Cookie Monster and Chris Burke like "C's," Dom does not. Image Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Burke Not Impressed With Steelers Offseason, Dom Not Impressed With Grade

If you have not read Chris Burke’s 2012 offseason grades in the “Audibles” section of CNNSI.com, do yourselves a favor and look them over “Steeler Nation.”  Why you may ask?  Take a look at the grade Burke gave to the Steelers and his “explanation” below:

 

Some good fortune in the Draft helped Pittsburgh land two potential OL starters (Mike Adams, David DeCastro) plus a DL contributor (Alameda Ta’amu).  Still, the Steelers lost a ton this offseason, mainly due to cap issues.  Replacing Hines Ward, James Farrior and other long-time vets will be just as hard in the locker room as on the field.  The Mike Wallace situation also could be a massive distraction this year. 

 

Grade:

 

Normally I understand how members of the media “pop-off” and say controversial things to gain more readers and stir the proverbial pot (cough*Warren Sapp*cough).  Yet in Burke’s case, I believe I need to put my “Two Cents” in and wonder aloud about his offseason grades.  So ready yourselves NPC readers, because today I would like discuss my issues with the “C” offseason grade given by Burke to the Steelers and why.

 

Introduction

To be completely fair to Burke, I believe that the criteria which he used to measure and grade each franchise and their specific successes/failures during the offseason was well-done and a fair way to grade each team’s offseason exploits, activities, and efforts to improve their franchise as a whole:

 

Our offseason grades take into account the 2012 draft grades, what’s occurred in Free Agency and trade markets, and any extraneous off-field circumstances (bounties and non-bounties alike).

 

While this is a completely sensible way to evaluate and grade team’s offseasons, I do not understand how Burke came up with a “C” grade for the Steelers if he actually followed the specific guidelines he laid out above.  In fact, some of the negatives Burke alluded when he discussed Pittsburgh’s 2012 offseason to might not even be considered huge losses or negatives at all if one looks at the structure of the Steelers’ roster entering 2012 and organization as a whole.  Don’t believe me, readers?  Let’s take a look and you can find come to your own conclusions:

 

Not-So Negatives

 

Loss of (Veteran) Players Might Not Be So Bad, and Leadership is All Over Roster

Larry Foote will be a key player in a leadership role this season. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Do the losses of Aaron Smith, James Farrior, and Hines Ward hurt to see as a life-long fan of this team?  Of course.  These guys were some of the most integral players in the franchise’s recent history, and three of the biggest reasons why the team won two Super Bowls.

But you know what?  Their releases are not what you would call important in terms of what they would bring to the table in 2012 from an “on-the-field” perspective.  And if you wanted to take things a step further, one could even argue that these moves were “addition by subtraction” in a salary cap and productivity senses to boot.

In case you did not notice Mr. Burke, Smith missed over 30 regular season games from 2009 to 2011, was a non-factor for the Defense last year, and spent too much time on the sidelines to help the Defense in any significant capacity.  As for Ward, his production on Offense declined so steadily last season that by December Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery had jumped ahead of him on the depth chart and his snaps decreased as the season progressed.  And Farrior, like Ward, was a shell of his former self last year, became an even bigger liability in pass coverage, and was thus a Two-Down player at best at this stage in his career.

As for the loss of the released veterans’ locker room presence,  Burke’s language suggests that they were the only veterans on the Steelers’ roster which led the team or mattered one iota.  Yet I must ask:  Do the names Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Larry Foote, Brett Keisel, LaMarr Woodley, Willie Colon, and Heath Miller ring any bells?  I am sure that a follower of professional football like you would have heard of a veteran Quarterback named Roethlisberger, right?

So as you can see, despite the fact that three of the team’s most important veterans are gone, the Steelers’ 2012 roster is not bereft of experienced players which can bring leadership to the youngsters this season and beyond.  Because of this, these talented and mature players which I alluded to above are more than qualified to become adequate team leaders and do exactly what Ward, Farrior, and Smith did over their careers’ in the Steel City: impart their wisdom on the young players and become professionals.  Thus, the franchise will likely not lose any sleep over the “leadership vacuum” being filled.

 

Mike Wallace Situation 

While the Wallace situation “could” have been a massive distraction, why would you even put it into the equation to measure your offseason grades?  With this in mind, I must ask one simple question: Is Wallace’s contract situation resolved?  No, wait, let me check, carry the two, oh no, it is not.  Has Training Camp started yet?  Oh, wait, no.  Heck, Wallace has not even sat out any preseason or regular season games as of right now.  So let us all just calm down before we get ahead of ourselves and start hitting the “panic button” and downgrade any significant progress in the matter at hand.

In fact, just after you published your “grades,” it was reported by Jason LaCanfora of CBS.Sports.com that Wallace and the Steelers are moving closer to agreeing upon a long-term deal.  There might even be a chance that Wallace will be ready to go for Training Camp next week.  Sure, learning a new Offense might be a bit tough on Wallace.  But if the Steelers can get him into Training Camp and signed within the month of July or even mid-August, it should be more than enough time for a Pro Bowler like Wallace to come in and at least have a decent grasp of the new system.  And while Wallace still needs to hone bits and pieces of his game (route-running, blocking, etc.), he still runs a 9 route better than most in the League.  Plus, Wallace and Big Ben have more than enough pass-catching weapons around them to help out while he adjusts accordingly to the new Offensive system.

 

 

Overlooked Positives

 

Steelers Used Free Agency Period Sensibly

Pope could be an under-the-radar pickup for the Steelers this season. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

To his credit, Burke actually highlighted the Steelers’ 2012 Draft as being one of the better ones in the League (A- Grade).  But anybody that has any sort of vague understanding of what the Steelers’ needs were entering the Draft would have to give Colbert and Co. credit for addressing their most dire of needs.  You know, from the Offensive Line (DeCastro, Adams, Kelvin Beachum), to the Inside Linebacker position (Sean Spence), to Nose Tackle depth (Ta’amu), and the 3rd-Down Back (Chris Rainey).  But what Burke (as well as the rest of the media) might have overlooked is how the Steelers found two solid yet unheralded Free Agents (Leonard Pope and Brandon Johnson) which addressed other needs on the team as well.

At least to me, performance in the trade and Free Agency market should not be based on how much one team spends, but on how they spend their money.  In fact, the two moves which the Steelers made during the Free Agency period should pay dividends this season in a couple of areas where Pittsburgh needs some help: blocking in the run game, a tall pass-catching option in the Red Zone, help on the Special Teams units, help in pass coverage from the Linebacker corps, and help on 3rd Downs to boot.

Were the moves to acquire Pope and Johnson “sexy” from a headline garnering standpoint?  No, but that is not in the Steelers’ “Baller on a Budget” and frugal yet savvy style.  Overall, the Steelers saw ways to improve their ball-club in Free Agency, worked it out financially, and made the moves accordingly.  No over-spending, no big-contracts doled out to outsiders with question-marks, and low-risk/decent-reward investments.

 

 

Have Young and Developing Depth Ready to Step-Up

While the Steelers’ purse strings may have been limited in the area of signing Free Agents, it likely would not have mattered because the team already has a great deal of young depth ready to step up and play on their roster this season.  And as I outlined months ago in this post, the Steelers have a youth movement (especially on Defense) to look forward to now and should be poised to strike as early as this season.

I mean, is it really Pittsburgh’s fault that they have players like Ziggy Hood, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Steve McLendon Isaac Redman, David DeCastro, Mike Adams, and Cameron Heyward on their roster and ultimately believe they can step up this season and beyond?  No.  In fact, the eventual (and hopeful) development of these aforementioned players should be considered a huge plus for the organization because it required Colbert and Co. to not be pressed to look outside of their franchise for help at these specific positions.  But most importantly, the Steelers did not have to use the high-priced Free Agent market or any other means besides the Draft to help address these needs at all.

Will there be some “growing pains” in 2012 with these younger players?  Absolutely, and we should ready ourselves as Steelers fans to see some over the course of the season.  Yet what Pittsburgh’s Coaching Staff does and has done as good as if not better than all of the teams in the League over the last four decades has been developing talent to fill the shoes of departed players.  Just take a look at all the players which have stepped up during the last ten to fifteen years or so and subsequently replaced some of the departed talent on this franchise (especially on Defense).  Sure a few of the names might be changed this season, but the talent is ready and waiting to fill the void and should be put on display this season.

 

Final Thoughts

How a franchise which was given an “A-” 2012 Draft Grade, have had their most important players stay out of trouble, unloaded veteran and expendable players with huge contracts and/or diminishing/expendable skill-sets, possess more than enough experienced players on the roster to fill “leadership vacuum,” remedied a couple of extra needs in Free Agency, and have some developing depth ready to break-out in 2012 be given a “C” offseason grade by the very person which graded the Draft?

Even if one takes into account some questions which the Steelers face heading into the 2012 campaign (Safety depth, RB by Committee and Who Emerges, Wallace not being signed immediately), they cannot significantly or conceivably diminish the numerous positive things which this organization has done over the last six months to warrant just an “average” grade for their efforts.  Heck, if I wanted to, I could go into the number of different ways that Todd Haley will be an upgrade over Bruce Arians in the Offensive Coordinator department.  But for the sake of brevity I will leave that stone unturned for now.

I am not sure how you arrived at a “C” grade for the Steelers’ offseason Mr. Burke if you indeed evaluated Pittsburgh’s offseason by the criteria you outlined in your article, but hey, you are entitled to your opinion and I enjoy your work along with the work of the rest of the football writers on CNNSI.com.  But when you hand out these grades next time, you might want to try to follow your grading scale a bit more closely or pay attention to all of the offseason moves made by franchises.  Otherwise, people might be inclined to poke a few holes in your argument and raise some questions as to how and why you arrived at your conclusions.

 

What say you “Steeler Nation?”:  Does Burke have a point?  Is it a “C” offseason?  Am I full of hot-air?  Or is he?  Post your thoughts and grades below.

 

 

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Tags: 2012 Season Alameda Ta'amu Ben Roethlisberger Brandon Johnson Cameron Heyward Chris Rainey Cortez Allen Curtis Brown David DeCastro Hines Ward Isaac Redman James Farrior Larry Foote Leonard Pope Mike Adams Pittsburgh Steelers Steve McLendon

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