After the first weekend and nearly a week into free agency, let’s take stock of where the Steelers find themselves.
They released two starting linebackers, Larry Foote and LaMarr Woodley and retained another, Jason Worilds. They lost in free agency wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, halfback Jonathan Dwyer and tight end David Johnson.
Raise your hands if you are truly stunned by any of those moves. I was a bit surprised they released Foote and that they did not retain Woods. But Woods did not suddenly become Reggie White because he left. He was a bit player who might have competed for a starting job. They signed Cam Thomas to do the same. We can debate into next season what was the better move.
Keeping Worilds over Woodley was important for now and their future on defense.
I don’t know anyone who thought they might re-sign Ryan Clark, so signing free agent Mike Mitchell to replace him was a bonus. It eases the pressure on them to find a safety in the draft because they now have four, two vets in Troy Polamalu and Will Allen and two younger players in Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas.
They also retained two veterans many thought might be cut for salary cap purposes, Polamalu and Ike Taylor.
Jonathan Dwyer was not a surprise; remember, they cut him before the 2013 season opener and only brought him back after the injury to LaRod Stephens-Howling. No one thought they would keep Sanders. Ziggy Hood went to Jacksonville to be a backup!
So while little they lost was a surprise, are they better today than they were even last season? I would say not, especially on defense. They really gained nothing on defense other than get younger and maybe better at free safety.
They have real depth problems at halfback and linebacker, although they also had them last season, unless you liked watching Felix Jones come on for a series or two at halfback.
James Starks of Green Bay reportedly will visit with them this week and his signing would change the perception immediately at halfback with him behind Le’Veon Bell. The rest you can fill in with rookies and/or others.
The real problem for them now is if they lose Jerricho Cotchery, who reportedly will visit with the Carolina Panthers today. They wanted him back and Ben Roethlisberger has pleaded for them to retain him. He would be hard to replace. Lance Moore, released by the Saints, also reportedly will visit the Steelers this week.
Moore had a career year in 2012 when he caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards, an average of 16 yards per reception, which is in the old Mike Wallace area. But he fell way off last season with 33 for 384 (11.6) as he struggled with injuries and fell down the depth chart. He turns 30 Aug. 31 and while he could provide depth and another deep threat, if healthy, he’s not a replacement for the reliable, possession receiver of Cotchery.
Still, if Cotchery leaves, they would be left with Antonio Brown, Marcus Wheaton (six catches as a rookie) and Derek Moye (two catches in 2013).
That probably is not what GM Kevin Colbert meant when he said about Ben Roethlisberger, “What we have to do is surround him with the best talent.”
Still, it’s only March and the Steelers do not line up for a real game for another six months.
--- And now, some Ask Ed questions:
--- YOU: Say the Steelers take a cornerback in the first round. Would he be an assumed week one starter? If so, does that push Ike or Cortez to sub package work? And what about William gay?
ED: You cannot determine those things in March. Which corner? How does he perform in training camp and in preseason games vs. the others you mention. They will play the best cornerback and if they do draft one on the first round and he does not start, he’ll play on special teams. The other three you mention will all make the team and who starts, who plays in the nickel, who might play some safety in the dime will all be determined by, you know, their play.
--- YOU: After acquiring Darren Sproles, the Eagles are said to be looking to move Bryce Brown. I don't know how familiar you are with him, but he's a nice-sized back with very good speed. Injuries hindered him in college, and he didn't play much behind McCoy the past two years, but he's shown flashes of talent even as he's very raw.
Curious if you think the Steelers might be interested in trading for him for a fifth or sixth round pick.
ED: I do not think the Steelers are interested in making any kinds of trades right now, especially for someone they know would be a backup.
--- YOU: I have always felt that a big part of the Steelers consistent success over the years was a Culture set largely by the presence of Dan Rooney. Since he left for Ireland, and now seems to have a smaller role since he's back, I'm wondering if you think those days are over. Is it possible the culture established by the very unique Mr. Rooney has slipped away? how much of a factor do you thinks this is?
ED: I do think the culture of a football team is important and I agree the Steelers did have a special culture throughout the organization that included the players and that was part reasons for their success. I don’t think that culture slipped away because Dan Rooney was in Ireland, I think some of it slipped away because the players did as they got older. It’s hard to replace players and leaders like Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Hines Ward, James Harrison Casey Hampton, et al in a short period of time. It takes awhile. The Steelers, though, might have a difficult time recapturing the kind of culture they’ve had for a long period in their locker room because so many of those players left and will be joined by Larry Foote and Brett Keisel. You do not wave a magic wand over a team and it turns into the kind of culture you want. It must be developed, passed down from older to younger and newer. Get too many younger and newer and not enough vets to show them how it’s done, now you might develop a new culture too.