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Monday, March 25, 2013

One month out mock draft

With a month remaining before the NFL holds its draft April 25-27, things are starting to take shape and the subterfuge being put out is heavy.

There's no clear-cut No. 1 player in this year's draft and there's no a clear line of separation as their usually is between the can't-miss prospects and the second tier.

With that in mind, here's a look at how the first round could go in a month - though things will certainly change.

1. Kansas City, Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M - It's not a flashy pick, but it's a safe one for a team in need of help up front. Sharrif Floyd could sneak in here as well.

2. Jacksonville, Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon - Jacksonville has been searching for a pass rusher for the better part of the past decade. Jordan has extreme speed coming off the edge.

3. Oakland, Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida State - As mentioned, Floyd could be the top pick. If he's not, the Raiders could use help on the interior of their defensive line.

4. Philadelphia, Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia - Chip Kelly needs a QB that fits his offense. And Dennis Dixon won't be the answer, while Nick Foles is a bad fit. Smith isn't a big runner, but he ran the spread extremely efficiently at WVU.

5. Detroit, Dee Millner, CB, Alabama - The Lions could go for Eric Fisher, the big offensive tackle from Central Michigan, but Millner fills a big need as well.

6. Cleveland, Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State - Cleveland signed Paul Kruger to match with Jabaal Sheard on the outside and doesn't need linemen. The Browns would have liked Millner here, but settle for a big corner in Rhodes.

7. Arizona, Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan - Some had Fisher rated just as high or higher than as Joeckel. The Cardinals were a mess up front last season.

8. Buffalo, Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee - With Smith gone, the Bills will wait a round to take a QB or make a move up into the latter parts of the first to get the guy they want. Patterson will give that young QB a weapon.

9. N.Y. Jets, Ezekial Ansah, OLB, BYU - He's raw, but the Jets have been in search of a pass rush for years. Ansah might be too good to pass up.

10. Tennessee, Chance Warmack, G, Alabama - A nice safe pick for the Titans.

11. San Diego, Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma - The Chargers need to protect lead-footed Phillip Rivers.

12. Miami , Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina - The run on offensive linemen continues.

13. Tampa Bay, Star Louteleli, DT, Utah - His heart condition isn't as big of a deal as originally thought. Louteleli wasn't the sure-fire first pick that some thought, but he's not bad, either.

14. Carolina, Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington - With the release of Chris Gamble, the Panthers need help at CB.

15. New Orleans, Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU - Jarvis Jones would be a consideration as well for the Saints, who are moving to a 3-4. But the Saints keep Mingo in the Bayou.

16. St. Louis, Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia - Austin will look good running on the turf in St. Louis.

17. Pittsburgh, Kenny Vacarro, S, Texas - With both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark on the wrong side of 30 and no backups at the position with any experience, the Steelers need help at safety. Austin would have been a serious consideration, but he's gone. Jarvis Jones also gets some consideration - if his neck checks out. Arthur Brown also has a shot here.

18. Dallas, Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri - The Cowboys would love to get their hands on Vacarro, but are thwarted and settle for defensive line help.

19. N.Y. Giants, Bjoren Werner, DE, Florida State - Werner doesn't wow you with his athleticism, but he gets after the passer. The Giants love pass rushers.

20. Chicago, Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State - Alec Ogletree is a knucklehead and Manti Te'o was overrated all season. Brown is the top middle or inside linebacker in this draft.

21. Cincinnati, Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia - The Bengals take a chance on a pass rusher to add to their stable of young pass rushers.

22. St. Louis (from Washington), Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia - The Rams ignore the character risks and take another speed player. The NFC West teams are all building that way.

23. Minnesota, Keenan Allen, WR, California - Heading into the draft process, many had Allen rated the top receiver in this draft class. But he hasn't been able to work out much. The Vikings will reap the benefits.

24. Indianapolis, Jesse Williams, NT, Alabama - It's not a high-profile pick like last year, but the Colts get a solid, if unspectacular player, to plug in at the nose.

25. Minnesota (from Seattle), Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina - Having addressed the WR position, the Vikings add an interior lineman.

26. Green Bay, Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama - Another Alabama player in the first round. Lacy gives the Packers a running game, something they haven't had - or tried to use - in years.

27. Houston, Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee - Hunter is an Andre Johnson clone who struggled through injuries in his college career. But his size, speed and ability cannot be ignored.

28. Denver, Damontre Moore, OLB, Texas A&M - Once thought to be a top-10 pick, Moore falls to the bottom of the round due to his lackluster 40 time. After losing Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos have a need here.

29. New England, Robert Woods, WR, USC - After flirting with Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots go with Woods to help revamp their receiving group.

30. Atlanta, Datone Jones, DE, UCLA - The Falcons have holes at CB and DE.  The top three corners are gone and Jones is the best defensive end available.

31. San Francisco, Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State - Carradine tore his ACL in November, but the 49ers don't necessarily need him to play right away.

32. Baltimore, Kevin Minter, LB, LSU - The Super Bowl champs have an obvious need at linebacker.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Allen to visit Cowboys

Steelers safety Will Allen is schedule to be in Dallas to visit the Cowboys on Monday.

Allen, who is entering his 10th season in the league, is an unrestricted free agent who has spent the past three seasons with the Steelers after originally being drafted by the Tampa Bay Bucs.

While not much more than a special teams contributor in his first three seasons with the Steelers, Allen, 6-1, 200, played a substantial role in 2012, displacing Ryan Mundy as a replacement for injured Troy Polamalu.

Allen started seven games in 2012, making 34 tackles and defending three passes. He was a more physical force in the secondary than Mundy and helped the Steelers to a No. 1 ranking in pass defense.

Allen's potential departure could leave the Steelers with a big hole on the roster behind Polamalu and free safety Ryan Clark.

Mundy, also a free agent, has already signed with the New York Giants, leaving second-year pro Robert Golden as the lone experienced backup at this point. And though the Steelers like Golden's potential, his experience in his rookie season was limited in 2012 when he recorded eight tackles.

The Steelers do have, however, a draft that is deep in safety prospects this year, led by Texas star Kenny Vaccaro, who is considered a first-round prospect and could be available when the Steelers pick in the first round with the 17th overall selection,

Texas holds its Pro Day on Tuesday. You can bet the Steelers will have plenty of people in attendance to check out the Longhorns, with an eye on Vaccaro, who will be looking to improve on his combine 40-yard dash time of 4.63 seconds.

Vaccaro plays much faster than that time. In fact, the Longhorns often used him to match up on passing downs with opposing slot receivers.

@ With Elvis Dumervil's signing by Baltimore, the odds are increasing ever so slightly that James Harrison could be back in Pittsburgh in 2013.

Baltimore was one of the few possible landing spots for Harrison, who hasn't drawn a great deal of interest on the open market thanks to his injury history.

Denver would be another possibility. The Broncos are currently looking at Dwight Freeney and John Abraham as replacements for Dumervil, but could turn to Harrison if those two options don't work out.

But the Steelers and Harrison could kiss and make up - if he's willing to swallow his pride - and get something done, probably after the draft.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Interest in Freeny, Dumervil? Eh

There are reports citing league "sources" that the Steelers are interested in free agents Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil as a possible replacement for James Harrison.
My first thought is, eh.
I just don't see either being a significant upgrade over Jason Worilds at this point in their careers - at least not for the money it would cost the Steelers to bring one of them in.
The 33-year-old Freeney had five sacks in an injury-riddled 2012 season. IF we were talking about Freeney circa 2008, it would be different. That Freeney would be worth whatever money you had to spend on him. This one is not.
As for Dumervil, yes he's younger than Freeney. And yes, he's been productive over the past three seasons, recording 37.5 sacks. But what else is he going to bring to the table for you? He's got five pass defenses in the past three seasons.
Harrison wasn't great dropping into coverage. In fact, he didn't have a pass defense in any of the past two seasons. But he did have five in 2010. And his play against the run - in addition to his pass rush ability - was and has always been what has made him a great player. 
The Steelers currently have just $2 to $ 3-million in cap space, surely not enough to put them in the conversation with Dumervil. They would likely have to release a veteran or two to free up the cash to sign him.
Besides, they still have Jason Worilds.
In know, some of you hate Worilds for whatever reason. But he has been productive when he's played in the past two seasons. In fact, he had five sacks last season - showing great burst to the quarterback - in limited playing time while also defending two passes.
With another offseason and training camp under his belt, he could be a nice workable part, with the potential to be a good replacement for Harrison or bridging the gap for somebody else to do so - Chris Carter or a draft pick.
The Steelers will see a $5.5-million windfall in June when Willie Colon's release goes on the books. That money can be used to sign their draft picks and sign another veteran to fill whatever need the Steelers don't take care of in the draft - or a luxury item such as bringing Max Starks back.
But the current cap space could be better used to sign a player such as Ahmad Bradshaw, a running back who has stated publicly that the Steelers have shown an interest in him. That's a source that I trust.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The sky is not falling

Fans tend to look at things in a vacuum. They are so intent on what's going on with their favorite team that they don't look around at what's happening with everyone else.

And that's what we've had the past couple of weeks with the Steelers, who have released Willie Colon and James Harrison and lost Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis in free agency.

Depending on who you listen to, the Steelers are looking at having the first-overall pick in next year's draft to being so bad that everyone in the front office and on the coaching staff will be fired.

But when you look at what's happened to the Steelers - none of which was a surprise - it pales in comparison with what's going on in Baltimore.

With Ed Reed's signing with Houston Wednesday, the Ravens are now down eight starters. Eight!

And we're not even close to being done with free agency at this point.

Cincinnati, despite having a ton of salary cap space, has lost linebacker Manny Lawson without making any significant upgrades.

Meanwhile in Cleveland, the Browns have been active in free agency, but are still lacking in the most important position on the field, quarterback.

The bottom line is that nothing happens in a vacuum. And there will be other moves made both in free agency and in the draft.

There's several months for things to play out, including the all-important draft.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Steelers get sixth round compensatory pick

The NFL announced its compensatory picks for the draft on Monday night and the Steelers added an extra sixth-round selection for losing William Gay to Arizona last season.

The ironic thing is that Arizona released Gay in the offseason and the Steelers re-signed him.

So, in effect, the Steelers got both Gay and a sixth-round draft pick for signing him back after renting him to Arizona for a season.

Of course, the Steelers should reap at least two - and possibly more - higher compensatory picks in 2014 after losing Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Mundy - so far this year.

Pittsburgh hasn't signed anyone to a big-money contract and isn't really counting on their current signings - Gay and tight end Matt Spaeth - to play major roles in 2013.

The Steelers figure to get at least a third-round pick for Wallace and a fourth or fifth-round selection for Lewis.

If Mendenhall has a bounceback season in Arizona, he could net a fifth or sixth-round compensation pick, while Mundy's signing will probably be cancelled out by the moves the Steelers have already made.

@ Speaking of draft picks, there has still been no movement on the Emmanuel Sanders front.

The longer the Patriots go without making Sanders an offer, the less likely they are to do so.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

No movement on Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders has not received, nor has he signed, an offer sheet from the New England Patriots.

It could be forthcoming in the coming days, but at this point, he remains property of the Steelers.

New England did release starting wideout Brandon Lloyd on Saturday rather than pay him a $3 million roster bonus, so the Patriots, who have already lost Wes Welker, do have something of a need at the position, though they have signed Donald Jones and Jeremy Amendola.

Jones, however, is something of a China doll, so the Patriots could still be looking for more help there.

But even if the Steelers were to lose Sanders, is it that big of a deal?

Certainly, he's No. 2 on the depth chart right now behind Antonio Brown, and he's a promising young receiver, but he's also one who has played in 16 games just once in three seasons while playing in a limited role.

You could make the argument that the Steelers might be better served if he does sign with New England and they receive a third-round pick in return.

That would also clear $1.323 million in cap space for Pittsburgh, which could then sign another receiver or go hard after another free agent, let's say Victor Butler, as a possible replacement for James Harrison.

With four picks in the first three rounds of the draft, the Steelers could then do what they did in 2010 when they selected Sanders in the third round and Antonio Brown in the sixth.

Given that there are a good number of solid mid-round receiver prospects available in this draft, it wouldn't be the worst thing to happen.

And the Steelers still have Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress to help out with the passing game this season if the young guys aren't quite ready.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sanders meets with New England

Steelers restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders was in New England to meet with the Patriots.

The Steelers put regular tender on Sanders, meaning they have the right to match any offer he receives as a free agent or receive a third-round pick in return from the Patriots.

Of course, that has yet to happen, and there hasn't been a lot of movement in restricted free agents over the pat few years.

In other Steelers news, guard Willie Colon wasn't out of work long, signing a one-year, $1.2-million deal with the New York Jets.

It's a good signing for both signing the Jets and Colon, who has a lot to prove after three injury-riddled seasons.

It's interesting that Colon was out of work less time than James Harrison, who isn't getting the kind of interest he thought he would on the open market.

That doesn't mean Harrison is likely to think about returning to Pittsburgh. His pride, which already wouldn't let him accept a pay cut from the Steelers, likely wouldn't let him come back for a lesser contract after being released.

Meanwhile, the Steelers met with Beanie Wells, Victor Butler and Kellen Davis on Friday, but all left town without contracts.

That doesn't mean the Steelers won't sign them, but they'll wait while the free agent market softens up.

@ ESPN is reporting the Steelers signed former draft pick Matt Spaeth, who spent the past two seasons with Chicago.

I guess that means they won't be signing Davis.

Spaeth had just six receptions for 28 yards in Chicago last season, serving mainly as a blocker.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Steelers couldn't afford Lewis

Keenan Lewis signed a five-year, $26.3 million contract with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday and the teeth gnashing began for Steelers fans.

Yes, I think Lewis is a good player. But he's not a great one.

To be a great corner, you have to create turnovers - period.

Lewis doesn't do that. In fact, in four NFL seasons, he has one interception.

The way the rules have shifted in the NFL over the past decade - and particularly the past five years - it doesn't pay to just have guys who can cover.

Look at the Steelers the past two seasons. They've ranked No. 1 in the league against the pass both years. But there have been times late in games that opponents have rallied late to win games.


One part of the answer is a lack of pass rush. But the other part of the equation is that the Steelers don't have a secondary that takes the ball away.

The Steelers feel that putting Cortez Allen in the lineup full time will give them somebody else - with Troy Polamalu - who can force turnovers. Allen gave them a glimpse of that in the final two games of 2012 when he forced four turnovers while seeing his most extensive playing time.

This is the kind of secondary they want to make a shift to. It's the kind of secondary they had early on in Bill Cowher's tenure. Rod Woodson had excellent hands, as did Darren Perry.

In fact, Perry was limited in all facets of the game except catching the ball.

We'll see a continued shift in Pittsburgh's philosophy come out of this year's draft. The Steelers are going to take a safety. And you can bet he'll be a player with ball skills.

So no, the Steelers couldn't match the 5-plus million per season for Lewis. They weren't going to pay that kind of money to a player who doesn't get them possession of the ball back.

And they have other holes to fill.

Steelers keep moving forward

With Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert in Morgantown for the West Virginia pro day - they've been quite busy this offseason visiting pro days - the Steelers were still moving forward in free agency.

That included re-signing long snapper Greg Warren and having running back Beanie Wells in on Friday to meet with team doctors.

The signing of Warren is a good one. Solid long snappers are hard to find and the team didn't want to go into 2013 having an open tryout for that position.

As for Wells, he would seem to be a similar back to both Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. And the Steelers were just kicking his tires a little bit - a smart move for a back who has the knee issues that Wells has had.

Something tells me that if the Steelers were so inclined to make a move to sign Wells, it might come at the expense of Dwyer or Redman.

Tender offers can be pulled and players who have signed their tenders can be released. It wouldn't make much sense to have three power backs on the roster.

@ It appears both Keenan Lewis and Ryan Mundy are close to leaving.

Lewis is reportedly working on a deal with New Orleans, while Mundy is doing the same with the Giants.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Steelers release Colon, sign Gradkowski

The Steelers on Tuesday released guard Willie Colon with a June 1 designation and signed free agent quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

The move to release Colon with the June 1 designation means the Steelers won't see the $5 million in savings until after June 1. But it also means they don't have to play the game of telling Colon not to show up at offseason workouts.

They can also move forward knowing they will have his money available in the future - likely to sign draft picks.

Gradkowski's signing means the Steelers are done with Byron Leftwich - which was a given - and possibly Charlie Batch - which wasn't.

The Steelers could still make a move to bring back the 38-year-old Batch if they don't get a quarterback in the draft.

In other news, running back Rashard Mendenhall signed a one-year deal with Arizona, reuniting him with Bruce Arians there.

It's probably a good signing for both. Mendenhall gets a year - more than a year removed from his knee surgery - to prove he's better than he was in 2012, while the Cardinals get a replacement for Beanie Wells.

The Steelers are also reportedly interested in the oft-injured Wells - at least according to ESPN. But considering they already have a pair of comparable runners in Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, I don't see the fit.

Meanwhile, Keenan Lewis is heading to New Orleans for a meeting with his hometown Saints.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So much for Wallace not getting paid

Mike Wallace cashed in as a free agent Tuesday, signing a five-year $65-deal with the Miami Dolphins.

The signing makes him the third-highest paid receiver in the league behind Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Detroit's Calvin Johnson.

So much for the "Wallace is hurting himself in free agency" crowd.

Spare me the discussion of whether or not you feel Wallace is worth that kind of money. Fact of the matter is, right or wrong, the Dolphins felt he is.

@ The Steelers made a couple of moves of their own Tuesday, signing linebacker Larry Foote to a three-year deal and wide receiver Plaxico Burress to a one-year contract.

Both were solid moves.

If Sean Spence recovers and wins a starting job, Foote gives the Steelers a solid backup at both inside positions at a minimal cost.

If Spence doesn't recover from his preseason knee injury, Foote can help hold down the position while the Steelers groom another player to move into that slot.

Burress' signing at the veteran minimum also gives the Steelers options at the WR position without Wallace.

He showed me enough in his late tryout last season to know that he still has something left in the tank. After all, the 6-5 Burress was never a speed demon. His game was built around using his 230-pound frame to beat corners.

He's also a player that the younger players on this team respect. Burress is much more mature now than he was earlier in his career - prison will do that to a man.

@ The moves to sign Burress and Foote were made after the Steelers restructured linebacker LaMarr Woodley's contract, freeing up $4 million in cap space.

With that restructure and the signings of Burress and Foote, the Steelers currently have $4.7 million in cap space.

@ The Steelers will reportedly entertain free agent quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and linebacker Moise Fokou on Wednesday.

All Steelers fans pretty much know Gradkowski's story by now. But he's spent the past two years backing up Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.

Fokou, 6-1, 237, is a cover linebacker who spent last season in Indianapolis, starting one game. He spent the previous three years in Philadelphia, making 22 starts.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Steelers make one final pre-FA move

The Steelers made their final move of the pre-free agency period by re-signing guard Ramon Foster to a three-year deal.

The move likely means that the team will either ask Willie Colon to take a pay cut or release him outright - though that move probably wouldn't come until after June 1.

If the Steelers release Colon - who has played in just 12 games in the past three years - now, they would save just $1.5 million.

If they wait until after June 1, the savings would be $5.5 million.

Pittsburgh began the day $3.4 million under the salary cap after releasing James Harrison and making tender offers to restricted free agents Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Steve McLendon and Emmanuel Sanders.

Foster's signing likely ate up about half of that.

That means the Steelers will again sit on the sidelines when the free agency period begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday - something that's not surprising.

But, if they wish to make a move, they can free up some additional cash with another contract restructure or two, with LaMarr Woodley likely being the first player they would approach.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Steelers release Harrison

In a move that wasn't totally shocking, the Steelers released linebacker James Harrison on Saturday, saving just over $5 million in salary cap space for 2013.

The move came after the team reached an impasse with Harrison's agent on lowering the five-time Pro Bowl player's salary for 2013.

The Steelers used their new-found cap space to offer tenders to restricted free agents Emmanuel Sanders, Steve McLendon, running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.

Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester was not tendered an offer and will become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday unless the team makes him an offer before then.

The moves leave the Steelers just under the league salary cap of $123.9 million. But it could create some additional cap space with a restructure of linebacker LaMarr Woodley's contract if it chooses to make a move in free agency.

That could become an issue, particularly at the linebacker position, where Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are now the only returning starters.

In addition to losing Harrison, inside linebacker Larry Foote is also headed to unrestricted free agency, though the team would like to sign him to at least a one-year deal to return.

Former second-round draft pick Jason Worilds is expected to replace Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year who ranks fourth on the team's all-time sack list with 64.

Worilds had five sacks in limited action in 2012 filling in for Harrison and Woodley.

Free agent linebackers who might interest the Steelers include Kansas City's Brandon Siler, San Francisco's Larry Grant and Green Bay's Brad Jones.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Looking at free agency

Those who don't think Mike Wallace is going to get a big payday in free agency haven't been very realistic.

At look at any of the free agency rankings done on pretty much any web site will tell you that. Wallace is young and fast and productive. The fact is, Wallace has game-changing speed.

Sports Illustrated did a free agency fantasy draft - a different idea - and Wallace was the top pick. CBS Sportsline's Pete Prisco ranks him as the second-best free agent available.

Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis will also be in demand.

Lewis went with the 22nd choice in the SI draft. Prisco ranked him 18th and third among available cornerbacks.

That should give you an idea of why the Steelers felt the need to sign William Gay.

Guard Ramon Foster went in the 18th round in the four-team SI draft, making him the third, and last, Steelers player on the list.

Interestingly enough, offensive tackle Max Starks was not selected. The four guys picking were trying to build a team by filling every position available, which means Starks could have been the ninth-best tackle rated by the selectors, but that doesn't mean Starks won't get offers on the free agent market.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Gay signing means Lewis likely gone

The Steelers made a big free agent signing Monday, adding cornerback William Gay at a three-year deal.

It wasn't all that surprising. As soon as Gay was released last week by Arizona, which had signed him to a two-year, $4.95-million contract last season, the natural fit was for Gay to return to Pittsburgh.

It was a move similar to the one made by Bryant McFadden a couple of years ago. Unlike McFadden, however, Gay still has tire left on the tread.

Gay was solid in the slot for the Steelers in 2011 before leaving for Arizona, and that's likely where he'll be asked to play in 2013. That means Cortez Allen will move into the starting lineup on the outside opposite Ike Taylor, though the Steelers will likely call it an open battle between Allen, Gay and Curtis Brown heading to training camp.

It also means that the Steelers will now likely let Keenan Lewis walk - unless he finds the free agent market more soft than anticipated.

The Steelers liked what they saw of Allen last season, particularly when he started in place of Taylor in the last few games. Pittsburgh needs more playmakers in the secondary, and despite Lewis' solid play last season, he just isn't a guy who's going to get a bunch of interceptions.

What the Steelers can do is use the money they might have used to re-sign Lewis to make other moves, ie. sign a running back.