Steelers Today - A Pittsburgh Steelers blog


Steelers sign 5 free agents

May 01, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

In a very un-Steelerlike move, the Steelers added five free agents today.  That’s right, five.  I can’t remember the last time the Steelers have signed that many Free agents at once.  I’m not talking about unsigned college seniors.  That’s normal this time of year.  Nope, they signed 5 veteran free agents.  It usually takes the Steelers about 7 years to sign that many veteran free agents.  Of course, not all of them are going to make the roster, but still….

The team added cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, punter Dirk Johnson, wide receivers Shaun McDonald and Jayson Foster, and kicker Piotr (peet-er) Czech.

Ratliff (5-11, 188) was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round (49th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft out of Florida. He most recently spent a portion of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and finished with 34 tackles and two interceptions during his time with the Colts.

Ratliff spent three full seasons with the Bengals before being released in September, 2007. He was then signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spent two weeks on their active roster before being released.

I like this move.  Although the Steelers drafted 2 rookie cornerbacks, it might be a bit much to expect either of them to contribute so soon.  Having another veteran in camp should take some pressure off the rookies and allow them to develop at a more normal pace.

Johnson (6-0, 210) enters his eighth NFL season after playing 12 games with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008. He averaged 41.8 yards on 40 punts with the Cardinals, including a 35.2-yard net average. In 69 career games played, Johnson has averaged 41.7 yards on 320 punts (13,356 total yards).

Johnson, 33, originally signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted rookie out of Northern Colorado in 1998. He was released in training camp by the Seahawks (’98), New York Jets (’99) and San Diego Chargers (’01), before playing with the New Orleans Saints (‘02), Philadelphia Eagles (‘03-06), Chicago Bears (’07) and the Cardinals. Johnson was released by Arizona last December and signed with the Washington Redskins in March 2009 before being released in April.

I’m going to assume that Dan Sepulveda has healed from his injury, and that the Steelers are just bringing Johnson in to add a little competition during training camp.  However, perhaps there is something that we don’t know about the pace at which Sepulveda is healing.  Either way, I’m glad that we won’t be hearing the names Berger and Ernster this year.

McDonald (5-10, 183) was originally drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round (106th overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft out of Arizona State. McDonald spent four years with the Rams before signing with the Detroit Lions during the 2007 offseason. He led the Lions with 79 catches, 943 yards and six touchdowns that season.

Foster (5-7, 185) spent time on the Steelers’ practice squad in 2008. He originally signed with the Miami Dolphins in 2008 as an undrafted rookie from Georgia Southern. He was on the Denver Broncos’ practice squad towards the end of the 2008 season, but was released by the Broncos on April 28, 2009.

Foster probably won’t be a factor this year, but McDonald is a good acquisition.  He is an experienced veteran who can compete in training camp with Limas Sweed, Dallas Baker, Martin Nance, rookie Mike Wallace,  and the 3 undrafted free agents that they recently signed, for a position on the roster.  I like the competition that is being set up, and my money is on Ward, Holmes, McDonald, Sweed, and Wallace to emerge as the Steelers wide receiver corps this year.

Frankly, I’m a tad disappointed that they didn’t sign Asley Lelie.  After both sides indicated that they’d had a good meeting earlier this week, I was hoping that he’d become a Steeler.  Oh well.

Czech (6-5, 210) spent the 2008 training camp with the Baltimore Ravens after signing as a rookie free agent out of Wagner College.

Czech is training camp fodder to be chewed up and spit out by Steelers’  super kicker Jeff Reed.  Good luck Piotr.  But I wouldn’t suggest buying a house in Pittsburgh.

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Colbert takes advice from Steelers Today

February 26, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

I hate to blow my own horn, but I’m going to do it anyway.  I wrote a 3-part series called “If I were Kevin Colbert”, that predicted everything that has happened during the Steelers’ free agency period.  If you haven’t already read that series, please go back and do so.    Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 can be found here.

In that series, I predicted that the Steelers would sign Max Starks to a whopping contract for the second year in a row.  I predicted that they would let Marvel Smith go.  I predicted that they would make an offer to Willie Colon, but that they wouldn’t do the same for Chris Kemoeatu.  I predicted that Anthony Smith would be let go.  Mitch Berger too.  I even predicted that they would let Arnold Harrison go, while resigning Anthony Madison and Sean McHugh to modest contracts.

A couple of things that I predicted have not yet happened.  I said that Bryant McFadden and Nate Washington would both receive offers that were too rich for the Steelers’ tastes, and they’d both be with new teams next year.  That hasn’t happened yet, but it will.

The one thing that surprised me is that the Steelers released Kendall Simmons.  He still has time left on his contract, so they didn’t have to make a move with him yet.  Either their doctors are telling them something that we don’t know, or they just don’t think he’s worth what he’s making. 

To be honest, even BEFORE Simmons hurt his ACL this past year, he was a revolving door on the offensive line.  He may as well have layed out a welcome mat for defensive linemen, he was so accomodating to their needs.  And 2007 was an even worse year for him.  He sucked.  He looked more like a matador than an offensive lineman.  Mike Tomlin obviously noticed that too.  Oh well.  See ya later, Kendall.

The bottom line is that Steelers’ Director of Football Operations, Kevin Colbert, obviously reads Steelers Today.  He did everything that we said that he should do, and we couldn’t be any happier.

By the way, Mr. Colbert, our consulting bill is in the mail.  Please pay promptly.

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If I were Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert (Part 2)

February 10, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

February 10, 2009
By Donald Starver

Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series.  If you haven’t already read the first part, please click here.

After dealing with the offensive linemen, Bryant McFadden, and Nate Washington, the next position that Kevin Colbert is going to have to turn his attention to is backup quarterback.  Both Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch are unrestricted free agents.  The Steelers will still have Dennis Dixon under contract, but they probably won’t feel comfortable placing the Steelers’ season on his inexperienced shoulders if Big Ben gets hurt.  Thus, resigning either Leftwich or Batch is going to be imperative.

At this point in their careers, there is no doubt that Byron Leftwich is the better quarterback.  However, Leftwich is only one year older than Ben Roethlisberger, and he thinks he still has a future as a starter in the NFL.  He knows that he won’t get to compete for that position with the Steelers, so he will probably choose to go elsewhere.

Charlie Batch, on the other hand, is from the Pittsburgh area, and he would like to spend the rest of his career with the Steelers.  He understand that he has the ideal job.  He gets to collect Super Bowl rings with the team that he grew up cheering for, make more money than most people can even dream of making, and rarely have to even get his jersey dirty.  Not a bad deal for a 34 year old quarterback.  Unlike Byron Leftwich, Batch knows that his days as a starter are over, and he will do whatever it takes to stay with the Steelers.  He’s going to tell his agent to get this deal done.

So next year, I’d expect to enter the season with Ben as the starter, Batch as the backup, and the Steelers will probably bring in an undrafted free agent or a 6th or 7th round draft pick to compete with Dennis Dixon for the third string quarterback position.

The final unrestricted free agent that the Steelers will have to take care of is Keyaron Fox.  Fox will probably never be a starting linebacker for the Steelers.  However, he is a very competent backup, and a terror on special teams.  Fox emerged as one of my favorite Steelers, and that is difficult to do as primarily a special teamer.  But the Steelers were terrible on special teams for quite some time, and Fox has been a big factor in their turnaround.    With a salary of less than $500,000, Fox was one of the better values on the Steelers’ roster.

After languishing for years in that football Hell called the Kansas City Chiefs, Fox probably understands that he has a great situation in Pittsburgh.  He is a valued contributor on a team that has the potential to win more Super Bowl rings.  Moreover, he sees that the Rooneys run a class organization.  My guess is that he will want to remain a Steeler.   I also believe that Kevin Colbert and the Steelers coaching staff will want to see him stay as well.  Thus, this deal should get done quickly and quietly.

With the unrestricted free agents taken care of, Colbert will turn his attention to the restricted free agents.  We’ve already discussed Willie Colon in Part 1 of this series.  After him, the most visible restricted free agent is Anthony Smith.  When Smith was drafted, I had high hopes for him.  However, his act has worn thin.  He has never really shown anything on the field (except that he is easily fooled by a pump fake).  Fans and coaches won’t soon forget his silly prediction against the New England Patriots a few years back.  They also won’t forget watching Tom Brady throw touchdown after touchdown at Smith’s expense.  Smith just doesn’t seem to understand that his role is to be the last line of defense, and that he can’t bite on every pump fake that quarterbacks throw at him.

Frankly, I want to see Smith leave because I am tired of watching him try to take his own receivers’ heads off during training camp.  I don’t know why he thinks that he can prove his worth by showing how hard he can hit his own teammates.  The Steelers can’t afford to lose Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, or Nate Washington  to injury because Anthony Smith was trying to prove how tough he is.  Everybody but Smith understands this simple point.  Besides, can anyone ever remember seeing Anthony Smith get a good hit on ANY player who wasn’t wearing black and gold?  Ever?  Even once?  Neither can I.  Goodbye Anthony.  don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The 3 remaining restricted free agents are LB Arnold Harrison, TE/FB Sean McHugh, and CB Anthony Madison.  None of these players are going to get much attention in free agency.  Harrison might be able to get some attention as a special teamer or as a backup LB, but that’s about it.  All of them will be best served doing everything that they can to stay with the Steelers.  Afterall, if they want to win additional championships, there aren’t many organizations that give them a better opportunity to do so than the Steelers.

In my opinion, losing any of these players won’t be a major loss to the organization.  Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has a tight end fetish, and he collects as many of them as he possibly can.  Therefore, he is likely to try to keep McHugh, even though most fans would probably prefer to see the Steelers get a legitimate blocking fullback (as opposed to a tight end playing out of position).

Harrison (Arnold, not James) is a good special teams player, and he is a good backup LB.  He has spent several years in Dick LeBeau’s defensive system, and he should know it pretty well by now.  Unfortunately, the Steelers are busting at the seams with talented linebackers.  Lawrence Timmons is going to supplant Larry Foote next year, and Bruce Davis has a lot of potential and will probably move ahead of Arnold Harrison on the depth chart next year if he continues to work hard.  The Steelers will probably keep Harrison if they can sign him for reasonable dollars.  But if he asks for too much money, the Steelers will let him go without losing any sleep.

Anthony Madison is a career special teamer.  Technically, he is a cornerback.  However, in his 3 year career, he has never started a game, has never made an interception, and has never even had a single pass defensed.  He only makes approximately $450,000, so if he is willing to sign a new contract for the same amount, the Steelers will probably keep him around.  However, his position will be one of the most vulnerable come training camp.

That will take care of Colbert’s free agents.  However, his most pressing problem is not his free agents.  He has 9 important players with one year left on their contracts.  Among them are Hines Ward, James Harrison, Heath Miller, Ryan Clark, and Brett Keisel.  We’ll discuss what Kevin Colbert should do with these players in Part 3 of our series.

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