I’m wondering how Steeler Nation feels after these first few days of free agency where the players who left were expected to leave and the players who were released, for the most part, were expected to be released. Some demolition was to be expected. If you want to improve on an 8-8 season, you can’t keep all the same pieces and think “We’re just going to try harder.” So, let’s look at it from a win or lose perspective – which is overly simplistic, but interesting speculation nonetheless.
Defense: Win or Lose?
My answer: Push: I consider the free agency moves for the defense to be a push. For me, I fully expected the Steelers to not give in on James Harrison’s contract issue. I figured Harrison and his agent would lose that staring match. I’m sorry to see it happen like that, but I also think that when you have a dominant player like Harrison, the other team members get complacent. Now, this forces LeBeau and company to rebuild and refocus. That really needs to happen. Having a significant number of veterans on the team is good and bad. Continuity can’t be undervalued but when it turns into complacency, then it has flipped to the negative side. Also, injury rates usually climb and that was a problem for the Steelers in 2012 too. So, when I look at the high number of veterans, I wonder if they will be able to be refocused and change to make themselves better. I hope they won’t be victims of “We’re the Steelers and we had a highly rated defense in 2012.” The 8-8 season wasn’t our fault, look how highly ranked we were as a defense.” Well, I have news, some of those crazy losses came because the defense fell apart. Look in the mirror and resolve to kick it up several notches and not settle for “how it used to be.”
Offense: Win or Lose?
My answer: Win. Yes, I know the Steelers lost some difference makers. But, they weren’t quite the difference makers the Steelers needed last year. Maybe a fresh perspective will help Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall be star contributors again (but not if their teams play the Steelers please).
Mike Wallace has some great catches last year, but, frankly, I was irritated when he said that he loses focus:
When I don’t get the ball for a certain amount of time, I lose focus sometimes. It hurts me when it’s time for me to make a play,” Wallace said, via Ralph N. Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “The toughest thing is staying positive through three quarters because you’re not going to get the ball every time. You have to be ready to deliver when it comes your way. That’s been the biggest thing I’ve had to learn this year.”
Seriously dude, you got paid a lot of money to do your job and you weren’t doing it to the best of your ability. Yes, your hold out didn’t work. Maybe you and your agent should have considered who you were dealing with. You were doomed to lose that staring contest (Maybe Harrison’s agent should have gotten with your agent). Good luck in Miami and I hope the huge contract doesn’t jinx you. Tannehill isn’t Roethlisberger. You were only going to be unhappy with the Steelers, so I’m glad you moved on.
Rashard Mendenhall’s return following his rehab was much anticipated and then things didn’t go well and he took on the DIVA attitude. I started to wonder if he missed his afternoon nap or something. You can’t keep someone on the team who is going to challenge the coach during the regular season by not following direction. Mendenhall contributed to many Steeler previous wins, but his attitude was not going to change because the underlying problem is probably still there – whatever that was. He’s been reunited with Bruce Arians under whom he had some of his best performances. I wish him well, but I wonder how he will do if things there aren’t rosy. Hope they can find a quarterback for that team…
The Steelers made a move to the backup quarterback positions too. I’m not sure if they were the right moves, but something had to be done and I think it is a win because they are putting thought into it. Last year it seemed like signing Leftwich was kind of an afterthought: “Oh, yeah, we forget to get a back up for Roethlisberger. Well, Leftwich is still available. Ben’s not going to get hurt anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.” Injuries are a part of the game and it’s all about preparing for the issues, not pretending they won’t happen.
Also, with the news about Saunders and Spaeth still unsettled, it’s unclear if the Steelers are going to have too few wide receivers and too many tight ends going into training. I’m not sure Saunders is a keeper but Antonio Brown is going to need more than Plaxico Burress to help him. So, there are still some holes to fill, but I’m not ready to cry doom and gloom about the offense yet. As for Spaeth, he didn’t stand out during his time in Chicago, but I don’t think he’s going to be handed the starting job automatically. I think the Steelers needed a few bargains and Spaeth fits in there right now. Hopefully being back in the ‘Burgh will energize him.
As free agency continues, I hope we see some other acquisitions that will complement the pieces the Steelers already have. Overall, I don’t think the departures were unexpected. Additionally, I’m not writhing in agony on the floor over the acquisitions. In fact, things have gone the way I expected them too. The Steelers don’t have a lot of money to work with. Nothing is going to be solved by any acquisitions in the draft either. Let’s hope these free agency new/returned pieces fit into this puzzle. Something had to change or they can’t get better. I just hope that James Harrison doesn’t end up with the Baltimore Ravens. I don’t want him tackling Ben Roethlisberger or we’ll have to find out just how good Gradkowski is. Let’s hear your thoughts Steeler Nation!
Wallace quote courtesy of: http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/12/07/mike-wallace-blames-losing-focus-for-low-production/