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Sunday, March 29, 2015

One-month out mock draft

With the NFL draft now one month away, it's time for a second shot at a mock draft. Again, this is a mock draft and my feelings about players and teams change from day to day as I hear or read things and teams continue signing free agents.

Here we go:

1. Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State - Unchanged. This is where the Bucs have been leaning for more than a month.

2. Tennessee, Leonard Williams, DL, USC - Also unchanged, though the Titans will consider moving down. Williams will be too good to pass up.

3. N.Y. Jets (from Jacksonville), Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon - The Jets have realized that they don't have their QB of the future in Geno Smith. They have to move up from 6 to get Mariota to keep another team from jumping them (Cleveland,Chicago?)

4. Oakland, Kevin White, WR, West Virginia - The Raiders need to get a threat for young QB Derek Carr.

5. Washington, Dante Fowler, LB/DE, Florida - The Redskins need to improve their pass rush.

6. Jacksvonlle (from Jets), Vic Beasley, LB/DE, Clemson - The run on edge rushers begins.

7. Chicago, Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama - The Bears couldn't move up to get Mariota, so they settle for a replacement for Brandon Marshall.

8. Atlanta, Shane Ray, LB/DE, Missouri - Another edge rusher for a team sorely lacking in pass rush.

9. N.Y. Giants, Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa - The Giants must do a better job of protecting Eli Manning.

10. St. Louis, La'el Collins, OT, LSU - The Rams took Greg Robinson last season, now get a bookend.

11. Minnesota, Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State - The Vikings' division dictates they address their CB situation.

12. Cleveland, Danny Shelton, DT, Washington - The Browns get a player who can help improve their horrid run defense.

13. New Orleans, Randall Gregory, DE/LB, Nebraska - Gregory's positive drug test at the combine causes him to slip a little. But not much.

14. Miami, DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville - The Dolphins are completely retooling their WR group.

15. San Francisco, Marcus Peters, CB, Washington - The 49ers have big needs at ILB as well, but this is too early to solve that. Their CB depth is lacking.

16. Houston, Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona - With Andre Johnson moving on, the Texans need a replacement.

17. San Diego, Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford - Running back will be an option, but the Chargers can get one later in the draft.

18. Kansas City, Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami - The Chiefs need help at both OT and G, so they can play Flowers at either spot until he gets up to speed.

19. Cleveland (from Buffalo), Alvin Dupree, OLB/DE, Kentucky - I don't like Dupree, but I could see where a team might be intrigued by his workouts. The Browns can work him in as a pass rusher.

20. Philadelphia, Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest - The Eagles signed Byron Maxwell, but still need corner help. Johnson could start right away.

21. Cincinnati, T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pitt - Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth will turn 34 this season. The Bengals must think about his replacement. And Clemmings can play guard until they're ready to turn things over to him.

22. Pittsburgh, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, OLB, UCLA - With the top three corners gone, the Steelers will be forced to wait until the second round to address that need (DJoun Smith, Doran Grant). Diggy gives them the eventual replacement for James Harrison.

23. Detroit, Malcom Brown, DT, Texas - Haloti Ngata helps ease their DT losses, but he's on the wrong side of 30.

24. Arizona, Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin - The Cardinals need a true No. 1 back.

25. Carolina, Landon Collins, S, Alabama - A value pick. The Panthers have greater needs, but can't pass on Collins.

26. Baltimore, Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF - The Ravens need a speed receiver to replace Torrey Smith.

27. Dallas, Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia - Darren McFadden is no long-term answer at running back, but he gives the Cowboys time to get Gurley up to speed.

28. Denver, Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota - The Broncos are in a win-now mode and Williams can help them do that.

29. Indianapolis, Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA - Kendricks is a playmaker who fits in nicely in their system.

30. Green Bay, Shaq Thompson, ILB, Washington - He's undersized, but can be a nice run-and-cover inside backer in a 3-4.

31. New Orleans, Cameron Erving, C, Florida State - Yes, the Saints just traded for Max Unger, but they can put Erving at guard, where they need a replacement for Ben Grubbs.

32. New England, Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma - Green-Beckham falls because of his troubled past, but Bill Belichick has never shied away from those kind of players.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Steelers' compensatory pick now at end of sixth round

Because of a computer error, the Steelers' compensatory pick, which was originally at the end of the seventh round, has been moved to the end of the sixth round.

That might not sound like a big deal but it does give the Steelers more ammunition in the draft.

Compensatory picks can't be traded, but they do offer the luxury of trading your original pick in that round, knowing you've got another in your back pocket.

For example, if the Steelers are thinking about moving up in the fourth or fifth rounds, they can now deal their sixth round selection as part of a package, knowing that they now have an extra sixth.

And that sixth-round pick is a lot more valuable than a seventh.

* The Steelers have re-signed Darrius Hayward-Bey to a one-year contract.

Some people are trashing the signing. But he's a solid special teams player and great in the locker room.

You're talking about a fourth, fifth or even sixth receiver here.

* Looking at some of the on-campus workout times being turned in, it reminds me of how little stock I put in the on-campus workouts, where players generally run on a track instead of a football surface.

For example, receiver Jamison Crowder posed a sub-4.4 40 at his workout at Duke after having a pedestrian 4.56 at the combine.

Crowder is a nice little slot-type receiver, but which time do we trust?

I'll trust the 4.56 time more because it was run on the same surface as the players he'll be judged against.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Thoughts on what Tomlin had to say

Mike Tomlin spoke to reporters today for the first time since doing so minutes after his team's 30-17 playoff loss to Baltimore.

Much has happened in the period since then. Dick LeBeau and the team "parted ways." Brett Keisel was released. Jason Worilds retired. Players have been signed and re-signed, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

But Tomlin has remained officially incommunicado.

He does, however, speak every year at the owner's meetings, which this year are taking place in Phoenix.

Here's what he had to say to the team's web site:

Regarding the defense: Our goal is to be the very best, or at least to be in that discussion, depending on how you define it. Obviously, the last couple of years I don't think we've had a legitimate argument in that discussion. We have for a great number of years I've been here and that's our intention, to be back in that's our intention, to be back in that discussion no matter how you shape it or cut it.

On LeBeau leaving: Dick's been here for a long time and had a great deal of success. I'm not going to get into specifics about what his thought process was; just know that we had a great deal of love and respect for not only him the man but what he brought us. He's move on, and I feel like we have a very capable man in Keith Butler, a guy who has been in our program for some time, even prior to me being here.

On possible defensive changes: A lot of things weigh into that, obviously our tools first and foremost. We always want to play to our strengths and work to minimize our weakness, whether it's offense, defense or special teams. ... In some instances (it's) change, in some instances (it's) tweak. I'm not opposed to change. Change is not something I fear. If you're trying to be the very best you can be, you can't have that mentality."

@ Tomlin also said that the team will have an "open competition" at outside linebacker with James Harrison, who was just re-signed Sunday, Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats. You can probably add a rookie to that mix at some point as well - unless Howard Jones or Shawn Lemons make some kind of impact this season - which is doubtful. They're nothing more than depth guys at this point.

But really, the Steelers are in a bit of a quandary. Harrison hasn't played the left side since early in his career when he was the backup on both sides to Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. Jones is a former first-round draft pick who has lined up only on the right side and isn't big or strong enough to move to the left/strong side over the tight end. That leaves Moats, who the team moved over to the left side late last season when Jones returned from a dislocated wrist, as the best option there now.

They might just have to mix and match, which isn't a great situation.

If Harrison and Jones both wind up on the right side, how does that retard Jones' growth there? Unlike some others, I'm not ready to give up on him there. He doesn't have to look like Tarzan to play the position. And I saw flashes last season of good hand technique that tell me he win battles in that fashion.

Harrison will be 37. He most certainly shouldn't be in any long-term plans. Jones, on the other hand, should.

It will be interesting to watch.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Harrison back in the fold

The Steelers re-signed linebacker James Harrison to a two-year deal on Sunday, alleviating some of the depth issues the team had at outside linebacker.

Harrison had tweeted Saturday that he was still deciding between signing with the Steelers or Titans, where he would have been reunited with former Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

But the Titans had already signed Brian Oropko and Derrick Morgan to big money deals this offseason, meaning Harrison would have been a backup there.

In Pittsburgh, he'll be counted on as a starter - at least to open the season - though he'll likely move to  left outside linebacker opposite Jarvis Jones.

The Steelers also will be in the market for an edge rusher early in this year's draft - somebody who Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, can help mentor.

Harrison turns 37 in May but was signed by the Steelers three weeks into the 2014 season after Jones suffered a dislocated wrist in a win at Carolina.

He wound up with 5.5 sacks in limited playing time, splitting action with Arthur Moats, who also was re-signed two weeks ago.

Harrison also has been working out with a number of the Steelers linebackers, including Jones, in Arizona this offseason.

The Steelers were about $8.5 million under the NFL salary cap prior to the signing of Harrison.

His deal is likely worth about $1.5 to $2 million this season.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Harrison still deciding between Steelers, Titans

Linebacker James Harrison took to his Instagram account Saturday to announce that he is still attempting to decide whether he wants to play for Tennessee or Pittsburgh in 2015.

The opinions of my support team are split, but for me, my love for the man who both started, and made my career what it is, is undeniable,” Harrison wrote. “There are no words that I can find that would do justice for everything Dick LeBeau has done for me & my career and nothing can compare to that!
“I also have a great amount of love for Steelers Nation & the Steelers organization. I’m going to pray on this and let God guide me in the right direction.”
In reality, it would appear Harrison is really trying to decide whether he wants to have a chance to be a starter or backup in 2015.
Tennessee signed free agent Brian Oropko and re-signed Derrick Morgan in free agency. Though Oropko has an injury list during his career that suggests he might not make it through an entire season unscathed, Harrison likely would be No. 3 behind those two guys.
In Pittsburgh, Harrison would be the starter on the left side, likely ahead of a high draft pick.
Harrison's love of LeBeau is real. Of this there is no doubt.
But he would also have to leave his family, which lives in Pittsburgh, next year if he chose to play for the Titans.
Those are the reasons why I think he'll wind up in Pittsburgh.
And then there is this: 

Vince Williams, left, posted this on his Twitter feed this week. It's a photo of himself, Jarvis Jones, Sean Spence, Harrison and Ryan Shazier in Arizona, where they are working out as a group.

That doesn't appear to be a guy who is thinking about playing somewhere else next year.

@ It's good that the young linebackers are working out with Harrison, whose workouts are legendary. That can only help them in the long run.

@ Per Gil Brandt, LSU corner Jalen Collins had foot surgery on Thursday but should be ready to go for mini-camp.

That's still troubling for teams looking to draft the Collins in the first round. Do you take a guy who just had foot surgery and hope it's not something serious?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Second-level free agent options

The Steelers lost out on a pair of corners they had in for visits earlier this week as Patrick Robinson signed with San Diego and Sterling Moore with Tampa Bay.

That caused plenty of teeth gnashing on Twitter, but those two are hardly the only options still available.

Here are some players the Steelers could still look at:

Tarell Brown, Oakland - Brown spent 2014 in Oakland, but was a very solid starter before that in San Francisco. He just turned 30, so the Steelers wouldn't necessarily make a long-term investment, but Brown has 11 career interceptions, including four as a starter for the 49ers in 2011.

Zach Bowman, Giants - Bowman played the No. 3 spot last year for the Giants and picked off a pair of passes. He had three in 2013 playing for Chicago. He'll turn 31 during this season, but like Brown, he could certainly step in for a year or two and help out.

Kyle Wilson, Jets - I know, the Jets' secondary was awful last season and Wilson was a part of that. He never lived up to being a first-round draft pick in New York, but the Jets also always seemed to have talented guys ahead of him - at least until last year. A change of scenery - and scheme - might do the trick. Sign him to a one-year prove-it deal and see if he works out.

Josh Gordy, Indianapolis - Antonio Brown's former teammate at Central Michigan has played both corner and free safety in his career, which would give the Steelers some flexibility. He also has five interceptions in limited playing time in the past four seasons.

Sam Acho, Arizona - There isn't much left at outside linebacker unless the Steelers want to roll the dice on an older player such as Anthony Spencer or Dwight Freeney. But they have James Harrison to fall back on later this summer if they want to go that route. Acho is a guy who kind of got lost in the wash in Arizona. He had seven sacks as a rookie in 2011 and has 13 in his career. He's still 26, so there's some possible upside.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Six weeks out mock draft

With the draft now about six weeks away and the combine completed, let's take a look at how things are shaping up with our first mock draft:

1. Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State - This is a done deal.

2. Tennessee, Leonard Williams, DT, USC - Best defensive player in the draft.

3. Jacksonville, Dante Fowler, DE/LB, Florida - Very close in terms of overall talent to Williams.

4. Oakland, Kevin White, WR, West Virginia - The Raiders have always been enamored with speed guys. White burned it up at the combine.

5. Washington, Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson - The Redskins are something of a mystery at this point and could go a number of directions. Beasley replaces Brian Oropko.

6. N.Y. Jets, Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon - The Jets keep trying at QB.

7. Chicago, Danny Shelton, DT, Washington - A big, active body in the middle.

8. Atlanta, Shane Ray, OLB/DE, Missouri - The Falcons have to improve a pitiful pass rush.

9. N.Y. Giants, Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa - The Giants have to find a way to protect Eli Manning better.

10. St. Louis, Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama - The Rams have been getting by with JAGs (Just Another Guy) at receiver for too long.

11. Minnesota, Landon Collins, S, Alabama - Collins isn't great with the ball in the air, but he's an outstanding box safety.

12. Cleveland, La'el Collins, OT, LSU - The Browns have to start looking at replacing Joe Thomas.

13. New Orleans, DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville - After trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, the Saints need weapons on the outside.

14. Miami, Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State - The Dolphins go for the upgrade in their secondary.

15. San Francisco, Marcus Peters, CB, Washington - The 49ers are likely to lose a couple of corners in free agency.

16. Houston, Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska - The Texans continue to try to add complimentary pass rushers to go along with J.J. Watt.

17. San Diego, Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin - Phil Rivers can't do it all by himself.

18. Kansas City, Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma - Paired with Jeremy Maclin, he gives them a completely new receiver group.

19. Cleveland, Malcom Brown, DT, Texas - The Browns were dead last in the league against the run in 2014.

20. Philadelphia, Arik Armstead, DT, Oregon - Best Duck available.

21. Cincinnati, Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami - Bengals fortify their line.

22. Pittsburgh, Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest - Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Carnell Lake and Danny Rooney were all in attendance at the Wake Forest pro day. Enough said.

23. Detroit, Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford - The Lions have plenty of playmakers. Now need to protect Matt Stafford.

24. Arizona, Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia - Even if he can't play right away, they have enough of a running game to wait for this kind of talent.

25. Carolina, T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pitt - Could start at RT or guard right away and eventually move to LT.

26. Baltimore, Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota - The Ravens need tight end help in the worst way.

27. Dallas, Owamagbe Odighizua, DE/OLB, UCLA - Cowboys go defensive.

28. Denver, Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma - A big, powerful player to replace Terrence Knighton.

29. Indianapolis - Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State - An interior pass rusher who can help bolster the run defense.

30. Green Bay, Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA - The Packers need ILB help right away.

31. New Orleans, Jalen Collins, CB, LSU - The Saints got a WR earlier. They need another corner.

32. New England, Carl Davis, DT, Iowa - Davis helps replace Vince Wilfork.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Week 2 of free agency begins

The Steelers had what they felt was a productive first week of free agency, re-signing Arthur Moats and Matt Spaeth, signing Ben Roethlisberger to an extension and adding running back DeAngelo Williams as a free agent.

This week, they began looking at free agent cornerbacks.

Patrick Robinson, a former first-round pick of the Saints, visited the team Monday, and former Dallas corner Sterling Moore will meet with the team on Tuesday.

Robinson was on my Steelers' FA watch list. He fits they MO as a former first-round guy heading into his second contract.

Things never quite worked out real well in New Orleans - it's hard to live up to being a first-round pick if you just become an average starter - but he does one thing most Steelers corners don't, catch the ball.

In the past four seasons, Robinson has nine interceptions  despite missing all but two games in 2013 - and that is what the Steelers are looking for in their corners.

Moore, on the other hand, doesn't have as much experience and is mainly a slot guy. He also has just three career interceptions.

Both have other visits set up.

@ Many have questioned why the Steelers haven't dove into the free agent edge rusher pond yet. But looking at some of the deals being handed out - seven to eight-million per year for average players - it's not that surprising.

With Tennessee having signed two of those edge rushers, they now have no room for James Harrison, who is on record saying he will play for the Steelers, Titans or no one else.

The Steelers will keep Harrison in the loop much as they did Brett Keisel last year. They expect to draft an edge rusher next month and still could sign somebody who gets cut free once the post-draft wave or releases happen.

But Harrison is the fallback option.

@ According to TMZ, corner Antwon Blake was arrested for public intoxication in California. Blake was apparently walking around drunk and spent the night in jail.

This isn't a big deal. He wasn't driving. He apparently wasn't doing anything all that wrong. In fact, it's kind of a silly law.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A little smoke rises from the South Side

The Steelers got busy on Friday as the team signed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to what amounts to a four-year extension that will keep the two-time Super Bowl winner in Pittsburgh through 2019.

The Steelers basically reworked the final year of Roethlisberger's current deal, which was scheduled to pay him $11.6 million with  a cap hit of $18.4.

While the exact figures on the new deal haven't leaked yet, you can expect Roethlisberger to get an average of $20 or so million per year, though his salary in 2015 will be considerably decreased.

Both Art Rooney II and Roethlisberger alluded to this deal giving the Steelers, who entered the day $7.7 million under the cap, some additional cap space.

@ The Steelers used some of that space to sign free agent running back DeAngelo Williams to a two-year deal to be Le'Veon Bell's backup.

I know some wanted the Steelers to go out and sign a Reggie Bush or Pierre Thomas, but Williams, who has spent the majority of his career in a time share with Jonathan Stewart, is a little better fit.

After the LeGarrette Bount debacle of 2014, the Steelers wanted a player capable of accepting a role in which he might not get a carry in some games when Bell is going strong.

Do they want Bell to get all of the carries in 2015? No. But when he's tearing off 10-yard runs every time he's touching the ball in a one-score game, as he was doing last year at Tennessee when Blount stalked off the field, you have to ride that horse.

Blount always considered himself a co-starter with Bell when that wasn't the case. Maybe that's what he was initially sold by Mike Tomlin, but it quickly became apparent that Bell was one of the best running backs in the league. And you have to feed that beast.

@ The Saints are said to be actively shopping cornerback Keenan Lewis.

The Steelers should be interested. The question, however, will be the cost. And Lewis, given the current cornerback market in free agency, could be in high demand.

@ Free agent corner Patrick Robinson, Lewis' teammate in New Orleans, will visit the Steelers this weekend.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

FA Day 2 news and notes

The Steelers officially lost their first free agent to another team on Wednesday when cornerback Brice McCain signed a two-year deal with Miami.

McCain, whom the Steelers had made an offer to keep, will get $5.5 million over two seasons, $3 million of which is guaranteed. He made $815,000 with the Steelers last season.

McCain had a good season for the Steelers in 2014 after being signed following his release by Houston and the Steelers would have liked to have had him back.

But they weren't going to overpay to do so and will now turn their attention elsewhere.

@ Veteran free agent running back DeAngelo Williams will visit the Steelers on Friday. The 31-year-old could be a nice fit as the backup to Le'Veon Bell.

Injuries limited Williams to six games in 2014, but he missed just one game in the three seasons prior to that.

Williams, by the way, played for current Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner at Memphis.

The Steelers need a capable backup to Bell, who is expected to be suspended for the first two games of the 2015 regular season after a DUI stop last August.

@ The Steelers cleared some additional cap space by officially restructuring the deal of center Maurkice Pouncey.

The restructure lowers Pouncey's cap hit in 2015 from $8.1 million to $4.3, saving $3.8 million this season.

The Steelers now have $7.5 million in cap space.

@ Jason Worilds informed the Steelers Tuesday afternoon of his decision to retire.

Worilds is a devout Jehovah's Witness and reportedly wants to dedicate more time to the church.

@ The agent for free agent linebacker James Harrison told the Nashville Tennesseean that his client will play for the Titans, Steelers or nobody else in 2015, not that we didn't already assume that was the case.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Worilds retires and other thoughts from a crazy first day of free agency

News of Patrick Willis and Jake Locker retiring earlier in the day did not prepare me for the news that Jason Worilds also was retiring.

Worilds announced his retirement on Twitter around midnight Tuesday evening, walking away from football despite entering free agency earlier in the day.

Worilds had received interest from at least three teams - Tennessee, Philadelphia and the Giants - and the Steelers were still in the running for his return. Instead, Worilds decided he had had enough.

Some will question the move. I won't.

It's his decision, his body and he, according to his Twitter feed, has other things he'd like to do.

Good for him.

Worilds made $9.7 million last season as the Steelers' transition player. He's likely walking away from a payday that would have brought him more than that this year - when his signing bonus would have been factored in.

But he decided to walk away.

@ The Minnesota Vikings have reportedly contacted the agent for Steelers free agent cornerback Brice McCain about the possibility of at least bringing him in for a visit.

It's also being reported that he will visit Miami.

McCain, like Arthur Moats and Matt Spaeth, who were re-signed by the Steelers Monday, isn't a big-name free agent. But like Moats and Spaeth, he's a guy the Steelers would like to bring back.

Given some of the money being thrown around in the cornerback market, however, McCain would be a fool not to at least listen to what's out there.

@ Former Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley will sign with the Arizona Cardinals, according to Adam Shefter.

Woodley was released by the Steelers last year and "played" for the Raiders in 2014.

He is still on the salary cap books for both of those teams. In fact, Woodley still counts $8.5 million against the Steelers' cap this season because he was designated as a post-June 1 cut last year.

That cap hit ranks as the second highest on the team after only quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Woodley deal, when he signed it, was considered a good one for a young player coming off a string of very good seasons.

But Woodley's talent fell off the cliff quickly, something nobody could have projected.

@ The Steelers - at least Ben Roethlisberger - perhaps did a little rejoicing on Tuesday afternoon as the story broke that Haloti Ngata had been traded by the Ravens to Detroit.

The Ravens received 4th and 5th rounds picks, while Detroit also gets Baltimore's 7th rounder.

The Ravens also lost wide receiver Torrey Smith, who signed with the 49ers, another team that's on the Steelers' schedule next year that's undergoing major changes.

Also out in Baltimore are Pernell McPhee and Owen Daniels at this point. Ravens are going to have some holes to fill.

@ Former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis has reportedly asked the cash-strapped Saints to guarantee the final three seasons of his contract or release him.

If that happens, expect the Steelers to be interested in bringing him back.

@ The Steelers made an inquiry call to the agent of free agent cornerback Darrelle Revis. But the asking price was too rich.

@ The Steelers, as has typically been the case, sat and watched everything else happen.

But they might have had a better day than Baltimore and Cleveland, both of which suffered some big free agent losses.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Steelers get busy

The Steelers made a flurry of moves on Monday, the biggest of which was the release of veteran defensive lineman Brett Keisel.

While the move itself was not surprising, the timing was somewhat of a shock.

Keisel, 36, obviously wasn't in the team's long-term plans. But it was assumed the team would cut ties with Cam Thomas before it would release Keisel.

That didn't happen.

Keisel signed a two-year deal to return to the team last August but suffered an triceps injury that ended his season in November.

The prevailing thought was that the Steelers would see how well Keisel's rehab was going before releasing him or Thomas.

By releasing Keisel, the Steelers cleared $1.5 million in salary cap space.

@ The Steelers weren't among the teams that began speaking with agents about players over the weekend in the early negotiating period.

But that doesn't mean they weren't busy.

Monday, the team re-signed outside linebacker Arthur Moats to a three-year deal and then tight end Matt Spaeth to a two-year deal.

Neither signing is as sexy as some of the others happening around the league right now, but they are key moves for the Steelers.

Moats will be counted on, at the very least, to provide depth on both sides at outside linebacker.

Spaeth, meanwhile, is a key component of the team's run blocking scheme.

@ The Steelers went into Monday with about $7.5 million in cap space by my figures. After the release of Keisel and signings of Spaeth and Moats, they have . . . about $7.5 million in cap space.

This, of course, assumes Spaeth and Moats signed for veteran minimum deals with signing bonuses in the $250,000-$500,000 range.

@ The Steelers released a statement from GM Kevin Colbert on Monday basically saying they have been in contact with safety Troy Polamalu's people but there's nothing new to report on his status.

Meanwhile, reports are beginning to surface that Polamalu is likely to retire by the end of the week.

We'll see if that's the case, but here's hoping it's true.

If Polamalu doesn't retire, the Steelers will likely be forced to release him. Nobody wants to see that happen.

The Steelers are gently pressuring the 8-time Pro Bowler to make that move. But they want to give him time to make this life-changing decision. He deserves that much.

@ As expected, the Steelers also tendered offers to restricted free agents Robert Golden, Antwon Blake and Will Johnson.

Since there has been little movement on restricted free agents in recent years, all should be back with the team in 2015.

@ BTW, I wrote last month that it's silly to look at last year's results and try to determine which games are going to be difficult.

Case and point will be the San Francisco 49ers, who are undergoing a major upheaval right now.

That looked like a tough game on paper - and still could be - but the 49ers are set to lose a lot in this offseason.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Free agency set to start

With the free agent period set to start next Monday, here are some players that could draw the interest of the Steelers in no particular order:

OLB/Edge Rusher
Jabaal Sheard: The former Pitt star has fallen out of favor in all of the coaching changes in Cleveland. But he's 25 and had 21 sacks in his first three seasons before getting just two in limited snaps last season. He's also good against the run.

Trent Cole: Yes, Cole is 32. But the Steelers are coming out of this draft with another edge rusher, possibly in the first round. The Steelers could sign Cole to a one- or two-year deal while that rookie gets up to speed. He's recorded 14.5 sacks over the past two seasons as an 3-4 OLB for the Eagles.

Brandon Graham: Another Eagles player. Now that they've cut Cole, the Eagles could go strong after Graham, who had 5.5 sacks last season serving as Philadelphia's No. 3 OLB.

Karl Klug: I love this guy's motor. He's the reason why I didn't just title this OLBs, because at 6-3, 278, he'd have to be used as a situational pass rusher in the nickel and dime defenses. But he's had 14.5 sacks over four seasons as a backup for the Titans in very limited playing time. He kind of reminds me of a young Brett Keisel without the pure length that Keisel has.

Patrick Robinson: A former No. 1 pick in New Orleans, Robinson never lived up to that hype. But a change of scenery could help. He does have nine interceptions, which is what the Steelers want out of their corners. At 5-11, 191, he's also more what they want in size as well.

Perrish Cox: Originally, I was more interested in Cox' teammate Chris Culliver. But it appears he will be highly sought after. Cox is a nice fallback option. At 6-1, 190, he has good size. And he had five interceptions in 2014 working on a one-year deal. Still just 28, he's got some football left in him.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Steelers release Moore, clear more cap space

The Steelers on Monday released veteran receiver Lance Moore, clearing just over $1 million in salary cap space,

The move came on the same day the NFL informed teams that the 2015 salary cap will be $143.28 million, an increase of $10 million from 2014.

The Steelers, under the cap rules, carried some $778,000 in cap space over from 2014 and will have an adjusted cap of $144.058 million.

The release of Moore, who had 14 receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns in a disappointing 2014 season, leaves the Steelers at around $8.7 million under the cap.

All teams must be in cap compliance by next Monday.

After a strong start in the offseason, Moore got hurt in the preseason and never really clicked with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Then, by midseason, he was pushed aside with the emergence of rookie Martavis Bryant.

@ Some $4.5 million of the Steelers' cap space will be eaten up when the team tenders offers to restricted free agents Robert Golden, Antwon Blake and Will Johnson.

The Steelers could soften that blow by signing one or all of those players to long-term deals, particularly since all figure to be in the team's plans moving forward to some degree.

Golden, a safety, should enter 2015 as the team's primary backup at free safety and was special teams captain in 2014.

Blake acquitted himself well as the nickel safety at times in 2014 and also is a core special teams player.

And Johnson is the team's starting fullback.

@ The Steelers still likely have some housecleaning to do before free agency starts.

They have not yet restructured the deal of center Maurkice Pouncey, but could do so at a cap savings of as much as $3.8 million.

Some veteran players could be released as well. Safety Troy Polamalu would save $3.75 million immediately and $5.6 million if designated as a post-June 1 release.

Defensive ends Cam Thomas ($2 million) and Brett Keisel ($1.5 million) also could be released, though I think the team is leaning toward bringing Keisel back as a backup.

@ ProFootballTalk threw out a story over the weekend that Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell could get a four-game suspension for his DUI and marijuana arrest last August.

That's not happening. It will be two games, at most.