Steel Sensations…Grading the Steelers free agent decisions

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As we enter April; the NFL free agent season is well underway. Unlike many years, the Steelers have been extremely active in bringing in outside players. By doing this, they’ve shown that they believe they still have a window to compete with the core players they have but are willing to accept the team they’ve had on the field the last two seasons isn’t good enough to accomplish their ultimate goal of winning a seventh Lombardi trophy.

The black and gold have made several decisions over the last month in regarding who to bring in and who to let leave for other cities. Let’s grade each of those moves thus far.

Brought in from the outside:

Safety Mike Mitchell-Carolina-Grade A: This was a fantastic signing. Mitchell will come in and replace Ryan Clark at the free safety spot. He’s only 27 and the team inked him for five years. He and Polamalu will form a dynamic duo.  Mitchell’s age and upside make this the best signing of the off season.

DT Cam Thomas-San Diego-Grade B: Thomas was signed to play defensive end according to Kevin Colbert but he can certainly play defensive tackle as well. The D line is thin overall so to bring in a guy who can play in multiple positions was a must. Thomas should see significant playing time on an overhauled line in 2014.

WR Lance Moore-New Orleans-Grade C+: Moore was only brought in because the Steelers lost their number two and number three receivers. It shouldn’t have come to this. The team needed to sign someone but would have been better served keeping their own. Moore is nothing more than a number three receiver and the team desperately needs a number two.
L
B Arthur Moats-Buffalo-Grade B -: Moats is a good player but the team only signed him for one season, bringing this grade down.  Moats can play both inside and outside which is exactly the kind of depth the team needed to add.  It would have been far more beneficial to sign Moats for at least two seasons.

RB LaGarrette Blount-New England-Grade C+: Blount is a good reserve back and that’s what the team needed after electing not to sign any of their free agent running backs. Blount’s a hard runner and contains power as well as having experience as a starter in the past. That said, there’s always been something fundamentally wrong with him in my opinion. I don’t trust he can be a fill in starter in a pinch and in the NFL you need a guy like that.
CB Brice McCain, Houston – Grade D+:  The team needed depth in the secondary so from that standpoint the move makes sense but that’s about it. McCain is a fringe player at best and this need could have easily been filled via the draft.

WR Darrius Heyward Bey, Indianapolis – Grade C: The team needed veteran depth at wide receiver but was this the right signing? Heyward Bey is kind of a bust as a first round pick, he’s got speed but you can’t trust his hands. Additionally signing him for only one year just doesn’t make sense. They need a number two receiver and they still don’t have that guy on this roster.

Kept:

LB Jason Worilds-Grade A-: The only reason this grade is not an A+ is the team has only signed him to the one year transition tag. That should change which would bring this grade up, if it doesn’t change, this grade will drop. Worilds was the number one priority this offseason and the team kept him. He’s an impact player and will ideally be making plays in Pittsburgh for many years to come.
G Cody Wallace-Grade B-: Wallace is a good veteran lineman but it seems he was kept in lieu of Fernando Velasco and I don’t agree with that move. If the team ends up keeping Velasco then this grade will increase.

TE David Johnson-Grade B: Johnson has far more value as a full back and his big body can take some hits and throw some blocks. He was a good guy to keep on the team due to his versatility.
LS Greg Warren-Grade B: Warren’s only job is to long snap so it’s hard to give a grade higher than a B. He’s good at his job so there are no complaints in bringing him back.
G Guy Whimper- Grade D: I don’t think Whimper brings much to the table and again this seems to indicate no Velasco.

Left For Other Teams:

DE Ziggy Hood- signed with Jacksonville-Grade B-: Hood never lived up to his first round pick so letting him go wasn’t the worst thing in the world. If they could have kept him, I would have been ok with it as well. However losing Hood doesn’t appear to be a big loss and one the Steelers weren’t worried about at all.

WR Emmanuel Sanders-signed with Denver-Grade C: I think the team could really use Sanders. He had his best season ever and he hasn’t reached his full potential yet.  The problem Sanders and the Steelers faced was Antonio Brown is already signed long term and the team already drafted speedster Markus Wheaton last year. There really isn’t a need for three speed guys.

WR Jerrcho Cotchery- Signed with Carolina-Grade F: This was a horrible mistake by Pittsburgh. Cotchery was the number three receiver on the team last season but he played like a number two. Cotchery is a great possession receiver and great red zone target for Big Ben. He’ll be sorely missed.

LB LaMarr Woodley-Signed with Oakland-Grade A: The team cut Woodley due to his salary. He was injured too often and not worth his salary. As much as I like Woodley, this was a must do for the black and gold.

DL Al Woods – Signed with Tennessee-Grade C: Many people are making a big deal out of the loss of Woods. He’s a reserve at best and while the line is thin, he’d never be more than a backup.

RB Jonathan Dwyer-Signed with Arizona-Grade F:  Dwyer was a great complement to Bell last season and he brought a lot of fire to the huddle. He was capable of getting the tough yards or filling in as a starter who could drop 125 yards. He should have been kept for not only the talent he brought to the field but all the intangibles he brought to the locker room.

FS Ryan Clark-Signed with Redskins-Grade A:  Clark provided the Steelers with great years and he’ll be forever remembered as one of the hardest hitters the team has ever had. That said, he’s 34 years old and the team needed to get younger and better in the secondary.  It was time to move on and the team did so by letting Clark move on.

All in all the Steelers offseason has been pretty successful and they will continue to navigate their way through the remainder of it by trying to fill in more gaps and holes they deem necessary.
Whatever they don’t do in free agency, they’ll look to the draft to fill. Stay tuned.

Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association http://www.steelnationassociation.com- Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at mike@steelnationassociation.com.

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