Steelers Have Some Decisions to Make

Almost six years ago (!), shortly after the Steelers and Bill Leavy beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, I wrote a post on HSS (remember that place?) about the impending free agents, and which ones the organization should target for new contracts.

It’s funny to now read things like “I have Quincy Morgan above Randle El because I think Morgan has a chance to be a better number two receiver, but that means that the special teams will take a big hit if Antwaan doesn’t re-sign.”

I published that post on February 9, 2006. Now that Tim Tebow has ended the 2011 Steelers’ season in truly inglorious fashion, we’re afforded the opportunity to get a jump-start on the offseason. Ted has gone into great detail about the salary-cap trouble that awaits the Steelers, and on Thursday, Ed Bouchette listed the 11 players who could possibly become free agents in the near future:

The unrestricted free agents are: Charlie Batch, Jerricho Cotchery, Dennis Dixon, Trai Essex, William Gay, Chris Hoke, Byron Leftwich, Anthony Madison, Mewelde Moore, Daniel Sepulveda and Max Starks.

The restricted free agents are: Ramon Foster, David Johnson, Doug Legursky, Keenan Lewis, Jamon Meredith, Ryan Mundy and Mike Wallace.

Feel free to make your lists in the comments.

Here’s my first pass (I’m not considering any salary-cap implications, just the players I’d like to see back in Pittsburgh, from most likely to least likely):

Unrestricted free agents:
1. Max Starks. I know the coaches don’t like him because he’s chubby but the o-line went from F- to C the moment he stepped on the field. That unit should strive for mediocrity and Starks provides that.

2. William Gay. Hard to imagine that the secondary now has plenty of depth. I think Gay is most valuable as a nickel back, and if Keenan Lewis or one of the other young guys can win the No. 2 job, Gay will have an important role as the No. 3 defensive back.

3. Jerricho Cotchery. He’s the new Hines Ward. Not nearly the blocker, but clearly became a favorite of Ben down the stretch.

4. Chris Hoke. (Assuming he has anything left in the tank and doesn’t retire.) Pittsburgh could be without Aaron Smith and/or Casey Hampton depending on perceived value/cap hit.

5. Trai Essex. He’s a body who can play the interior line positions and, god forbid, left tackle.

6. Byron Leftwich. Seems happy to be a backup and Chaz might finally retire, right? I’m speculating about Batch’s future, and honestly, I’m indifferent to whether he or Byron serves as Ben’s No. 2. Guessing Dennis Dixon will want a chance to play elsewhere, but the Steelers will have to think about getting younger at the position.

7. Charlie Batch. Interchangeable with Byron.

8. Mewelde Moore. He was a great free-agent acquisition a few years ago but his career has probably run its course with Rashard, Isaac, Dwyer, Batch and Clay all on the roster.

9. Daniel Sepulveda. Love this guy but he can’t stay healthy. Kapinos can and I don’t really see the difference between the two.

10. Dennis Dixon. Guessing he’s gone.

11. Anthony Madison. Have to assume he’s an extreme longshot to make the squad out of training camp.

Restricted free agents:
1. Mike Wallace. I admit to being angry enough at him during the Broncos game that I thought he should’ve been benched, but Wallace is one of the league’s best receivers. He just has to be more consistent. That said… if the Steelers sign him to a first-round tender, I might be willing to let him walk for the first-round compensation.

2. Keenan Lewis. Dude could be starting in 2012.

3. Doug Legursky. Like Essex, Dougie can play every interior line position. The difference: he’s pretty good.

4. Ryan Mundy. I like Mundy and think he does well when he’s out there. He forced two fumbles against the Broncos, although he was also out of position when Ike Taylor got burned one last time in Denver.

5. Ramon Foster. Another warm body who got better over the course of the season. He’s not great, but he’s average which again is what the Steelers o-line should aspire too.

6. David Johnson. He should probably be higher for his H-backin’ abilities. That said, he dropped his share of passes in 2011 and I’d like to see Weslye Saunder get more snaps next season.

7 . Jamon Meredith. Never got to see him play. Assuming he’s on the roster for “Oh god, we have no one left” situations.

Alright, folks, have at it.

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  • countertorque

    Mike Wallace is one of the top 5 best receivers in the NFL.  A first round pick is not better than having Mike Wallace.  Steelers need to re-sign him.

    • ryan

      My hesitation is the residual frustration with his game against the Broncos. I can admit that, even if it’s irrational.

      • ErikH

        While I don’t want to see Wallace on another team, I think it might be fair to say he isn’t the best clutch receiver. Brown (or even Cotchery) has him beat in that regard.

      • Rob D

        After watching a very talented WR leave named Santonio, and then watching him melt down in NY, I think I’ll trust the STeelers evaluators on just how good Mike Wallace is and is going to be in the future. If he got traded for a 1st rounder, I’d trust the decision. But I don’t think its going to happen. I believe the guy is just on a steeper learning curve than most.  Santonio leaving gave him the opportunity and he quickly became the best deep threat in the league. ONe more year of coaching and hard work will tell us a lot about him. And I am betting he comes through with flying colours. All he has to do is watch Antonio Brown work ..and follow his lead.

        • TO

          Holmes has 1500 yards and 14 TDs the past two seasons.  That’s miles better than anyone on the PS, except Wallace.  I find it funny that him acting like a 13-year girl in the last game of the season is somehow vindication for practically giving away one of the best WRs in the game.

          The Steelers have had plenty of instances of players doing stupid things that makes them look like selfish immature turds.

        • countertorque

          Santonio is very talented.  Wallace is a lot better than Santonio by just about any objective measure.  It would be a mistake to let him go.

          If he does go, the team will still be good.  But they would be better if they kept Wallace.

      • Randy Steele

        Wallace has had a lot of mediocre games. His great speed notwithstanding, he often doesn’t run crisp routes. His performance during the Super Bowl was disappointing as well. So I understand your hesitation. I would hesitate as well.

        That said, I trust the Steelers’ front office and coaches to make the right decision.

        • Cols714

          But If Ben throws a decent ball, Wallace has the go-ahead TD instead of them idiotically trying a 50 yard FG.

          I put that game more on Ben than Wallace.

    • Anonymous

      That depends a lot on the offer he gets and who makes it. The Colts offering him 15 million per season is much different from the Packers offering tender + $1.

  • SteelerNan

    Hines Ward is the one and only, there can be no “new” Hines Ward in anyone.  He created a whole new role as a wide receiver who could block and hit the way he can. 

  • Anonymous

    I’d be satisfied with 1, 2, and 3 on each list.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    It seems like every year we have at least one elite free agent who is a high risk of leaving and who would leave a big hole. But not this year. I’d like to bring back the first six guys from both lists, and it doesn’t seem like they’d be too expensive. But if one of these guys got a crazy offer, we have young guys who could come close to performing at their level (with the possible exception of Wallace).

  • TO

    Only a few of these I care to see back – Cotchery – who should be a number 1 priority, Lefty, Wallace, and Lewis.   Pretty much everyone else has no upside and can be replaced with a vet making the league minimum or a draft pick.  

    I don’t want to hear about “continuity” or “they know the system.”  The later just tells me the FO/Staff is lazy.  What part of the system does a punter need to know?  How long does it take a lineman to understand what his responsibilities are?

    • Cols714

      I’d like Starks, Gay, Cotchery, Moore and Hoke from the first list. I think Hoke is done though.

      From the 2nd all except for Meridith.

    • EasyLikeSundayMorning

      There aren’t too many guys who can play all 5 positions on the OL, as Essex can. I think that is undervalued.

    • GlennW

      I think retaining William Gay should be a reasonable priority.  He’s a solid player at a tough position (either at outside CB or nickel) to fill with quality.  I’d probably put him above Cotchery.

      Seems to be lots of crazy talk around Mike Wallace.  I don’t care if he has a couple shortcomings; he’s an explosive, dynamic player who opens the field up.  There aren’t many of those.

  • Cols714

    These niners play like the Steelers of around 1994. Great hard hitting defense, a good running game and solid run blocking OL. Average QB.

    Too bad it’s 2012 and it’s hard to win that way.

    • Hiddenaway

      I don’t know about that comment.  Defense beat offense today.  I don’t care how good your opposing QB is, if you lose the turnover battle 5-1, you are going to lose the game. 

  • Cols714

    I know that the Texans can’t beat the Patriots, but man I’m rooting for them to beat the Ravens.

  • Cols714

    To further the Wallace discussion I think he is a really good WR when the play goes as planned. It doesn’t seem that he makes a lot of the adjustments that Sanders, Brown, and Holmes before them made when Ben scrambles.

    Just thinking out loud here.

  • Cols714

    One more thing, LeBeau should be plenty embarrassed about the scheme they employed against Denver. NE showed the obvious, make Tebow make lots of throws to win the game. He can’t do it.

    The only defense that LeBeau has is that maybe the Steelers run defense was so suspect due to injuries that they needed all of the players in the box. Otherwise I can see no reasonable explanation for the game plan.

    • GlennW

      If this wasn’t already obvious to everyone from all of Tebow’s performances in the regular season, it became glaringly so about 5 minutes into this game.  Denver’s running game will pile up the yardage, but it’s not going to beat you in itself.  And you might be more concerned with it if Denver had a dominant defense, but that unit is also very mediocre (I know that we struggled early on offense, but in the end 23 points should have been plenty).  Yeah, it’s water under the bridge, but “embarrassment” is the right word.  Maybe LeBeau/Tomlin’s worst coaching effort ever.

    • Sarah

      Not sure I would say lots of “throws” but lots of “short throws” Cols…NE Dbacks seemed to consistently keep the ball in front of them and make Tebow hit short accurate stuff…. 

  • Anonymous

    On the other side of the fence, who are some free agents worth a look? A few who come to mind for me:
    Brent Grimes
    Carl Nicks
    Evan Mathis (a bit up there in age, but could have a few nice years left)
    Kraig Urbik (he leaves and immediately becomes serviceable. sigh) 
    Josh Scobee
    Wes Welker (okay yeah, much too expensive)
    Ray Rice (but never overpay a running back!)

    • DC in ATL

      Left Guard Ben Grubbs of the Ravens is a Free Agent if I’m not mistaken.  I believe he would be an improvement over Kemo and would weaken Baltimore at the same time.

      • Canadian Steeler

        That would be nice. Can’t see any outside FA’s being signed though, considering the front office is going to have enough problem just keeping everyone we want. 

        If I’m not mistaken though, Grubbs was injured a ton this year so maybe it would be a Jared Gaither situation who had a bit of a wonky back. He was always better than Oher, and I never knew the full story about him being unwanted pretty much league wide. If Grubbs can be had cheap, he’s be a huge upgrade on Kemo, but I don’t think that’s too realistic.

  • David

    OK, no one asked, but here’s my updated pecking order on the remaining teams (in the order of me not wanting them to win it all):

    1. Raisins (screw them; I said it before, if Satan has a football team playing the Raisins, we root for Satan)
    2. SF (they have 5, don’t want them to tie us; also, Jim is annoying me these days just as much as John. Must run in the family, being a total jerk with a sh#@ eating grin.)
    3. Patsies (the “Belichick is a genius and Tom is the best” will make me sick, but I still put them #3)
    4. Giants (here’s hoping it’s 2008 all over again)

    • Anonymous

      Swap Ravens and Pats for me. I only hate the Ravens 2 or 3 times a year. I always hate cheaters.

    • EasyLikeSundayMorning

      1. Ravens
      2. Pats
      3. Asteroid hits Foxboro during AFCCG
      4. SF
      5. Giants

      At least either the Ravens or Pats has to lose this weekend. An all-Harbaugh SB would be particularly annoying, but having John lose to his brother would be fun.

    • GlennW

      1. Patriots (the one and only)
      2. Ravens
      3. Giants
      4. 49ers

      I don’t like Jim Harbaugh either, but I do like the 49ers’ style of play and what they represent in today’s offense-first NFL (I guess you can say that about the Ravens too, but never mind about that).  The six Super Bowls?  Don’t much care about that.  If anything it adds motivation for us to go after #7.  But I care more about the here and now than records, and the 49ers have been down so long it’s nice to see them bounce back.  Unlike the Cowboys I never disliked the 49ers in the Bill Walsh era anyway.

    • Bob Costas

      1. Ravens
      2. Patriots/49ers
      3. Giants

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    I wonder if Dixon will go to Denver.

    • Anonymous

      They already have a Dennis Dixon.

      • EasyLikeSundayMorning

        That’s why I thought he might be a good fit.  If they sign a typical backup statue (like a Derek Anderson-type), then they have to create an entirely new offensive system if that guy had to come into the game.  But many of the same plays you’d design for Tebow would work with Dixon (even if, compared to Tebow, you’d want to limit the number of runs for Dixon to avoid breaking him in two).  Plus, from Dixon’s perspective, there can’t be too many teams that he could go to which have a shakier starter.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Here’s a question for the group…

    Which is the better scenario for the Steelers:
    1) Flacco blows on Sunday to the point where the Ravens think they might have to give up on him and start over at QB?
    2) Flacco plays just well enough that the Ravens don’t explore a plan B at QB?

    • Bob Costas

      Flacco just needs to be his usual 50% completion self.  Doing that will either have them barely win or lose.  As long as he’s mediocre they’ll sign him to a crippling long term deal.  Can’t ask for more than that. 

      • Rob D

        mmmmmm…crippling long term good!

        Can we play Vinny Testaverde again sometime? Just for old times sake?

        • Anonymous

          Flacco is way better than Testeverde. He’s easily a top 5 QB in the NFL. I’d put him ahead of Roethlisberger on that score. He should definitely command a higher salary than Roethlisberger, though perhaps not quite what Peyton Manning got.

          • Bob Costas

            All true.  Just ask Flacco.

          • Dean Keaton

            Are you smoking crack or being sarcastic? Brees, Brady, Rodgers, (P. Manning if he ever plays again), Eli Manning, and Roethlisberger are all QBs I would put way above Flacco, and Rivers, Stafford, Romo, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Alex Smith (!), and Schaub are all QBs I’d put slightly above him. I might even be missing a couple of others…

            He is better than I previously gave him credit for, and he showed me something in the final drive of the second Steelers-Ravens game that I didn’t think he had, but he’s nowhere near a top 5 QB in the NFL. He seems to be about the equivalent of Jay Cutler to me.

          • Anonymous

            Shhhh. Ozzie Newsome reads this blog.

          • Sarah

            It’s gonna take awhile to clean the coffee I just splurted all over the front of my shirt and keyboard. Yes Flacco, top 5 material!  Bluurttt!!….

          • EasyLikeSundayMorning

            I think Intropy was being sarcastic. 

            If I had to make a team from scratch, I’d put all the guys you listed above Flacco.  The one guy I’m not sure about is Matt Ryan (who seems to have hit his ceiling very early in his career).  I’d also rather have Vick (when healthy) and Bradford, and Dalton has more upside.  I might even take Fitzpatrick (it is hard to tell how good he is on that team).  So Flacco would crack my top 20, but barely.

    • GlennW

      I just wish that Flacco played as badly against the Steelers as he has so often against much inferior defenses.  Overall Flacco has seemed to step up his game against us, quality of defenses considered.  Just watch– he’ll go out and crap the bed against the Patriots’ porous pass defense, after playing very well against our “#1 passing defense” this season (97.7 passer rating, versus his 80.9 total for the season).

  • Bob Costas
  • Cols714

    For all the Arians haters out there, check out the Steelers Depot report on bubble screens, which are not, it turns out, the worst plays ever. They threw 2.65/game and had an average YPA on these of 6.09.

    Certainly Arains deserves criticism, but the “oh my god he throws 10 bubble screens a game” is BS.

    Full article here:

  • Canadian Steeler
    Dulac tweeted that Arians isn’t expected to return.

    It’s interesting, and I’m somewhat indifferent. He’s certainly not the worst offensive coordinator in the league, but I do feel as if we could score more points with our personnel. It probably won’t matter though, because if he doesn’t return it would likely be Fitchner or maybe Scottie Montgomery replacing him, so there will still be a good amount of continuity.

    If it is an outside hire, they’ve (seemingly) done a good job in that respect the last two years with Kugler and Lake. Each unit looked better the year after their hires. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Kirby Wilson will be able to continue as running backs coach. I wonder who would replace him, or if he would be able to come back in a year+.

  • The Public Professor

    I’ve always loved, loved, loved Charlie Batch, but I think he’s showing signs of age, decreasing effectiveness, and probably even more fragility, if that’s possible.  Leftwich is the one you’ve got to keep.