I hate to be negative here, but with the current state of the Pittsburgh Steelers at 2-6, the chances of making the playoffs do not look great with teams like the Packers, Lions, Bengals, and no easy games as teams like the Ravens, the Bills, and the Browns all look to put up very good fights. Following a huge loss to the Patriots, the arrow seems to be pointed down for the Steelers. What does this mean for the rest of the season with the playoffs basically out of the picture? All of the players and coaches, even Kevin Colbert are auditioning for jobs for the 2014 season and beyond.
While many fans feel it is necessary just to clean house, I feel your pain, but that would be foolish for the decision makers of the team. Yes, talent is lacking at many positions for the Steelers, but make no mistake, there is definitely some talent on the roster. Below I have compiled a list by position of players that so far have made a case to be kept, and a list of players that have so far looked expendable.
Keep: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
With a rocky start early in the season, Ben Roethlisberger has played at a higher level in recent weeks, after being a turnover machine. I can’t honestly blame him at times for poor play with an offensive line that has not lived up to their potential. As far as Gradkowski and Jones go, it’s a positive thing that they have not yet played, and I have faith Gradkowski would do a serviceable job if his number was called upon. Landry Jones is a product at this point, so there is no need for concern…just yet.
Keep: Le’Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer
Expendable: Felix Jones
After missing the first quarter of the season, while he hasn’t played to the level of Giovanni Bernard or Eddie Lacy, Bell has shown flashes, and in week eight against the Ravens, he looked like the feature back the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him. Of course, he has several areas he needs to improve on, but the arrow looks to be pointed up for the rookie out of Michigan State.
Regarding Dwyer, if you would have asked me to write this list back in August, Dwyer would have been on the expendable list. But ever since he was cut, Jonathan Dwyer has run like a man trying to prove a point, and has really embraced his role of a change of pace running back. He has hit the hole extremely hard, and has shown great burst. He has complemented Bell quite well. Felix Jones however has been average at best, and will not most likely return next season for the sole purpose that there are most likely better options.
Keep: Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye
Expendable: Emmanuel Sanders
This season, Antonio Brown has made the Steelers look extemely smart for signing him instead of Mike Wallace. He now leads the league in receptions with 61, and he looks to have a career high in yardage and touchdowns as well. While many of the recent draft picks have not panned out for the Steelers, the 6th round gem the Steelers found in Antonio Brown has turned out to look pretty smart.
After a career game against the Patriots, Jerricho Cotchery is making a huge case to be resigned this upcoming offseason. The sure-handed Cotchery has almost replaced Heath Miller as Roethlisberger’s security blanket, and he is starting to force teams to be accountable for him. After the drafting of Markus Wheaton, many people saw Cotchery dropping down the depth chart, but Cotchery has done just the opposite, almost making more of a case than Emmanuel Sanders. While Wheaton has not lived up to expectations, for the limited time he has seen, he has a ton of potential, and looks to be a bigger part of the offense moving forward. Almost the same can be said about Derek Moye who has made a few mistakes, but has also made some big plays for the Steelers. He also looks to be more of a factor going forward.
Speaking of Emmanuel Sanders, I am by no means saying Sanders is a bad receiver. Like Antonio Brown, he is on pace for career highs in yards and receptions. But, for what he has done for the Steelers up until this point in his career, he has not played to the level that a team next year will most likely pay him. I would personally like Sanders to stay a Steeler for years to come, as he has a unique skill set, but the harsh reality is, the Steelers can’t afford the price he will be overpaid for.
Keep: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Johnson
Expendable: David Paulson, Michael Palmer, Richard Gordon
I don’t think I have to convince anyone that Heath Miller is a vital part of this team. No, he hasn’t preformed great coming off of re-constructive knee surgery, but that is expected. Coming off of a season with a career high eight touchdowns, Heath Miller will be around for at least another season.
While Matt Spaeth has yet to play a snap for the Steelers since 2010, I believe he will be a valuable addition when he comes back. David Johnson also surprised me this season. playing at a very respectable level, and he should also be a solid contributor next season, if the Steelers can resign him of course.
David Paulson, on the other hand, has been absolutely terrible. His blocking has been terrible, and he has barely made any contributions in the passing game. The only time David Paulson has made an impact is when he has made mistakes, which will not win you a job in the NFL. Michael Palmer and Richard Gordon are just bodies at this point for special teams and injury, so I will be surprised if they are to return next season.
Keep: Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Kelvin Beachum
Expendable: Marcus Gilbert, Guy Whimper, Mike Adams, Cody Wallace, Mike Adams, Fernando Velasco
I don’t think it comes as a surprise that the offensive line is the position with the most expendable players. If this tells you anything, Roethlisberger has already been sacked 31 times, when he was only sacked 30 times, all of last season. David DeCastro started out slow, but has played at a Pro bowl level as of late. At the other guard position, Foster has been his usual consistent self, above-average at pass blocking, and average at run blocking. Both players have solidified the interior of the offensive line, while the outside continues to be a constant turnstile. You may be wondering, what is Fernando Velasco doing on the expendable list? I agree he has played at a very solid level this season, after taking over for the injured Pouncey, but that’s actually the biggest issue. He has played too well, so the cap-strapped Steelers will not be able to re-sign him next offseason, since another team looking for a starting center will be able to pay much more than what the Steelers would offer him as a backup.
Beachum hasn’t been great at left tackle, but because of the fact that he can play any position on the line makes him a non-expendable player. Marcus Gilbert is a bubble player in my mind, since he has shown flashes, but by no means is a must keep player. I actually believe it is in the Steelers best interest to let him, Mike Adams, and Kelvin Beachum battle it out for the right tackle position, and draft a good left tackle. Who knows if this really happens, but competition usually brings out the best in people.
Guy Whimper and Cody Wallace are just backups, and could return, but at this point, there is no need for the Steelers to re-sign them, since they could find better options in free agency or in the draft.
Like I stated before, a little past the halfway point, there is still a lot of the season left for these players to change my mind, as well as most importantly, their employer’s mind, but from where it stands now, these players need to step up their game if they want to return to the black-and-gold in 2014.
Look for Part Two On the Defense In the Near Future
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