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Let's see if Tomlin can corral Jacoby Jones now

Ray Fittipaldo 6 years ago

Jacoby Jones is two years removed from an MVP-caliber performance in Super Bowl XLVII. He is only months removed from returning a kickoff for a touchdown against the Steelers. He remains, at 30, one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL.

And now, after being released by the Baltimore Ravens in a salary cap move on Wednesday, he is a free agent. The Steelers spent Wednesday clearing cap space so they could make some moves in free agency, or to retain some of their own impending free agents. If Jones is willing to play for near the veteran minimum the Steelers should sign him to replace Darrius Heyward Bey as the fifth receiver.

The Steelers have brought some of their older players back for near the veteran’s minimum in recent years. Why not snag an old nemesis from their rivals? 

Heyward-Bey, who turns 28 today, earned his salary last season mostly by covering kicks last season. He recorded just three receptions for 33 yards and played only 147 snaps on offense. Why not swap out Jones for Heyward-Bey and use him strictly as a return man for one season?

The Steelers were 26th in the NFL last season in kickoff returns with a 21.7 average. They tried rookie third-round pick Dri Archer there at the beginning of the season, then LeGarrette Blount and finally settled on Markus Wheaton, who finished the season 19th in the league with a 24.7 average. 

That’s not bad, but Jones is a special return man. 

Jones, who was set to make $2.5 million next season, finished second in the league with a 30.6 average and returned one 108 yards against the Steelers at Heinz Field in October. He also returned one 108 yards against the 49ers in the Super Bowl two years ago.

I wrote about the Steelers’ struggles on special teams on Sunday and how they struggled to set their offense up with good field position. They were 30th in the league in average starting field position. Giving Ben Roethlisberger and his offensive weapons shorter fields will only help their production.

Jones returns punts, too, which would give Mike Tomlin an opportunity to take All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown off that unit. Brown ranked eighth in the league with a 10.6 average last season; Jones was ninth with a 9.2 average.

The Steelers used Heyward-Bey as an occasional deep threat. They could do the same with Jones on occasion as a fifth receiver. Jones had nine receptions for 131 yards as Baltimore’s fifth receiver.

The decision to sign Jones would be a no-brainer if not for Archer’s presence. The Steelers are unlikely to cut a third-round draft pick after one season so they likely will be forced to carry him on their 53-man roster again this season despite his inability to find a role as a rookie.

Keeping two specialty players on the roster might not be a luxury the Steelers cannot afford, but for a team that has struggled on special teams Jones just might be the guy to provide some much-needed spark to those units.

Worilds foreshadowed

We’re only days away from outside linebacker Jason Worilds becoming an unrestricted free agent. General manager Kevin Colbert said at the combine last week the Steelers would like to re-sign him, but he indicated he would let Worilds test the open market.

This is all about money. Worilds wants to maximize his worth. The Steelers don’t want to pay someone who has only produced for about 24 games to a big contract.

What everyone should keep in mind is how Worilds was brought along by this coaching staff. He spent his first few years biding his time behind LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, playing sporadic snaps. And when Harrison left the Steelers used a first-round draft pick on Jarvis Jones and immediately made him a starter ahead of Worilds.

It wasn’t until Jones faltered early in the 2013 season that Worilds was inserted into the starting lineup. His playing over the final half of the season forced the Steelers to pay him $9.8 million last season as their transition tag player.

I remember interviewing Worilds late in the 2013 season on the topic of the Steelers bringing along with young players at a slow pace. In no uncertain terms, Worilds made it clear he was not happy with the way he was coached early in his career.

“Traditionally, the Steelers, they like to have you wait and learn, but it's kind of changed as of late,” Worilds said. “Jarvis has the opportunity to learn as he plays. If it was up to me, I would have rather played, for sure. You love the opportunity to get on the field. But things were different for me.

"It's frustrating because you know you probably could have helped. When I was coming up, I was told that no matter what I did -- good or bad, no matter how much I improved -- I wasn't going to see the field. That's kind of discouraging. But you have to take it as an opportunity to better yourself in other ways. That's what I was able to do.”

If a player feels mistreated by an organization at any point during his career it’s hard for that damage to be repaired. Sure, a $10 million contract helps ease the pain, but I knew then Worilds wanted to see what he was worth on the open market.

The Steelers never gave him that chance by placing the transition tag on him. He is days away from getting that opportunity now. He won’t sell himself short.

Here is the link to the story I wrote in December in 2013.