Willie Colon Ain’t Comin’ Back to the Burgh (or Is He?)

After yesterday’s post on the prospects of Willie Colon moving to guard, I starting thinking. Assuming that we were all transported to a magical place where this could actually happen (in this land, Ike can catch), I was all set to write today about what such a shuffling along the o-line would mean for the Steelers’ draft plans.

Specifically: would a starting lineup of Max, Kemoeatu, Maurkice, Colon and Flozell (and, for shiggles, let’s say the Steelers also re-signed Trai and Jonathan Scott) mitigate the need for drafting an offensive lineman in April? (Obligatorily ducks because I know you just threw something at your screen upon reading that last sentence. Fair enough but hear me out…)

I only bring it because the names mentioned above, along with Dougie Legursky and Ramon Foster, give the Steelers nine offensive linemen. Draft a guy in the first three or four rounds, and you expect him to make the final 53. Not sure where he’d fit in, although there’s always the possibility that Essex or Scott (or both) don’t return to Pittsburgh.

All else equal, I’d lean towards getting younger along the o-line through the draft and jettisoning Essex … and if necessary, whoever grades out as the worst lineman among the names remaining. The danger is that, like the 2010 season, there could be a run on injuries and a rookie would be forced into the lineup. I would say it’s unlikely, but the laws of probability don’t seem to apply to the Steelers. I saw things in 2010 that I could have never, ever imagined (Tony Hills at guard! Ramon Foster at tackle!).

But there is a problem with all of that. As I pointed out yesterday, why the hell would Colon want guard money when he’s an NFL tackle? Second, Eddie Bouchette writes that there is “little chance” Colon will be with the Steelers next season. This assumes that the league and the players’ union avoids impending labor doom, because there are scenarios where Colon might not have a choice on his 2011 whereabouts.

PFT‘s Gregg Rosenthal wonders if that’s just Colon’s agent working from the assumption that the Steelers won’t pay his client what he wants. Seems plausible. And while I’d love to have Colon back (it would be nice, for once, to be able to say “Yeah, the offensive line isn’t the team’s biggest issue heading into training camp.”), I was never convinced that he was anything more than an average to above-average tackle. Yes, there was talk about him being one of the league’s best right tackles before blowing up his knee, but you don’t have to be JJ Cooper to see that that was a stretch.

Yes, Colon would help the Steelers next season, but it wouldn’t take me long to get over the loss if the team decided to move on. Which brings us full circle, in terms of the draft. If Colon leaves, Pittsburgh will again be in the market for an offensive lineman. We know what the current cast of characters can do, and even if Flozell is a year older, it’s not like losing a step will suddenly cripple his game. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see him playing right tackle in a wheelchair. In fact, it might actually increase his mobility. But he’s a stopgap. Youth and depth are at the top of the to-do list if Colon bolts.

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I’m guessing you saw my “CB or OL?” post from last week (not sure how you could have missed it; I mention it every chance I get). In the comments, tequila0341 links to Mike Mayock’s full take on the Steelers draft needs, specifically the possible lack of cornerback depth at the end of the first round.

During a conference call, Mayock, speaking generally, said that “If you’re looking for a cornerback at the end of the first round, you might have a problem.” But added:

Remember, these are my preferences. Pittsburgh might like the kid from Texas. They might like the kid from Miami. I happen to think the kid from Miami to me is a second or third round corner. He’s not a first round corner.

Aaron Williams, I think would be interesting to them. He’ll tackle. He’s kind of a physical guy, bigger corner. He might be the guy that they look at. If it’s not corner, then I think it has to be offensive line.

I thought they did a great job keeping it together with all the injuries they’ve had this year. But they’ve got to go get one of those big tackles that I’ve already mentioned or get one of those inside guys. One way or another, they’ve got to upgrade the athleticism of the offensive line.

At this point, two months out from the draft and with free-agent implications surrounding the lockout yet to be decided, I don’t know what to think. If Flozell and Colon return (along with a few key reserves), I could see the team passing on an offensive lineman altogether. And, hell, who knows, maybe they’ll even trade up to get the defensive back they really want.

(That, folks, is my clumsy attempt at foreshadowing. I’ll have a post going up soon about the team’s recent history at trading up and down the draft board.)

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  • http://www.google.com/profiles/100857546184516732260 Dr Obvious

    I do wonder if it will come down to Flozel or Colon at some point – not from a roster spot perspective, but from a $$$ perspective. Flozel’s contract next year is fairly big, and with his age, you can’t count on too many more years out of him. With Colon, except for his current injury, he’s been healthy his whole career and much younger. Pittsburgh is a team that builds for the future, and I don’t see them letting a young guy go for an older guy, all other things being equall.

  • GlennW

    When we’re talking about a Willie Colon coming off a serious injury yet still wanting a sizable contract, I’m not going to lose any sleep over cutting bait with him and for depth picking up another OL off the league scrap-heap. I don’t think that situation screams out for a mandatory 1st-round draft selection of an OL. If there are two players available in the draft who grade out at roughly the same level, I still prefer a CB.

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  • Randy Steele

    Brouchette makes the point that the Steelers simply are not in love with Colon; otherwise, they would have tried to re-sign him LAST YEAR. They never even once picked up the phone to call his agent (according to his agent).

    Who knows what the new labor agreement might bring, but as of today, either Colon accepts a half-hearted contract offer from the Steelers and competes for the right guard spot, or he’s gone.

    That said, I’d assume he’s playing elsewhere next season.

  • Anonymous

    Colon looked good in 2009 because he was an average player on a terrible line. But he is just average. And he’s coming off an injury year. The Steelers shouldn’t put big money out to him. They should put the half-hearted money out to him. Why would any other team in the NFL make a better offer? I think the Steelers are going to have to go OL in round 1. Peterson and Amukamara will be gone (if either is around you take him without pause). But one of Solder, Carimi, Castonzo, Smith, Sherrod, or Pouncey will likely be around.

  • Grw1960

    There are so very many sub plots in this subject.
    Regardless of what happens with Colon the Steelers need a future OT. The Steelers OL is full of average line men. At RT we have Flozell maybe for one more season. Behind him you have Colon? maybe, Foster? Hills , John Scott ,Chris Scott OG/ RT possibilities? and below the line Essex.
    An younger above the line OT that can eventually play either OT position in the future is a big need, especially when 3 of those 7 OL above may or may not be resigned and 2 of them shouldn’t be brought back.
    Trade up 5-6 spots for Carimi or Sherrod and get a player who can play by end of his first season.
    I love CB jimmy Smith but I am not sure he is worth trading up for. Same with Mike Pouncey a better OG than Maurkice but I wouldn’t trade up for him.for him.
    A trade down and get a higher 2nd round pick would be a good thing if the Steelers can’t or don’t want to get Carmi or Sherrod and Pouncey is off the board.
    2 picks in the 2nd round would be the perfect solution. If the Steelers could get Ijalana and the best DB left on the board
    Or Best CB or FS Rahim Moore who could play slot CB by seasons end and OT James Carpenter at the end of round 2

  • Twokvin

    I think we are set at the O-lin even without Willie. Flo played pretty good last year and it is highly likely that Starks makes a full recovery, we are set at tackle. Also, we have a servicable backup in J.Scott and a swing man in Essex that can play inside and outside. Don’t forget Chris Scott, who could be the future replacement for Flo when he hangs it up. I think when Willie went down and Flo stepped in, the Steelers realized what having a real right tackle could do for them. Willie becomes expendable because he will want starting tackle money while in reality, he’s going to be a backup.