Lack of Depth Due to Steelers Off Field Decisions May Haunt 2013 Season

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Aug 12, 2013; Latrobe, PA, Steelers guard David DeCastro (left) and center Maurkice Pouncey (53) and tackle Mike Adams (76). Adams might be pondering that if only the front office had re-signed Max Starks for that side of the line the offensive line depth wouldn’t be so worrisome. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to games, seasons and personnel decisions it is always easy to say after the fact what the Steelers should have done. With one pre-season game already in the books I didn’t want any more to go by before I gave my thoughts of the 2013 Steelers. Although I am hopeful and excited for the new season I can’t help but think that the off field decisions made this past spring are going to haunt the 2013 Steelers and possibly beyond.

Injuries/Lack of Depth

I thought the Steelers front office planned poorly for the past free agent period and because so—the 2013 Steelers are going to suffer due to a serious lack of depth. Injuries are very common in the NFL. Just about every team suffers major and minor injuries causing their players to miss three, four or five games at a time, sometimes even the rest of the season. The Steelers are paper thin at many positions in 2013 and I feel this is going to cost them dearly. I will explain how this could have been easily avoided.

Former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis (23) should have been the Steelers #1 priority this off season as he was set to be the Steelers next #1 corner for the next 5 to 7 years. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers Own Free Agent Targets

I am going to work off of the same philosophy as the Steelers generally do and work around what the Steelers did or had the opportunity to do this off-season.

First I would have targeted three of the Steelers own free agents to re-sign: Keenan Lewis, Max Starks and Ramon Foster in that order. Foster as it turned out was signed with ease. Starks would have been easy to sign and would have come cheap.  Keenan Lewis would have been little more difficult but the way free agency played out and according to Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette, Lewis would have stayed had the Steelers matched the offer Lewis was given by the Saints (26 million over 5 years). The Steelers however did not make an offer to Lewis even though his cap number according to the Steelers Depot in New Orleans for 2013 is 2.2 million. Keenan Lewis was arguably the Steelers best corner last year. That was their first mistake as Lewis should have been the #1 off season priority. Not resigning Max Starks was mistake #2.

San Diego Chargers tackle Max Starks (70) should have retired as a Steeler. Starks gave far more to the organization than he received back. Not having Starks to bail them out this year might finally catch up to the Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Jody Gomez-USA TODAY Sports.

It was a good decision for the Steelers to part ways with Mike Wallace  for the type of money the Dolphins gave him and for other reasons which I previously wrote about (click here). I did like the signing of Plaxico Burress but he would have come after the main three targets Lewis, Starks and Foster. The Steelers bid against themselves on Larry Foote who I would have only re-signed for the veteran minimum and not until after seeing how the draft played out –and – definitely not a 2 year contract.  I would not have re-signed Sylvester Stevenson.

Transition Tags

I thought it was a bad decision to give nose tackle Steve McClendon and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, two of their younger and important starters, 3rd round tenders: this was another glaring mistake which was not well thought out. Without a doubt both players should have been given 2nd round tenders. Trying to save a few hundred thousand dollars on these two younger players ended up costing the Steelers much more in dollars but it would have been even more damaging had they lost both young starters.

Instead of trying to go cheap on the tenders they should have asked some of the older veterans to take pay cuts-which they didn’t. Luckily they were able to match Sanders offer from New England and signed McClendon to a 3 year contract after his visit to Green Bay.

The Steelers lost a lot by not working out a deal with linebacker James Harrison (92). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

 

Pay Cuts

If there was ever a time to ask players to take pay cuts this was the year in free agency to do so. It was a buyers market, the Steelers held all of the leverage and the players knew it as most free agents league wide were signing for veteran minimums or slightly over. Ike Taylor even said that he would have taken a pay cut. The only player who may have balked at this would have been Troy Polamalu who might be the type to retire rather than take a pay cut. Polamalu (10.2 million cap hit, 7.5 million base) would have been tricky to negotiate a reduction.  Otherwise I think other Steeler veteran players would have taken pay cuts. I would have targeted around 20% in base salary cuts with the exception of Colon. Because of Colon’s injury problems I would have taken about 4 million off of his 5.5 million cap figure which is essentially what he signed with the Jets for at 1.3 million dollars. I would have negotiated the following players to take pay-cuts in the following amounts:

Taylor           (9.5 million cap hit.  6 million salary taken to 4.5 million; Savings 1.5 million)

Keisel         (4.9 million cap hit.  2.8 million base salary to 2 million; Savings 800 thousand)

Harrison     (10  million cap hit.  6.5 million base salary to 5 million base; Savings 1.5 million)

Polamalu    (10.2 million cap hit.   7.5 million salary.  Refused to renegotiate a cut in salary.)

Colon  (7.65 million cap hit.   5.5 million salary taken to 1.3 million base; Savings 4.2 million)

It is easier to take smaller amounts from several players than ask for a lot as they did from James Harrison. Losing James Harrison was mistake #3.  (Click here to read the many reasons why.)All of these key veteran Steelers players would still be paid more with these reductions than they would have gotten elsewhere if cut. These reductions would have freed up about 8 million in cap space without any restructuring or pushing dead money into future years.   In doing so it would have saved money salary cap wise but more importantly would have been the key to providing great depth for the 2013 Steelers.

NFL Free Agents

Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (58) who was available cheap in free agency would have brought more youth and nastiness to the Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I liked that they signed Gradkowski and I would have targeted another quarterback with NFL starting experience in free agency to compete with Gradkowski for the back up such as Brady Quinn.  I would not have rushed to sign William Gay because my main target was Keenan Lewis whom I would have matched the offer from New Orleans. I would not have signed Matt Spaeth at all. Free agency came to a crawl after the first 10 days and neither Spaeth or Gay was going to be sought after. I liked the Brian Moorman signing for punter.

The only player of any significance I would have targeted  who the Steelers could have gotten for a little more than they gave Larry Foote was Bengals inside linebacker Rey Maualuga who languished in free agency. Mauluga is much younger than Foote and would have provided the defense with more nastiness. I liked that they looked at Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (Colts) and I would have signed Bradshaw. I also liked the signing of LaRod Stephens Howling from the Cardinals. I would have also looked at signing Oakland safety Michael Huff (Ravens) and Oakland receiver Darius Heyward-Bey (Colts). For this article I will say that I missed out on Huff,  Heyward-Bey and Maualugu as he decided to go back to the Bengals, but I did sign Bradshaw and Stephens-Howling.

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Tags: 2013 Preseason Bruce Gradkowski James Harrison Jason Worilds John Simon Keenan Lewis Landry Jones Max Starks Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Adam Banig

    A lot of what you said just want going to happen.

    Keenan Lewis went for the $ and to his hometown.

    Mike Wallace went for the $.

    The team needed to move on from Max Starks and see what their young tackles had in them before they are in contract years.

    I do agree with you about pay cuts. The team
    Should have asked some of the vets to take paycuts but that doesn’t mean we keep the guys I mentioned before- Lewis, Wallace, Starks and Hampton.

    The steelers have pretty good depth, just much of it is young and unproven but that doesn’t mean it’s not good depth just because we aren’t sure what they can do yet. The young DL, LBs and DBs look like they have good potential. The young wrs and TEs the same.

    The concern for me is the depth at OL but we have to remember we were facing the giants DL, one of the best in the league- even their reserves. The team can’t be stacked in every position though and they just need to develop a few of thee reserves more like Beachum, Malinecki, Long and Golid

  • disappointed

    This site is usually writes better articles. Very disappointing one here. You are ignoring the fact that multiple people have said Max Starks is not a good fit for a zone blocking scheme, and that he wasn’t even that effective in run blocking period. He also stated he wanted to start only. It takes 2 to tango. Cortez Allen is viewed as an upgrade to Kennan Lewis, so not breaking the bank on him allowed us to extend McLendon, who looks like a beast; and match the offer for Sanders.

    Our depth is fine outside of the OL. Don’t forget, this year the rosters for camp increased from 80 to 90. This is 10 extra players each team gets, and I bet most of them were used on OL and DL. So that’s a smaller pool of the players available for backup positions. When the waiver cuts come, we’ll probably find a backup tackle we can use, and we’ll be ok.

    As for extending Foote, he plays well for us, and we had no good ILB prospects on the team. The young guys that are making headlines in the preseason were unknown quantities. They still are unknown in my opinion, as promising as some of them seem. But at the time of free agency, this was unknown.

    Your premise we would have drafted Eifert had Harrison stayed is also extremely flawed. The team made a very generous and fair offer to Harrison. He chose to reject it. Again, 2 to tango. Colbert said that the team considered Jarvis Jones one of the 5-7 elite players in this draft class. He didn’t mention if Eifert was another one of them, but I doubt it. Tight ends are rarely labelled as elite. So chances are high the Steelers would have drafted Jones anyway.

    I don’t know why everyone is upset about the 4th round pick of Landry Jones. After the 3rd round, any pick that makes the team is a bonus. People are really anti-Landry and/or really think a 4th round draft pick is guaranteed to succeed. Yes, we had luck with some lower round WR picks, but we have far more failures than successes in later rounds, as do all teams.

    Considering the cap and the challenge in front of him, I thought Colbert had one of his best offseasons as a GM. We are looking like a very competitive team, with some true potential super stars. (Jarvis Jones, Wheaton, Shamarko).

  • Milliken Steeler

    I appreciate what you’re trying to say in the article however, I think there are a few things you are missing.

    He wanted to go back to New Orleans where he was from and stated this to the organization. Being a Steeler for life wasn’t in his way of thinking.We have had a few issues with players (Wallace,Mendenhall) that above their neck, did not seem to fit a true Steeler player. I actually think that went into the thought process as well as cap space and how they drafted.

    Starks as a back up maybe for the right price. He wanted to start and he doesn’t fit our new scheme. He is going to be the back up in San Diego and was blown up by his man when they were playing Chicago and almost got Rivers killed. Rivers got sacked, fumbled and turned the ball over. I think the Steelers wanted a change regardless as it just was not working and Ben has been still getting hit to much.

    Deebo is debatable. He wound up signing for less money with the Bengals. For less money when the Steelers are the team that gave you your opportunity? Im going to say PUSH on that situation.

    Heyward Bay?lol

    I’m not really concerned about this team except for depth on the O-line. We have nice depth on the D-line at middle linebacker and I like our WR’s. Ill take AB,Sanders,Cotch,Wheaton and Justin Brown any day of the week. Yes I said Justin Brown, he’ll make the 53

  • blustrk

    Fantastic article. One of the best in-depth analysis of personnel that I have ever seen. Of course everything cannot be done as you presented it, but the possibilities make you wish the Steelers had gone in your direction. Whatever the criticism of your article may be, the FACT remains that we lost a number of good players and that we are very thin behind our starting players.