for Malik Hooker simply because he started out his career wearing blue and white?