What We Learned This Week in the NFL Offseason:
- Steelers active in Free Agency
- Wes Welker defects from Patriots to join Manning in Denver
- Mass Exodus from Baltimore as Ravens can’t afford anyone but Flacco
- Emmanuel Sanders visits New England but leaves without offer sheet
- Steelers lose more players to free agency
- Tomlin speaks on state of Steelers
The free agency period is open for business and there is plenty of moving and shaking involved, even with the Steelers. The team usually remains relatively quiet during the free agency period, typically re-signing their own players but no splash signings to speak of. Within the first week of free agency the Steelers re-signed Ramon Foster, Greg Warren, Larry Foote, Plaxico Burress and signed Pittsburgh native back up QB Bruce Gradkowski. In addition the Steelers welcomed back TE Matt Spaeth from the Browns, whose re-signing is pending a physical. The signing of Gradkowski likely means either Charlie Batch’s or Byron Leftwich’s time is done in Pittsburgh. I’d lean towards Leftwich not getting signed back as he’s spent more time on the IR the past few years than Willie Colon, who incidentally was signed by the Jets this week as well.
In moves across the league remember that time when Tom Brady restructured and took a “pay cut” so that the Patriots could make some big signings during the offseason? Yeah apparently that didn’t work out too well for them seeing as how they couldn’t come to terms with their leading receiver, Wes Welker. Welker now joins Peyton Manning and what has become a very dangerous receiving corps in Denver. Too bad they can’t play against their own secondary every game or they’d run away with the Super Bowl hands down. Also the Baltimore Ravens seem to be closely following the 2003 Florida Marlins offseason handbook and starters are jumping ship like beads on a Mardi Gras float. After they traded their top WR Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a stick of Double Mint Gum and some Chuck-E-Cheese tokens they watched starter after starter sign contracts with other teams. The Ravens not only have to look for the next Ray Lewis in their linebacking corps but will also be faced with replacing Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe along with safety Bernard Pollard. Not to mention the fact that longtime safety Ed Reed is in the process of being courted by the Houston Texans. The Ratbirds fell into this whole after offering Joe Flacco the biggest contract in the NFL and having relatively no space left under the cap to resign the rest of the players undoubtedly feeling underpaid as Super Bowl Champions. Basically they Ratbirds will consist of Flacco, his eyebrow, Suggs, and the kid from the Blind Side. Good luck with that guys.
Last week Emmanuel Sanders made news after word broke that he was in New England visiting the Patriots. Sanders is a restricted free agent whom the Steelers offered a tender to before the free agency period started. Sanders himself cleared up some confusion that was circulating as to if he had signed/not signed/was going to sign/ with the Pats by saying he had not been offered anything. If Sanders does receive an offer sheet by the April 19th deadline, the Steelers would have a week to match or beat their offer or they will receive that team’s 3rd round draft pick as compensation for losing Sanders. Steeler Nation is all a flutter awaiting the outcome similarly to last year when we were wondering if anyone would offer up their 1st round pick for Mike Wallace. I realize losing Wallace is a blow to the receiving corps but I’m not understanding why the collective Nation is stressing the outcome of a wide receiver that had only 626 receiving yards and 1 touchdown last season. If Sanders choses the same path that Wallace just went down and thinks he’s due a big payday for his potential rather than his numbers, then I’m not sure we’re losing a whole lot there. Let’s just see how this one plays out before stressing out, shall we?
Speaking of Wallace, the free agency period was barely a few hours old and his massive contract with the Miami Dolphins was already signed signifying the first of three Steelers to defect in the first three days of free agency. Next was Rashard Mendenhall to the Arizona Cardinals and then Keenan Lewis signed with his hometown team the New Orleans Saints last week. That wipes out the entire 2008 draft class for the Steelers. Willie Colon also signed with the Jets last week after being released by the Steelers. The departure of Wallace will hurt, his talents can’t really be replaced even if that’s hard to admit. Mendenhall, on the other hand, was part of a lackluster rushing game last season and topped it off by quitting on his own teammates by punking out and pulling a “no show” for a game he wasn’t slated to play in. See ya later buddy, I’m sure you can do plenty of dancing at the line of scrimmage for 1 yard gains in AZ. Keenan Lewis showed signs of promise at the CB position opposite Ike Taylor last year and his efforts will certainly be missed. Cortez Allen had an amazing end of the season and will most likely have the starting position opposite Taylor to start the 2013 season. Can’t really hold it against Wallace and Lewis if they wanted to leave Pittsburgh. Aside from all the Plaxico’s and Foote’s in the world who have left the Steel City only to return and never want to leave again, there are some that just don’t get it. Best of luck to Wallace and Lewis, here’s hoping that Tannehill can stay upright long enough to hit Wallace downfield and Lewis can effectively matchup against Julio Jones twice a season.
Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert are in Arizona this week for the owner’s meetings and took some time to talk about the recent departures from the roster. Both expressed sentiments that there is no need for panic and even Colbert reminded us that we lost players that were a part of an 8-8 team, therefore we were bound to make some kind of changes. Tomlin said that Worilds would be first in line to take over for the loss of James Harrison, adding that
“We’ll see what Jason Worilds is capable of doing.”
I think we’ll have to see what Tomlin and Colbert are capable of doing too. They have a big challenge, not only with the upcoming draft and trying to fill some of these holes, but also with maintaining a team that should be re-tooling to compete for a Super Bowl each year and not be losing key players that can’t be replaced. I agree with Colbert that after the disappointing season the Steelers had, changes were due to come about. I just hope that the right changes are being made and the right players are being brought in. On the other hand, you can argue that if Ben doesn’t throw that interception against Cincy we’re in the playoffs and then who knows what could have happened so you have to put yourself in a position to do better next year, not worse.