The start of the NFL’s second season is less than twenty four hours away. With Big Snack Hampton and Skippy Reed locked up, the Pittsburgh Steelers have protected their most valuable assets from reaching free agency. Beyond that, you’ll probably read a number of rumors in the coming weeks about the Steelers being interested in this player or that one. Don’t believe them. The Steelers always follow the same pattern during the offseason. Namely, they sign the guys they deem irreplaceable before they become free agents and then they sit back and pick through the low priced leftovers after all the “name” players have signed elsewhere.
The lone exception being one of their own players who they’d like to keep but couldn’t reach a contract agreement with in time. Last year, they retained Chris Kemoeatu after he hit the open market. Although that was a very fortunate stroke of luck because the Jets offered him more money. Still, Director of Player Personnel Kevin Colbert has said that the team intends to stick to a self-imposed salary cap despite this being an uncapped year. So don’t expect the team to break their long standing practice of avoiding costly bidding wars no matter who it is.
Let’s look at the Steelers free agents and discuss their outlook for the future.
First, the restricted free agents. Players in this category are without a contract for 2010. The Steelers can offer them whatever they’d like. Any other team can offer them more but the Steelers have the right to match. If they decline to match, they would get a draft pick roughly equal to where that player was drafted.
OT Willie Colon – Was issued a $2.5 million tender offer. Which means the team would get a 1st round draft pick if he’s signed by another team. How the Steelers determined this guy was worth that much money is beyond me because he was one of our worst OL last season. He must have pictures of Mike Tomlin naked with a lampshade on his head or something.
RB Carey Davis - Was not tendered a contract for 2010, making him an unrestricted free agent. HALLELUJAH! Davis has added absolutely nothing to the team for two seasons now yet keeps coming back much like a cockroach after a nuclear holocaust. Hopefully he stays gone for good this time.
DB Willie Gay- Tendered a $1 million contract. I believe you all know how much I utterly despise this guy but the Steelers are so thin at CB they really had no choice but to keep him around.
P Daniel Sepulveda – Tendered a $1 million contract. The Steelers spent a fairly high draft pick on him (4th rounder) hoping he’d become an elite punter. He’s not really lived up to those expectations but would you rather have Mitch Berger?
TE Matt Spaeth – Tendered a $1 million contract. I guess he didn’t piss away his chances with the Steelers after all.
G Darnell Stapleton – Not tendered a contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. This one is a bit of a surprise as Stapler started most of the year for the 2008 Super Bowl winning team. He missed all of last year to a knee injury and was replaced by Trai Essex, who was average to below average most of the year. Not that Stapleton was headed to the Pro Bowl any time soon. I can only guess that the knee isn’t recovering like they hoped so the Steelers decided to cut their losses.
Now on to the unrestricted free agents:
S Ryan Clark - Clark has taken to the media in recent days to whine about being stuck behind Heath Miller, Justin Hartwig, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, and Jeff Reed when it comes to receiving a new contract. Hey Ryan, wanna know why? Because they don’t suck. Amazing how overinflated this guy’s ego is. It’s like he doesn’t realize that I could play safety back there with Troy and look like an All-Pro.
In any case, the Steelers refused to tag him which would’ve paid him $6 million next year. So that clearly tells you they feel his value to the team is worth significantly less than that. The only worry at this point is the depth behind Clark is pretty weak with Ty Carter also a free agent and Ryan Mundy looking completely inept. My gut feeling is they’ll resign Carter, who’ll come rather cheaply, and then let Clark walk for a bigger contract.
RB Willie Parker – I’m a Fast Willie fan. How could you not love the guy who broke open Super Bowl XL? Despite this, I have a feeling his days as a Steeler are numbered. His repeated assertion is that he wants a chance to start and he’s not going to start here with Mendy looking very much like a future superstar.
What complicates things is the market for veteran running backs has suddenly become pretty deep. Brian Westbrook, Ladainian Tomlinson, and Thomas Jones have all been released in recent days. Running backs have become the NFL equivalent of a thoroughbred race horse. The minute they pull up lame, they’re shipped off the glue factory.
Between a glut of broken down former Pro Bowlers and a draft that appears to have a good half dozen or so excellent prospects, I wonder how much of a market there will be for Fast Willie. That’s why I think there’s an outside chance he re-signs with the Steelers, who don’t really have a decent backup beyond Mewelde Moore on the roster. If he’s willing to take a Bettis-like minimal contract with incentives to provide insurance for Mendy, I can see him returning. But if he’s expecting starter money or a starting opportunity, then his days in the black and gold are over.
QB Charlie Batch – I don’t know why Charlie didn’t retire after the season and take over the open QB coach spot that was available after the retirement of Ken Anderson. Anyway, Dennis Dixon showed he’s ready for prime time. He’ll be the #2 guy next season. Batch will probably take a bare minimum contract and spend another season holding a clipboard as the team’s #3 emergency QB.
S Tyrone Carter – As noted above, his situation is probably affected by what happens with Ryan Clark. If they re-sign Clark, I’d imagine Carter becomes expendable with Mundy as the apparent backup. If they lose Clark, I can’t imagine going into the season with Mundy as the only option at FS. Carter actually played decently when he was back there with Troy so I wouldn’t be that unhappy with him as a low cost insurance policy until the team can draft a safety-of-the-future.
DE Nick Eason and Travis Kirschke – These guys are older than dirt but both played well in relief of the injured Aaron Smith last season. Kirschke was hampered by injuries himself but had a few outstanding games. Eason looked good at times, as well. 2009 first rounder Ziggy Hood is obviously going to be the primary backup so one or the other is probably gone. Personally, I’d keep Kirschke since he played a little better but I don’t think there’ll be a bidding war over either player so the Steelers can just sit back and re-sign whichever they want on the cheap.
CB Deshea Townsend - Deshea took over the starting CB duties from Will.i.am toward the end of last season. He did a little better (then again, you’d have to be playing on a wooden leg to do worse) but he was far from an ideal starter. With rookies Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis entering their second year, there is hope one of them steps up. Plus Gay is perfectly acceptable as a nickel DB. Which doesn’t even take into account what the team might get in the draft.
Add it up and I don’t see where Deshea fits into the future plans. There has been talk of him moving to Safety, which I don’t really see. He’s never struck me as a particularly sure tackler nor a physical presence so I don’t see how that move would work. Deshea feels he has the ability to still be a starter in the NFL which is either wildly delusional or a great negotiating tactic. My feeling is he’ll be gone next season.
Feel free to discuss the wild and wooly NFL free agency season in the comments.
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