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Monday, February 01, 2010

Looking at free agent skill positions

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 skill positions, QB/WR/RB

Steelers potential losses
Charlie Batch, QB
Willie Parker, RB
Joey Galloway, WR
Carey Davis, FB

As you can see, there’s not a lot here – other than Parker – that cannot be replaced.

Galloway was a late-season replacement for Limas Sweed – more on him later – who never saw action in a game, while Batch made it through just a handful of plays before suffering a broken left wrist while replacing Ben Roethlisberger in an overtime loss at Kansas City. He was subsequently passed by Dennis Dixon as the team’s No. 2 quarterback.

The team thought so little of Davis, meanwhile, that he was released at the end of training camp, only to be re-signed later in the year.

Losing Parker will be a blow. And it’s almost guaranteed that Parker will not return. He told me after the team’s regular season finale at Miami that he still considers himself a starter and wants to go to a team that will give him that opportunity. It won’t happen in Pittsburgh, where Rashard Mendenhall has taken on that role.

The Steelers would like to have Parker return as a backup to Mendenhall, but realize that’s not likely and won’t make much of an effort to do so.

And they won’t go into next season with Mewelde Moore as the only backup to Mendenhall. That could mean that Isaac Redman or Frank Summers will get that opportunity. But the Steelers could also dip into the free agent market in an attempt to find a promising young back with low mileage as they did with Moore two years ago.

Complicating matter is the unsettled status of the collective bargaining agreement, which could take a number of unrestricted free agents and make them restricted.

Among players who could interest the Steelers who would revert to restricted status include Leon Washington of the Jets, John Kuhn of the Packers and Mike Bell of the Saints.

Former Seattle fullback Justin Griffith could be a possibility as a more dangerous version of Davis and tight end/fullback David Johnson. The Steelers like Johnson’s blocking and feel he’ll improve greatly in that role in his second season, but he’s not much of an offensive threat.

While Summers will again get the opportunity to compliment Johnson, the 6-0, 230-pound Griffith, who turns 30 in June, is an accomplished receiver out of the backfield in addition to being a capable – though not great – lead blocker. Griffith has 141 career receptions for 989 yards and 12 touchdowns.

At quarterback, the Steelers could bring Batch back for at least one more season. He’s well-liked in the locker room and helps mentor both Roethlisberger and Dixon.

The problem is that Dixon’s contract is up at the end of the 2010 season - though he will be an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Steelers will be able to keep him. But we don’t know at this point what changes a new collective bargaining agreement will bring.

The Steelers may want to look for a little more long-term stability.

Though the team will likely sign at least one rookie free agent following the draft, a veteran such as Patrick Ramsey or Brian St. Pierre could be brought in to serve as a more long-term solution as a third quarterback.

Finally, the team expects Sweed to be back for a critical third season now that the “personal issues” he dealt with at the end of last season are behind him.

I know that many people are down on Sweed, but keep in mind that the third season is often a big one for wide receivers, particularly big ones who got by on their athletic talent and size in college.

Witness Sidney Rice’s explosion this season with the Vikings. Yes, Rice benefited from the addition of Brett Favre, but he was a player who struggled catching the ball in his first two seasons, hauling in just 46 passes in his first two seasons. People considered the former second-round pick a bust.

He caught 83 passes for more than 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns this season. I’m not suggesting that Sweed will catch 80 passes in 2010, but he will be given every chance to prove that he’s not a competent NFL wide receiver.

With Sweed, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace and youngster Tyler Grisham returning, it’s unlikely the Steelers will sign a veteran wideout off the free agent market.


PTownSteelTown said...

Could Stefan Logan be looked at as a viable replacement for Willie Parker?

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Dale. It would great to see Sweed bounce back and become a big play threat.

Chris Hein said...

So someone in the organization is actually saying that Sweed's personal issues are behind him? That's good news. I hope he can still develop into a good complementary receiver.

marc said...

i would fall out of my chair if the steelers were able to sign leon washington.

kelly said...

How much playing time will Sweed actually get? With Wallace emerging how often will he see the field? How many balls will he have thrown to him? Wallace having a great rookie season really screwed Limas. I have a feeling that Sweed won't have many opportunities next season, deserving or not.

marc said...

it will be an interesting situation next year at WR. ward is definitely slowing down a bit. holmes will continue to get more looks and wallace is also deserving. how will ward handle it? i agree, sweed may have a tough time getting opportunities.

regarding dixon, what does exclusive right free agent mean? does he have to sign with steelers if they match other offer? if i were him, i would not sign with the steelers. he's got talent, but won't have an opportunity to start here.

Dale Lolley said...

If Sweed has his head on straight in the offseason workouts and training camp and performs well, they'll find ways to get him on the field on occasion. And injuries happen, especially to receivers in their mid-30s. There will be chances for that fourth receiver.

Exclusive rights free agents can only sign with their current team provided that team makes a qualifying offer. If the team doesn't make a qualifying offer, the player becomes unrestricted. The Steelers have the upper hand, of course, but Dixon could hold out for more money to try and force a trade. That's worst case scenario.

Adam said...

I must have missed this...what happened to Sweed at the end of the season...if it has been released?

Tim said...

If we sign a decent price FA i hope its a CB, dlineman, olineman or FS.

I think Summers, Redman and Moore can easily replace Willie's production.

adamg said...

What about Sean McHugh? McHugh has always considered himself a FB although because of his height, most coaches seem to want to make him a TE. McHugh can catch balls out of the backfield and was already signed to a 3 year contract last year.

The Steelers seem to like Justin Vincent, too. I could see Carey Davis back as an ST ace.

Patrick said...

if they run the ball as much as they did this year, then Dale could probably fill in for Willie's production.

If they get back to running the ball and Mendenhall gets hurt, then they're screwed.

Redman has shown nothing besides being a Message Board hero and possible short yardage back. Moore is a 3rd down back.

They prob need a shifty, change of pace guy and could prob get it in Rd 4 or 5.

Leon Washington, half a leg and all, prob isn't going to be cheap.

SKIN-LEE said...

I concur. Maybe Vincent shows us why they have kept him around or a mid to late round guy gets a chance to show some fresh legs. Regardless, we do need someone with some ability behind 34 and I am not convinced Moore or Frank the Tank is the answer.

datruth4life said...

I think if the Steelers added RB's Anthony Dixon of Missippit State or LeGarett Blount of Oregon (the one who punched someone that was taunting him) then I think they'll be fine with the other backs that they have in their stable. Both are big backs at 245 lbs. and would be that bruiser that this team needs.

If the Steelers are serious about improving their ground game, then they need to add a running back that can carry the load.

Patrick said...

"If the Steelers are serious about improving their ground game, then they need to add a running back that can carry the load."

thats not Mendenhall? I think he can carry the load if given the chance, the Steelers just need a spell back to give him a breather and change of pace. Without Willie, they don't have that.

Dale Lolley said...

I think Johnson showed he's a cheaper version of McHugh. Neither is going to carry the ball. They're not going to get you any run after the catch. And if there's no new collective bargaining agreement, then the year is uncapped and teams can cut guys with long-term contracts with no penalty. Thus, I don't see McHugh making this team.

There's never been an official explanation on Sweed. I've heard some non-official stuff, but I'm not going to repeat it.

Vaflyer said...

I like the thought of Mike Bell as a possible UFA signing. While not great, as long as any injury to Mendy wasn't year ending, he could fill in admirably along with more for a couple of games.

Dale Lolley said...

If there's no CBA, Bell will be restricted. I looked at him as well, but I don't know that he plays teams and he doesn't return.

Anonymous said...

Were not drafting LeGarrette Blount. We rarely take guys with heavy character issues, see Plaxico Burress. Took chance, didnt want to push our luck, good thing. Heres the options in my eyes: 4th round Ben Tate from Auburn. Look him up. Great speed, heavy shoulder, great hands to catch too. OR, Montario Hardesty from Tennessee, more of a between the tackle guy, but has another gear for breakaway speed. Look'em up, youll like what you see. Oh, and Anthony Dixon is a 2-3rd rounder, were not drafting Spindenhalls backup that high. Peace

emac2 said...

Has Dixon shown enough to bring anything back in trade or are we better off giving him another season before moving him?

This might be the year to trade up and get an impact player. Maybe 18 and Dixon to one of the teams in the top 10 looking for a QB? (If Berry was still there I might include Sweed too)

I'd probably settle for Dixon and our 2nd for a high 2nd round pick but otherwise I think we hold him for another year.

Patrick said...

has Blount done anything else wrong off the field? I know he punched the guy on the field and that whole circus, but was there anything else?

marc said...

blount wouldn't be the first guy on the team with potential character issues and he won't be the last. i'm not sure he would be the compliment to mendy that we're looking for though.

also, should we count on a mid round RB to step in at #2 and be the change of pace guy? that seems like a lot to ask.

who is our long term solution at Center? hartwig is average, but i don't think he's the bruiser you need in the middle.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person who doesn't trust Dixon as our backup? Especially with Ben likely to be sacked 45 times a year for all eternity?

Patrick said...

Marc, I think rookie RB's have shown time and time again to be able to come and play right away, especially in a limited role. I don't think its too much to ask if Mendenhall is going to be leaned on and Moore the 3rd down back.

Rookie would be a whole lot cheaper than a FA too.

Anonymous said...

for once, i agree w Patrick

rookie runningback mid-draft is the way to go

Dale Lolley said...

I think they'll go the draft route as well. It's a much cheaper option for a position that doesn't have a long shelf life.
As for Dixon, why would they trade him now? They can get at least two more years out of him before they'll likely have to pony up something as a restricted free agent. Again, though, we don't know what the new collective bargaining agreement will bring.
But they definitely won't trade him now.

emac2 said...

I always considered Dixon to be a value play as someone they drafted with the expectation that he would develop into a starting caliber QB who could then be traded (unless, of course, Ben gets traded)

If that is the case don't you trade him as soon as he has good trade value instead of risking that value in exchange for a backup QB?

I agree you wait if the value isn't there yet but when I see what crummy QB's are drafted at the top of the 1st round I have to wonder what kind of pick we can get for someone ready to go who would have been a high pick if not for the injury.

The bottom line is that a back up QB is too easy to find to pass up a good pick and in a year like this one when we already have a (relativly) high pick it might be a rare opportunity to jump into the top 10 and get a real difference maker.

On another unrelated issue...

Wouldn't a specialist who just sent kickoffs into the endzone be worth it? I would think any end of the bench player who can prevent 1-6 scores a year by himself has value. I think I might rather just be sure the other team always starts at the 20 then for us to get an extra 10 yards on each return. (this is the argument for a kickoff specialist instead of Logan)

Patrick said...

emac I have been saying that about kick off specialist since Week 10

no one wants to hear it and I don't get why

kelly said...

Why can't Sepulveda work on the kick off duties? Yes, I know there's a difference between punting and kicking, but he has a strong leg. It doesn't seem like that much of a stretch to have him work on it in the off season and see if it's possible. It would also save a roster spot.

marc said...

someone on that team has to be able to boot the ball into the endzone.

and i still don't necessarily agree with the notion that a RB mid-round draft pick will be able to step in as the #2. i don't know the specifics, but i'm guessing the majority of successful rookie RB's are 1st or 2nd rounders.

plus, i don't like having a rookie behind mendy. i like him and think he has great potential. but he's proven he can put the ball on the ground and at times he can be lackadaisical.

Ben said...

The RSS/Atom feed isn't working on the new site Dale. Is it possible to get it fixed?

Tim said...

I've always wondered why Sepulveda doesn't kick off. You have to assume he can kick at least AS far as Jeff Reed, and he'd be an 11th tackler instead of a 10.2th tackler. Maybe not a big deal to some teams, but it is for one that allows returns for touchdowns every chance they get. Imagine the other team actually having to block our kicker. Either Sep would get a shot, or he'd free up someone else. I don't think they're worried about him getting hurt either, since they value Reed so much and they throw him out there.

He must be, for some reason, really, really bad at kickoffs.

Dale Lolley said...

I've never really seen Sepulveda kick off, but it is a different skill than punting. Kicking off is more similar to field goal kicking and PATS. Punting is, of course, the straight drop kick.

I'm also working on the RSS/Atom feed issue with our tech people. We'll see what we can do about that.

kelly said...

As I said in my post I realize that punting and kicking are different skills, but it's not like teaching a dog to meow. I don't think it would be too difficult for Sepulveda to learn, especially if he has any soccer background. And Tim makes a good point; Sep is a big kid that can tackle. I just don't know why it wouldn't be worth a try.

Tim said...

Yeah, I was a kicker and punter in high school. Why? Because I had played soccer before. Kicking is kicking. Maybe not for everyone, but for seasoned millionaire athletes it should be. I could be wrong, and apparently I am, but I think that an NFL punter could learn to kick off in a couple of weeks or days if he applied himself, if he doesn't know how already. A strong leg is a strong leg, and Sep surely knows how to swing it. That should be all it takes for him to kick it 60 yards, which is about how far Reed kicks it. Maybe he was attacked by a tee as a kid or something and still gets nightmares.

Tim said...

Actually, I just thought of something else. Maybe they're worried that tweaking the way he kicks by putting him on kickoff duty will mess up his punting swing.

On another note, was anyone else a little disappointed with his distance this year? He didn't boom many deep ones, even when he had the chance. Not a huge deal, since at least he's consistent and can pin teams at the 10 regularly. But I was excited for some 60 yarders after all the reports coming out of training camp, and they never really made it to the games.

Dale Lolley said...

Yeah, Sepulveda wasn't real happy with his distance, either. He's not a great cold weather kicker.

Patrick said...

pretty sure McAfee on the Colts both kick offs and punts and does both well.

It all depends on the player. Maybe you could coach Sep to do it, but if it doesn't come naturally, don't force it.

Ben said...

Thanks Dale, much appreciated.

Out of interest what do you make of Tyler Grisham? Obviously he didn't get much work in this season only being activated quite late, but the clips I saw of preseason and training camp he looked like he might be worth persevering with. I liked his attitude, thought he blocked really well and he wasn't afraid to go over the middle. As I remember he made a couple of nice catches for first downs in pre season and had a really nice one pulled back on a penalty. Obviously he's a long shot but he seemed to have a bit about him. Hard worker and smart... Kind of reminded me of a very young Hines Ward.

Dale Lolley said...

He was a kid who was always open in training camp, but I didn't give him much of a chance because of his size. But he was a hard worker and gave them good looks on the scout team, so they kept him. I think that work ethic could help him stick around, but he's limited to being a slot guy.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the grisham bandwagon

Holmes, Wallace, Sweed, Grisham

Sound like a great WR corps for years to come