Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Free agency look: The offensive line

As I do every offseason, I’ll take a look over the next few weeks at the Steelers’ potential free agents and possible veteran replacements or upgrades.

Keep in mind that the Steelers have never been major players on the free agent market. So no matter how much you want them to go out and sign say, Terrell Owens, it’s not going to happen.

This week, we’ll take a look at the offensive line.

Steelers potential losses
Willie Colon, RT
Darnell Stapleton, G/C (restricted)

The Steelers, like many teams, will be watching the collective bargaining agreement negotiations closely.

If no new agreement is reached, Colon, along with a number of other players, will be restricted free agents rather than unrestricted.

And no other position may be affected by that like this group of offensive linemen.

The Steelers would like to have Colon back to man their right tackle position. He’s gotten better the more he’s played and has turned into a good, but not great, player.

But can the Steelers do better by bringing in a free agent?

Certainly a free agent lineman would help this team a great deal. The Steelers have not done a great job in recent years drafting on the offensive line. They haven't taken one in the first two rounds of the draft since Kendall Simmons in 2002 and several of the later draft picks haven't worked out as well as they would like.

If the Steelers choose to go the free agent route, there are a number of intriguing possibilities, most of who will be restricted if there is no new collective bargaining agreement.

And that could be the rub.

For example, the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints have three linemen, tackles Jammal Brown and Jermon Bushrod, and guard Jahri Evans, who are scheduled to reach free agency.

Brown, Bushrod and Evans will be restricted if there is no new collective bargaining agreement.

The problem for the Saints will be decided how to tender each of those players.

Brown, who will turn 29 next month, is the oldest of the trio, but might also be the most valuable. The former Oklahoma star is a natural left tackle with 58 career starts under his belt.

Bushrod, however, filled in admirably for Brown after his injury and, at 26, is three years younger.

Evans, meanwhile, was the team’s best run blocker from his right guard position.

And, as the Steelers know all too well, there is a heavy price that goes along with being a Super Bowl champion, making it unlikely that New Orleans will be able to keep all three.

Brown would certainly be an upgrade for the Steelers, but, even coming off an injury, his price tag will likely be out of the team’s range. That’s especially true considering how much money the Steelers are paying Max Starks. They could sign Brown and move Starks back to right tackle – a move that would really solidify the team’s line – but would likely then have $12 to $14-million per season wrapped up in their offensive tackles.

Of the three, Bushrod, a Towson product, might be the best fit, if the Saints tender him with a low offer. Bushrod is a former fourth-round draft pick.

A number of other decent options are also available, but are also looking at the possibility of restricted free agency.

That group would include San Diego left Marcus McNeil, Minnesota right tackle Ryan Cook and New England guard Logan Mankins.

Of the unrestricted group, there are two players who are young enough to still have some upside who have not lived up to their billing with their current teams, St. Louis’ Alex Barron and Green Bay’s Daryn Colledge.

Barron, a former first-round draft pick, has been plagued by penalties playing left tackle for the Rams, particularly false starts. But perhaps a change of scenery and joining a winning program could bring out the best in him.

Colledge, meanwhile, is headed for unrestricted free agency, but the word out of Green Bay is that the former second-round draft pick won’t be tendered an offer.


Dave W. in Las Vegas said...

I'am all in favor of bringing in any kind of help for this pathetic offensive line also whatever it takes for our defenesive back field. It's gotta get better than it was last year. Ben can't keep tacking these shots like he has been the last few years.

Anonymous said...

For the most part none of these guys are a serious upgrade. Draft, draft, draft!

Dale Lolley said...

The problem is that they can't draft, draft, draft to fill needs at DB, offensive and defensive line. Oh and inside linebacker. This is a team that needs to get younger at some key positions.
And I will say this, in the past, this team has signed free agent offensive linemen. Look at Hartwig, Hartings, Will Wolford, etc. The list goes on and on.
It's been the one position they have addressed in free agency.

Jared - Atlanta said...

Dale -

Even if they would draft key positions, isn't it likely those players will sit for a year? So with Hood coming up this year and Ramon Foster filling in well, would that change there focus to secondary for the draft?


marc said...

they must bring in a free agent OL. if they don't, then expect more of the same next season and the greater possibility of BR missing games due to injury.

they must also draft a NT. depending on what goes on with hampton, would they trade up in the draft for NT in the 1st round?

Anonymous said...

Just because they have shortfalls doesn't mean that the players available to them on the free agent market are going to be an upgrade. The list of Offensive Linemen that were mentioned in this post will shorten as we get closer to the deadline. What's left will probably not be much of an upgrade.

If someone does slip through the cracks and the Steelers get a chance to scoop him up then I say go for it, but that prospect is not very likely.

Patrick said...

At last I will get my long-kickin' kicka! Go Greassle...

Anonymous said...

They might sign an Olineman but at best it will be someone to compete for right guard or center. I don't think the line up will change much next year.

They need help on the defense mostly. All areas are getting old (Woodley, Timmons, and Hood are the only you guys).

I think we need these positions in order:

Back up running back

chas steel

Patrick said...

Lets look at the flip side of this:

I'm sure I'll get flamed, but lets assume the CBA DOES get done. Colon is a FA and hes gone. I doubt the Steelers are able/willing to match whatever offers he gets.

In that sense, the possibilities at RT currently on the roster are: Essex, Foster, Hills. Not a very impressive group. So a 1st Rd RT would almost be mandatory.

I also think C and RG need some improvement. Maybe Legursky can challenge to start. I also think that Richie Incognito could be in play as a FA. Despite the guy being nuts/labeled a dirty player and obviously a penalties problem, our new OL coach thought he was the best player on his line last year.

I think you could see more than 1 position changed on the O-line next year, with or without the CBA. And I'm ok with that, changes are needed.

marc said...

obviously, the steelers have done a good job in the past of taking not so well known players and coaching them up to quality starters.

but, i think sometimes they think they can make anybody better and it clouds their judgement. they need to bring in a high quality lineman one way or another or their problems running the ball will continue to persist.

Anonymous said...

I believe our biggest need is at ILB and/or NT; is there any chance the steelers might get a chance to draft Mount Cody? Just imagine what our DL would look like for the decade to come with Hood and Cody. I think we should get a DL with the first pick and a ILB with our second, push the second year players like Lewis and Burnett to step up.

Anonymous said...

Please stop with the Terrence Cody dream. There's no chance the Steelers are going to draft that slob. If you ever see a mock with him being taken 18th, it's a garbage mock. Just. Won't. Happen.

marc said...

i ask because i have never seen he more of a slob than big snack?

Patrick said...

Agreed, only remote chance of Cody being a Steelers is in Rd 2.

Dale Lolley said...

Cody is more like a Sean Rogers-type body than Casey Hampton. Hampton's not really sloppy. Doesn't need to be fitted for a bro. Google Cody's pics from the Senior Bowl.

Anonymous said...

So which would be the top options for NT left for the 18th pick? Most likely the tackles left for the time the Steelers get to pick will be a reach, what about ILB?

Anonymous said...

1. I think Dan Williams is the best NT that might be available at #18. But he's rising.

2. No way the Steelers draft Cody. Casey is fat, but he's a Chippendale's dancer compared to Cody.

3. No way the Steelers sign Incognito.

4. I thought the general concensus on Bushrod was that he sucks?

adamg said...

I disagree the OL can't run block. Several of them have consistently said that they want to run block. It's not their fault the OC doesn't believe in trying to establish the run. Zerlien's son said the OL is full of road-grader types who are more suited to run than pass block.

marc said...

they have not consistently run the ball well for the past 2 much more time are you willing to give them?

Dale Lolley said...

Bushrod was playing out of position at LT, IMO. I think he's more of a RT.

adamg said...

I don't think run blocking is something an OL can just turn on and off. You have to start with the idea you are going to run the ball. The Steelers, under BA, have never approached a game with that mindset. An offense can't just run a few times, abandon the run the rest of the game and then think it will magically appear when they need it.

The OL did open enough holes for Mendenhall to get 1000 yds, so they must have the ability to open holes in them.

marc said...

no doubt BA's system has a negative impact on a consistent rushing attack. and mendy did get 1000 yards.

however, when the steelers needed to run, and the other team knew they were going to run, most times the blocking was poor and average at best. they consistently lacked a strong push off the line.

more notably, they were very poor at short yardage and inside the 20.

i would call mendy's 1000 yard season soft. the steelers ran the ball well against soft defenses and did poorly against the tougher defenses, imo.

adamg said...

As I said, imho, you have to start the game with the mindset you WILL run the ball and then keep at it even when it's not producing much. It's what gets the OL into it and it's not what BA does. It's why, when they need to run, they usually can't.

Patrick said...

I tend to agree with marc on this one. BA's offense doesn't get anyone fired up to run the ball, but what better mindset do you need than what its 3rd or 4th and short and you can't move bodies?

Bottom line is Oline needs some serious improvement, in new people or better execution, before they can be considered "good". Right now they are well below average.