Wednesday was the official turn of the league’s fiscal calendar, and with free agency hitting there was as always big money was flying across the league.
In comparison to, say, pass rusher Olivier Vernon signing for $85 million in New York, the Steelers were minor players as usual as March Madness began. However, with five significant contracts already inked, Pittsburgh was fairly active by their own standards.
Here are my thoughts on their five deals agreed to so far. In all cases, thanks to the National Football Post’s Aaron Wilson for the reported contract numbers (@AaronWilson_NFL on Twitter).
TIGHT END LADARIUS GREEN, age 25
4 years, $20 Million total; $4.75M signing bonus; salaries of $1.25M, $5M, $4.5M, $4.5M
As Steelers GM Kevin Colbert told us on TribLIVE Radio a month ago, “If there’s a guy from the outside who makes sense, then we’ll plug him in. A few years back when we signed [safety] Mike Mitchell, we knew we had a hole at the free safety position with Ryan Clark moving on. We felt we wanted to plug in a veteran there. You go back in time, it was James Farrior, it was Jeff Hartings. Other than that, we’ve never been big players in free agency.”
Well, this is a plug in for Heath Miller of course, and it’s a big free-agent deal by Pittsburgh standards. However, when compared to some of the recent tight end signings in the league, it’s a bargain:
Zach Ertz 5 years, $42 Million ($20M guaranteed) with Philadelphia
Travis Kelce 5 years, $46 Million ($20M guaranteed) with Kansas City
Dwayne Allen 4 years $29.4 Million ($16M guaranteed) with Indianapolis
With 37 catches for 429 yards and four touchdowns last year in San Diego over 13 games played, Green was more productive than Allen (16 – 109 – 1 in 13 games played) in the pass catching department. However, Green was a complimentary piece to Antonio Gates and he may well end up being that in Pittsburgh, too. He profiles as a big mismatch in the passing game, and less a true Heath Miller replacement in terms of a player who will never leave the field.
But, make no mistake, this is a biggie for Pittsburgh in free agency, and may shine some light on how the Steelers view the tight end crop in the upcoming NFL draft. Colbert has made clear, after all, he views this year to be a defensively-oriented draft.
I do like the Green signing in terms of the talent-value ratio, and combined with offensive threats Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Le’Veon Bell, and take-your-pick of Markus Wheaton or Sammie Coates, the Steelers offense looks deadly.
My only question is, could the $5M in average annual value have been better spent on defensive help? Specifically, on a cornerback?
Remember, Steelers President Art Rooney II said in January, “I think when you look at it statistically, we weren’t where we would like to be in pass defense. I would say that’s an area we know we want to improve in. We certainly made progress on defense and got better as the year went on. I think we all agree that we need to be better in general as a pass defense.”
Well, bringing William Gay back to right now pair with Ross Cockrell, Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, perhaps Cortez Allen (after a pay-cut), and a rookie-to-be-named (Eli Apple of Ohio State with the 25th pick?) won’t inspire a ton of confidence that Mr. Rooney’s edict was properly heard.
And no, $5 Million won’t get you an elite starting corner in this market, but it would get you halfway towards Sean Smtih, Prince Amukamara, or Casey Heyward.
Remember, the last three Super Bowl winning teams in the league have had at least one elite corner in their starting lineup: Aqib Talib and Chris Harris (Denver), Darrelle Revis (New England), Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner (Seattle).
The Steelers currently have Gay and a bunch of “hopes”. Pittsburgh will need Golson and/or Draft Player X to become Pittsburgh’s version of New England’s Malcolm Butler and emerge as a young, rising star. That could happen.
But the fear is that Lad Green is overkill for a Steelers passing offense that only has one ball to go around for Brown, Bell, and Bryant anyway? As @HoofDaddy so eloquently put it to me on Twitter, “I feel like we keep buying fancy new clothes but never go to the gym.”
GUARD RAMON FOSTER, age 30
3 years, $9.6 Million total; $2.75M signing bonus; salaries of $1.5M, $2.67M, $2.67M
“Our big play is keeping our own.”
Kevin Colbert was right again.
I, on the other hand, was proven wrong again. I thought Foster was a goner.
This is a terrific deal for the Steelers, just a day after former Baltimore guard (and some tackle, to be fair) Kelechi Osemele set the market with a 5 year, $60 Million dollar deal in Oakland. I have to believe Foster at least could have made Richie Incognito-money (3 years, $15.75 Million with Buffalo) on the open market, but in Foster’s own words it wasn’t about chasing the money (yet for some reason it took until the opening day of free agency to get this done).
Not much to analyze here, just a sweet deal for Pittsburgh to be able to keep a true team leader and someone who already knows all the team’s schemes and tendencies. Last year, Foster was a rock who played over 1,200 snaps (playoffs included) and held the Steelers line together with Alejandro Villanueva entering on his left and Cody Wallace filling in on his right.
This is a steal.
CORNERBACK WILLIAM GAY, age 31
3 years, $7.5 Million total; $1.9M signing bonus; salaries of $1.85M, $2M, $1.75M
Laird is proven wrong again. I thought Gay would command 3 years and $18 Million, maybe more. At best bargain, I thought 3 years and $15 Million.
Three and 7.5??!!
Wow, just wow. This is an absolute steal. Again, a significant hometown discount for a defensive captain and solid corner who has played in 144 consecutive regular season games, the longest active streak among NFL corners.
SAFETY ROBERT GOLDEN, age 25
3 years, $5 Million total
Is Golden the new Will Allen or Will Allen be back, too? The Steelers will likely draft a young safety (Round 2 sounds right) to groom in the now ‘2016 Keith Butler Steelers Defensive Draft,’ but Golden signing on in another reasonable deal gives the team options. If Golden has to start, he’s proven to be capable.
Although he only logged 435 snaps with the defense, he did play 12 and 23 snaps with the main ‘D’ in the team’s two playoff games in addition to logging major time on special teams as one of their core teamers.
WIDE RECEIVER DARRIUS HEYWARD-BEY, age 29
3 years, $3.8 Million total; $400K signing bonus; salaries of $1M, $1.2M, $1.2 M
A longer term than I expected, but in the end this could be just a one-year deal. DHB exceeded admittedly low expectations last year, racking up 461 snaps and showing true elite speed in filling in for Bryant when needed. Another core special teamer, DHB was a nice fit as a number-five receiver and the Steelers made him a priority re-sign.