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  • Potential Free Agent Targets For the Steelers

    Steelers

     

    March 10th is the first official day of free agency. The Steelers are in the process of restructuring contracts and making tough decisions on who to keep and who to let go. After the recent restructuring of Marcus Gilbert and Mike Mitchell, and a report by Jason LaCanfora that Maurkice Pouncey will join the duo, the Steelers are estimated to be around $8 – $10 million under the cap. More should be sliced with Ben Roethlisberger‘s contract and a few more moves. It is important to keep in mind that some of the money will be used for the rookie class and the restricted tenders that have to be applied. The Steelers are never major players in free agency but here are 5 free agent targets that the Pittsburgh should target.

    Pernell McPhee Baltimore Ravens

    Pernell McPhee - McPhee is 26 years old, in his prime and fits the new theme of getting younger on defense. He is experienced in the 3-4 schemes and at 280 can set the edge very well. Baltimore runs a similar defense and McPhee could start right away. I would let Jason Worilds walk and consider McPhee as his replacement. As a part-time player, he had 7.5 sacks, the same as Worilds, in far less snaps. His asking price might be 5 years, $40 million, which still might be too rich for the Steelers’ blood but McPhee is an impact player.  Position: OLB

    Kareem Jackson CB Houton Texans

    Kareem Jackson – the Former number one pick from Alabama could be a great cost-effective option for the Steelers. He was plagued by inconsistency early on in his career but had a very solid season last year. The quarterback rating against the young cornerback in 2014  was 74.1, which are great numbers. Jackson could be just as good as Bryon Maxwell for less money and both guys are the same age.  Position: CB

    Jacoby Jones WR Ravens

    Jacoby Jones – If I was the Pittsburgh Steelers, I would sign Jones on the first day of free agency. He has been a thorn in the Steelers’ sides for years and will immediately provide a marked improvement in the return game. He is one of the game’s best and could be excellent as the 4th receiver in some sets. Jones is 6’2″, and would be a better fit than Lance Moore because he can do much more.  His arrival will take some wear and tear off of Antonio Brown’s body from the return game. Position: WR

    Roy Helu RB Washington Redskins

    Roy Helu – Pittsburgh desperately needs a legitimate number two back. The LeGarrette Blount signing was a nightmare and Helu can provide a steadier presence with fewer headaches. He’s an excellent receiver and would be a perfect marriage for the Steelers. Le’Veon Bell needs to have a good compliment so he can be fresh near the end of the season. Helu at 26 can provide and won’t cost a ton of money. Position: RB

    Jordan Cameron TE Cleveland Browns

    Jordan Cameron – This option would only be possible if Cameron can get medical clearance. At 26 years old Cameron can become the heir apparent to Heath Miller, especially with a weak rookie class at tight end in this year’s draft. As good as the Steelers’ offense was last year, it was plagued by inconsistency in the red zone. Cameron could change all of that.  In 2013 he had 80 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns with Jason Campbell as the quarterback. I would take a look into this option, but Cameron has had concussion issues in the past. This could be a boom or bust signing.

    A lot of what Pittsburgh will do will depend on the cap situation. Troy Polamalu, Cam Thomas and Lance Moore are potential cut casualties. I don’t expect any big signings by the Steelers, but with the exception of McPhee, any of the above mentioned players can be signed for the right price. Expect the Steelers to make mid-level or lower end signings as usual. These are the targets the Steelers should keep an eye on.

     
  • Two Steelers ‘Backups’ On Their Way Up

    Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers

     

     

    On every elite team there is serious competition every year in certain positions.  Heading into the 2015-2016 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have some young talent that has a fair chance of going from backup to starter by Week One of the 2015 regular season.

    One of the first names that comes to mind is wide reciever Martavis Bryant.  Bryant clearly has the size, speed, and hands teams crave for a starting wide receiver. Bryant devloped at a steeady rate as the season wore on in 2014, to the point in which the Steelers began to open up the playbook for him in screens, end arounds and jump ball situations. Also Bryant begin to do a better job at catching the ball more with his hands and less with his body.

    The player he must outperform is Markus Wheaton who had 54 catches and displayed above average quickness, good route running skills and steady hands.  Wheaton, however, showed little to nothing as a deep threat nor has Wheaton shown the playmaking ability of Bryant – only scoring two touchdowns as a starter while Bryant scored eight in ten regular season games.

    Both Wheaton and Bryant are expected to improve, but it’s intriguing to consider how productive Bryant can be with more playing time.

    Nose tackle Daniel McCullers’ playing time increased as the regular season wore on due to his efficient play. For a man of his immense site, McCullers showed he could diagnose running plays at a decent rate and move downhill and laterally extremely well. Often times, while playing nose tackle, McCullers occupied two blocks, forcing runners to hesitate and be stopped for little to no gain. Because he was not a three-down player, he didn’t have much of an opportunity to show what he could do as a pass rusher.

    With a year of expierence under his belt McCullers should be quicker at understanding offensive line tendencies and be even better at understanding running plays before they fully develop. If McCullers can emerge at least as a two- down run stopper it will make the Steelers pass rush better by default because the offensive play calling would be more predictable.

    Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon has shown flashes of his skills but has been inconsistent. McLendon is a more advanced pass rusher then McCullers is, but often opposing teams ran the football directly at McLendon and had success repeatedly.  History shows the Steelers defense is not elite without the nose tackle playing at a high level.

     
  • Does it make sense for Steelers to go safety first?

    shamarko-thomas-safety

     

    When it’s finally time for the Steelers to make their first-round pick in this spring’s NFL Draft, conventional wisdom (i.e. the thousands of words on this website and others that have been dedicated to 2015 draft analysis) would indicate that the team will go in one of three directions at pick No. 22 – cornerback, outside linebacker or defensive tackle.

    This particular conundrum is the gridiron equivalent of the chicken and the egg. Get a big-name pass-rusher or a defensive tackle who can collapse the middle of the offensive line and the secondary won’t have to cover as long. Or grab a shutdown corner to help cover the fact that the pass rush isn’t doing the job.

    Personally, I wish there were more safeties with first-round grades this year so the Steelers could make a splash with a player who is adept at both pass coverage and supporting the run. Assuming Mike Mitchell is better than he was in 2014 (he couldn’t be much worse) and that Troy Polamalu will either retire or return in a reduced role, that leaves aging Will Allen, unproven and often-injured Shamarko Thomas and special-teamers Robert Golden and Ross Ventrone as the other safety options on the roster.

    There’s a chance Alabama’s Landon Collins will be available when the Steelers are on the clock in Round 1, but if he’s off the board, the Steelers might as well wait to zero in on a safety to add to the mix heading into 2015. While Collins does have a first-round pedigree in most measurable categories, this year’s safety class is deeper in the later rounds, so there’s value to be had by waiting to target a safety.

    As an SEC guy myself, Collins is an intriguing prospect. No matter your opinion on Nick Saban’s personality or coaching style, there’s no disputing that he’s a winner. And he produces winners. That means Collins knows how to prepare and how to win at the highest level of college football. Collins has been described an aggressive, tempo-setting player who is at his best when he’s attacking ball carriers. Sounds pretty good to me.

    The only knock on Collins seems to be his hands. He dropped a few easy interceptions during his college career, but for a fan base that has watched Ike Taylor do just that for more than a decade, I don’t think Collins’ problems squeezing the football would be reason enough to pass on him in the draft if he’s on the board.

    The Steelers struck gold when they drafted Polamalu in the first round back in 2003. At this point, nobody knows whether Collins has what it takes to impact the Steelers’ defensive backfield like Polamalu did in his prime. If Collins does end up donning the black and gold, it will be fun to watch him try.

     
  • Mike Mitchell joins Marcus Gilbert in restructured contracts with Steelers

    Marcus+Gilbert+Mike+Mitchell+Pittsburgh+Steelers

     

    Wednesday was a busy day for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Despite an expected NFL salary cap that is expected to be $10M more this season (to $143M), the Steelers restructured the contracts of Marcus Gilbert and Mike Mitchell, opening nearly $6.2M in salary cap room for 2015 per the Post-Gazette.

    Though some have speculated that the moves would allow the Steelers to offer quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a contract extension, it is more likely that Pittsburgh will now target Arthur Moats, cornerback Brice McCain and other unrestricted free agents when the period opens on March 10.  Roethlisberger’s extension will still save the team cap room as the Steelers are likely to turn at least part of the $11.6M due this year into a signing bonus.  Gilbert and Mitchell won’t lose money on the deal, but instead the freed money allows the team to offer roster bonuses and signing bonuses.

    According to Ed Bouchette, the Steelers have only spent 89 percent of the money they are required to use over the course of four seasons (2013-16) and already have two seasons in the books.  The collective-bargaining agreement that was put into place in 2011 dictated that all 32 NFL teams must pay out a cash total of 89 percent in all four cap years – shortfalls after the 2016 season would be required to be distributed payments to players on those rosters during those seasons even if they’ve left the team.

    The moves signal that the transition period has already begun in Pittsburgh.  It is expected to be a busy next few weeks as free agents test the market, including outside linebacker Jason Worilds.  The team is allowed to re-sign their own free agents before the beginning of the open signing period, and while it has yet to be verified, ESPN has hinted that Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey may be open to restructuring a deal with the team to aid in bolstering a squad that has depth issues on both sides of the ball, although the defense is the focal point.

    The Steelers have spent three of their last four first-round picks in the NFL Draft on the defensive side of the ball.  With Keith Butler moving to defensive coordinator and head coach Mike Tomlin a former cornerbacks coach, it is likely the duo will get defensive assistants Carnell Lake and Joey Porter involved in talent discovery and analyzing free agents that will improve the roster.

    Per Spotrac.com, the projected salary cap space as of February 1, for the Steelers, was the 27th most with -$4.1M.

     
  • Could the Steelers Lose Players to the Titans Because of LeBeau?

    Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens

    Free agency hasn’t even kicked off yet, but already there’s chatter that the Steelers may be losing a couple of players to one certain team.

    That team is the Tennessee Titans, who boast a rather big ace in the hole when it comes to luring possible Steelers free agents to their team, and that’s the employment of former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

    Pro Football Talk reports that Tennessean Titans writer Jim Wyatt says there’s no doubt that a couple Steelers could wind up wearing the blue of the Titans in 2015 due to LeBeau’s influence.

    One player that is quoted to saying that LeBeau is a key to a couple players leaving Pittsburgh for Tennessee is CB Ike Taylor, who is a free agent this offseason.

    “Coach LeBeau recruits himself. He is like Coach K; you know what you are getting yourself into,’’ Taylor said.

    “You don’t have to ask the veteran guys who have played under him. Just say Coach LeBeau wants you to come, and they’d say: “What time? That’s the way people feel about him.”

    The Steelers have two other OLB’s that could land with LeBeau, one being James Harrison, who announced Sunday he’s playing in 2015, and another is Jason Worilds, who the team won’t sign until after the start of the free agency period they announced last week.

    “If the money is right in Tennessee, yeah, I could see it,’’ Taylor said about other Steelers coming to the Titans.

    “The money doesn’t have to be spectacular, but if the money is right, I can tell you they are willing to go where Coach LeBeau is. … There is just a genuine, mutual respect that I have for that man, and other guys have it, too.

    “I would come to Tennessee, but only because of Coach LeBeau.”

    That’s not good news for the Steelers, but at the same time it’s easy to talk now before free agency, and there’s no for sure that the Titans are going to want these older players for what was one of, if not the worst defense in the NFL last season.

    It’s always interesting to hear players talk before free agency starts. We will see if that same attitude that Taylor has rings true once players

     
  • NFL Competition Committee to discuss instant replay, defensive pass interference

    lance+moore+16+wr+pittsburgh+steelers
    The NFL Competition Committee is set to convene next week in Naples, Florida.  Two major topics of discussion will be instant replay rules and usage as well as defensive pass interference penalty changes among other topics.  Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president for football operations admitted that the league is open to suggestions but does not want to open itself to a potential nightmare.

    “We do understand reviewing what was called on the field,” Vincent said. “For a coach to potentially challenge something that was not called, we run the risk of creating fouls. ‘Yeah, that was a hold. Yeah, that was an illegal hands to the face’,” said Vincent.  “We saw 12 different proposals on replay, which means it’s something we have to look at…You want to get it right but you could be creating fouls. And long term, if we start here, you just continue adding year in and year out and is that what you want? You don’t want to go down the road of opening Pandora’s Box and this year it’s expanding this and next year it’s expanding that.”

    With officiating constantly being questioned, including a controversial play during the 2o14 playoff game between the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, it appears that defensive pass interference enforcement will be another topic on the table.  Many offenses have begun attempting to draw pass interference calls by throwing deep balls, especially when a drive stalls, in order to potentially be rewarded the ball at the spot of the foul and an automatic first down.  One proposal is that the league remove the spot foul, instead simply making defensive interference a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down, period.
    “We must keep in mind that officials and players are moving at game speed, and those of us who are making decisions on rules have the luxury of slow motion video,” Vincent said. “Sometimes game speed and rule changes aren’t always compatible.”

    The Coaches Subcommittee of the NFL Competition Committee is chaired by Pro Football Hall of Fame coach John Madden and consists of the following members:  Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings), Joe Philbin (Miami Dolphins), Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers), Mike Smith (Atlanta Falcons),  Tom Coughlin (New York Giants), John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens), Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs).  This committee reports to the Competition Committee directly which studies aspects of the game, recommends rules and policy changes within the league.

    Members of the Competition Committee in 2015 include: Chairman Rich McKay (Atlanta Falcons), Jeff Fisher (St. Louis Rams), Stephen Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals), John Mara (New York Giants), Mark Murphy (Green Bay Packers), Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore Ravens), Rick Smith (Houston Texans) and Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers).

     
  • Marcus Gilbert, Steelers allegedly come to new contract terms

    Marcus Gilbert

    Early Wednesday morning, news that Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert Marcus Gilbert and the team had made a deal that would restructure his contract for 2015 to save cap room in the amount of $3.72 M was released by Field Yates of ESPN.

    While the news has yet to be confirmed by the Steelers front office or Gilbert, the organization has been known to approach players in order to create salary cap space yet retain players.

    In August 2014, Gilbert signed a 6-year contract worth over $30M with an additional $7.65M signing bonus.  If Yates is correct, the Steelers may have just signaled the initiation of the restructuring process many anticipated from the team due to a tight budget as free agency signing begins on March 10.

    One player that the Steelers are serious about getting into a new contract is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  This may provide just enough space to be able to also pursue free agents on their current roster and from outside the organization to lock up a more competitive depth chart heading into the 2015 NFL Draft.

     
  • Steelers Gab: Cornerback analysis of free agents and draft prospects

     

    copyright Rivertiger Arts - Football Player

     

    It is no secret that one of the most pressing needs for the Pittsburgh Steelers is talent at the cornerback position.  Cortez Allen received a five-year deal before the 2014 season that would keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2018 season that was worth $26 million only to be benched in favor of William Gay, Antwon Blake and Brice McCain.  As of February 25, 2015, Allen does not even appear on the Steelers’ depth chart at corner.  Gay is listed as the left cornerback starter and Ike Taylor at right cornerback despite spending the latter half of the 2014 season with a broken forearm.  In fact, B.W. Webb is listed ahead of Allen, a disappointing result after the Steelers spent good money on what they hoped would be a successful, long-term deal.

    In just under two weeks the free agency signing period will begin and Taylor could be one of the unrestricted free agents who ends up with another team.  In fact, Taylor, a 12-year pro told The Tennesseean on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect to return to the Steelers in 2015.  Taylor, who turns 35 in May, has started all 16 games in five of the past eight seasons in Pittsburgh, and he has 14 career interceptions prior to the second half of a disappointing 2014 season.  When asked about whether he believed he would return to the Steelers roster for 2015, Taylor said, “I doubt it…For one, I think they think I am too old…Even though Ike Taylor is the ultimate team guy, his name and presence…I am the alpha.  So if you want to move on from Ike Taylor, Ike Taylor has to be out of the building.”  Why Taylor spoke of himself in the third person isn’t nearly as bizarre as his declaration that he should be the top free agent the team chooses to target to stay if they want a veteran in their defensive backfield.

    “A team that gets Ike Taylor would be getting a hard-working guy. And you bring veterans in the room, you just have to work and others will see it. That will change things. That’s the problem with young guys; they talk too much, and they don’t want to put the work and dedication in. … You put the time in and the young guys see it. Guys will see (the veterans are not) worried about the flashy cars. They’re not worried about the Instagrams and Twitter, they are here to work and to win. And that’s what you need,” added Taylor.  Taylor indicated that he’d be very interested in following former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to Tennessee, and he may.  In fact, there are several unrestricted free agents currently with Pittsburgh that could head south to remain with a familiar defensive coach.

    Taylor, McCain and Blake are all entering the free agency period, with Blake being the only restricted free agent.  That puts the Steelers in a tough spot.  They can search for free agent aid from a number of NFL players that could test the market, re-sign any or all of the three players currently on the roster or look for fresh young talent via the 2015 NFL Draft.  There are currently 57 free agents at the cornerback position the Steelers could court, but the team has rarely spent big money on players they brought in from other teams – making it more likely they would target McCain and Blake after successful performances during the 2014 season and look to the draft to supplement their defensive secondary.

    In this series, three Steelers Gab staff members take a look at both the free agents at the position and draft prospects.  (To continue reading, use the navigation beneath the advertisement for related links).
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