Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Look At The Steelers Offseason

Not even a week has gone by since the Steelers were victorious in Super Bowl XLIII and brought the Lombardi Trophy back to its rightful home in the Burgh, and already myself and countless others are looking ahead to the Steelers offseason.

It may seem a little drastic and I've heard from more than a few people that I'm way too obsessed with the Steelers and should just sit back and enjoy this title when I've brought this topic up the last couple days, but its a very relevant topic right now.

Plus, what else am I supposed to write about? The Pens may be coming of a nice W last night and the Panthers b-ball just drilled a mediocre DePaul squad, but I just don't see a whole lot there thats worth writing about. So this is what I'm doing instead.

Unrestricted Free Agents: QB Charlie Batch, QB Byron Leftwich, OT Marvel Smith, OT Max Starks, G Chris Kemoeautu, OT Trai Essex, WR Nate Washington, CB Bryant McFadden, DE Orpheus Roye, LB Andre Frazier, LB Keyaron Fox, CB Fernando Bryant, P Mitch Berger

Restricted Free Agents: OT Willie Colon, S Anthony Smith, TE Sean McHugh

So let's break down these guys' chances of returning player-by-playerByron Leftwich: Next to zero shot of Letwich returning I would imagine. He's made it clear that he wants a shot to at least compete for a starting job next season, and with several team having god-awful QB situations I think Leftwich will likely head elsewhere even though I'm sure the Steelers would love to have him back. Verdict: Leftwich signs elsewhere for a short-term deal for 1.5-2 million or so guaranteed with some incentives and the ability to compete for a starting job.

Charlie Batch: It's not 100% that Batch will be back, but it's gotta be close. Despite a few opportunities over the years to leave, Charlie never bothered even looking anywhere else for a team that might have a less certain QB situation. It won't cost the Steelers an arm and a leg either, and prior to this season many thought Batch to be one of the steadier QB's in football. What is worth noting, though, is that Dennis Dixon is on the fast track to becoming a wildcat-style backup for the offense at some point, so anything more than a 1 year deal for Batch seems unlikely, especially because he is 34 years old. Verdict: Batch signs with the Steelers for 1 year and 1.5 million or so.

OT Marvel Smith: For the second straight season and third time in four years Marvel missed time due to injury, this year playing just 5 games. That's just not acceptable for a starting left tackle. He will be 31 before next year starts, and I think he might be done. Unless he's willing to take a huge paycut and come back with no starting job guarantee I don't see Smith returning. In fact, even if he is willing to take those compromises he likely won't be back. Smith doesn't want to return to Pittsburgh as a backup and is forced to accept a small deal for a vet elsewhere.OT Max Starks: A year ago I was appalled to learn that the Steelers were putting the transition tag on Starks and paying him a small fortune to be a backup. Now, it seems like one of the best moves they could have made. Starks played very well at left tackle and considering the Steelers struggles to put together a line last year, they need to do everything they can to bring him back, even if it means signing him to a large, risky contract. Verdict: The Steelers don't want to lose Starks and have to overspend a bit to keep him. I say he gets around 7 million a year for 4 years. I'll guess 4 years and 28 million dollars.

G Chris Kemoeautu: Kemo has that nasty streak that made Alan Faneca such a feared pull blocker for so many years, but that's where the comparisons end between the all-world Faneca and his replacement. Kemo committed too many penalties and we saw too many games where rushers up the middle overwhelmed our interior. Still, he was solid enough and is still young enough that he will at least merit consideration. Verdict: I think Kemo's place with the Steelers will be at least partially determined by what happens with the other O-Linemen. It seems unlikely that the Steelers want too much turnover no matter how mediocre the line was. He ends up getting a little better offer elsewhere and takes it for a couple million a year.

OL Trai Essex: Mehh...hard to get too concerned over Essex. He has done next to nothing as a Steeler, and assuming the Steelers are able to procure a few linemen in the draft I highly doubt the Steelers are willing to pay for him. Verdict: He gets his walking papers.

WR Nate Washington: After watching Limas Sweed bumble and stumble his way through the latter half of the season it's safe to assume that the Steelers aren't going to be willing to go into the 09 season with Sweed as their third receiver. There is a chance they may have to look elsewhere for a new third receiver, though, as I'm Nate's visibility in the playoff run may cause a team to overbid for him. Verdict: The possibility of Nate getting big bucks elsewhere is overrated, as I'm not sure there are that many teams out there willing to spend big bucks for a receiver like Nate. The Steelers make him a reasonable offer and he takes it. I'd say about 3 years for 2-2.5 million a year. Some may say that's not enough, but comparable players like D.J. Hackett, Isaac Bruce, and Bryant Johnson got similar deals and maybe even less a year ago. I think most teams figure they can do just as well through the mid-round draft picks to find complementary receivers.

CB Bryant McFadden: McFadden had a very nice season for the Steelers and finally took over the starting corner job he'd long been angling for. However, the Steelers will still have savvy vet Deshea Townsend and emerging talent William Gay on the roster next year, so McFadden will be an interesting prospect. Verdict: Because of his place as a starter on the vaunted Steelers D McFadden gets a big offer from another team and ends up taking it. I think he could get 5 or 6 years and as much as 6-7 million a year. There's no way the Steelers could or would match that. It may seem like a lot, but consider what guys like DeAngelo Hall (7 years 70 million), Marcus Trufant (6 years 50.2 million), Nate Clements (8 years 80 million), and Asante Samuel (6 years 50.7 million) have gotten in free agency lately. At worst McFadden is just a level below those guys, and is probably about as good (just not as hyped) as Trufant and Hall. Is 6 years 40 million or more so hard to believe? I think not.

DE Orpheus Roye: The Steelers HAVE to start getting younger on the D-Line, and I think that finally starts this offseason. Verdict: Roye is just about finished I think and, at best, is brought back as training camp fodder, but I don't think even that happens.

LB Andre Frazier: Frazier has bounced on and off the Steelers roster the last few seasons, and contributed as a decent special teamer this past season. He won't be a high priority but they might make a token effort. Verdict: He doesn't get much attention from anyone on the market and re-signs with the Steelers on the cheap for a year and no guaranteed spot on the roster.

LB Keyaron Fox: Fox waited around last offseason and all he could get was 1 year and the veteran minimum. That turned out to be a pretty good bargain as Fox was a Special Teams demon for the Steelers. Verdict: Fox signs back with the Steelers but still pretty cheap and competes with Frazier and others like Patrick Bailey for the backup linebacker/ special teams ace positions.

P Mitch Berger: Daniel Sepulveda will hopefully be ready to roll next season. Bad news for Berger. Verdict: I suppose he could be brought back as insurance and training camp fodder in case Sepulveda has a setback, but let's pray that isn't necessary.

OT Willie Colon: There has been much discussion about the smaller Colon moving inside to guard at some point in his career. I think that is his best shot to stick in Pittsburgh, as I just can't foresee the Steelers bringing him back to play tackle. I also think either he or Kemo will be gone. No way both come back. Verdict: Because Colon is a free agent, the Steelers have a bit more control over his situation. They match his best offer, for a couple million or so, and retain him but with no certain starting spot for him.

S Anthony Smith: Prior to the 07 season Smith was seen as the obvious heir to the free safety spot. However he has had a drastic drop-off since then and he is dangerously close to going down the drain as an undisciplined draft bust. Verdict: Smith is a restricted free agent and while he may not bring much interest from anyone else, the Steelers don't have any interest in him, either.

TE Sean McHugh: McHugh was used as an H-back type of player this season. And he did the job pretty well, well enough to merit consideration to return if the price is right. Verdict: The Steelers figure to offer McHugh a minimum salary for a year, maybe two. If he expects anything more than that he figures to be out.

Free Agent Targets:
Offensive Line is the big need for the Steelers, but the Steelers typically have been reluctant to spend much at any big holes in the free agent market. They will likely make a run at a few players, but no one they go after will be elite-level players, especially if they end up with Starks. A quick glance at the free agent class yields a few potential players: Guards Cooper Carlisle, Duke Preston, and Floyd Womack and tackle Jon Stinchcomb. Not saying the Steelers will go after any of these guys, as what they decide to do with their current roster and how they expect to fare in the NFL draft will determine that, but these are the types of guys we can expect. Nothing special, no Jeff Hartings, Pro-Bowl types here. Just middle-of-the-road guys who are probably comparable to Kemoeautu.

An underrated area they need to target, either in the draft or through Free Agency, is their defensive line. They have gotten very, very old there the past few seasons, and after some failed mid-round DL draft picks I think they may look to free agency instead this year. They will not go after anyone who is going to challenge for a starting spot though. Maybe someone like Atlanta's Jason Jefferson or Chauncey Davis or Baltimore's Dwan Edwards or Indy's Darrell Reid could be potential targets. Again, nothing special.

Draft Targets:
I think the Steelers have the same two spots they will address in the draft, D-Line and O-Line. Once they have those two spots at least partially addressed they will probably go with best-available player.

Like I said in my mock draft, the Steelers will likely be picking amongst offensive linemen like Duke Robinson, Alex Mack, Eben Britton, and Max Unger. Britton is the only offensive tackle among that group, though any of them could probably be shifted around to where the Steelers think they best fit.

In the second round, they could be picking for yet another O-Lineman or they could switch to the opposite Defensive Line. Along the OL, second round targets could be guys like the aforementione Unger and Robinson, William Beatty, James Meredith, Eric Wood, and Herman Johnson. The defensive linemen prospects we could see are Jarron Gilbert, Evander Hood, and Mitch King.

If the Steelers lose McFadden or Anthony Smith or Nate Washington those guys positions are also possible spots that could be filled. Corners Sean Smith, Darius Butler, and Mike Mickens, safeties Louis Delmas and Derek Pegues and receivers Derrick Williams, Kenny Britt, and Brian Robiskie are all second/third round targets we could see. Beyond the third round, its pretty much a guessing game.

No comments: