Pittsburgh Steelers: Top 5 Worst Free-Agent Signings of the Kevin Colbert Era
In 2000, the Pittsburgh Steelers acquired some new brass in GM Kevin Colbert. Clearly influenced by the negative impact of two losing seasons from '98-99, the Rooneys clearly recognized the need for change, and who can honestly believe that the resulting free-agent signings haven't been mostly positive?
During Colbert's tenure as the general manager, the Black and Gold have enjoyed the second championship era in team history, not only winning the elusive "One for the Thumb" that seemed so slippery throughout the 90's, but winning a sixth championship to start the ring count of the other hand.
Certainly, that's not a coincidence.
In his stead, all-time great Steelers legends have come via free agency, such as James Farrior.
And, inevitably, a few clunkers have also "graced" the Pittsburgh sideline. How many Sean Mahan haters still breathe fire every time they hear the lackluster center's name?
As with any team, there's a mix of good and bad, but the returns speak well for Colbert in the ultimate gamble that is NFL roster building.
Without further ado, here are the top five worst free-agent signings since the start of the new millennium, otherwise known as the "Colbert Era." Please note that the list is focused on acquisitions made prior to the start of the respective NFL season, as opposed to midseason acquisitions like Chad Brown (2006).
(Click here for a countdown of the best signings.)
No. 5: Quincy Morgan
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Plaxico Burress's departure left a void in the receiving corps entering 2005.
Cedric Wilson struggled with drops in the 2005 preseason.
Quincy Morgan signed with the Steelers, and he had every opportunity to contribute as a solid slot receiver, despite struggles elsewhere.
Predictably, Morgan was a horrible signing, a mistake that falls more on the Steelers' shoulders than the maligned receiver with the reputation for dropped passes.
Quincy never came close to taking advantage of Wilson's struggles, relegated to a minimal role all season long and unable to take advantage on the few opportunities he received. When the football went his way, even a perfect pass left no guarantee for a positive outcome.
Additionally, many fans saw an upside to Lee Mays, who caught nine passes for 137 yards (long reception of 46 yards) from Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, it appeared Mays was building a small chemistry with Big Ben in 2004, despite being buried in the depth chart.
Yet, an injury was slated to sideline Mays for a few weeks, and Bill Cowher announced the team was letting Mays go. It began a roller-coaster ride for Mays, which saw the receiver re-signed and scrubbed back and forth a total of three times each over the next two years.
Nobody expected anything close to his 2002 season with career highs of 56 receptions, 964 receiving yards (17.2 average) and seven touchdowns.
Even at that, Morgan underperformed dramatically. If he wasn't getting called out by analysts for running lazy routes (if not grossly incorrect routes), he was predictably dropping passes during the rare moments he was called upon to produce.
Morgan's only real highlight of the season was an unimportant, relatively unnecessary 31-yard touchdown catch from Charlie Batch in the late phases of a 41-0 blowout over the Cleveland Browns. Otherwise, he had an anemic eight receptions in 2005, totaling 119 yards.
While one can argue if Quincy himself deserves to make the five worst signings list, it's hard to deny that the decision to obtain Morgan, who clearly struggled in Dallas the previous season, lacked rationale.
Still, the team thankfully understood the risk with Morgan, only offering a one-year deal.
No. 4: Duce Staley
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Surely a controversial selection, many fans will likely disagree with Staley's placement on this list. In fact, it is with a relatively heavy heart that I choose to include the former Eagles running back who relieved Jerome Bettis so well in 2004.
The Steelers signed Staley to a five-year, $14 million contract prior to the 2004 season, and it was widely believed that he could easily become the heir to power back Jerome Bettis.
As the magical '04 campaign unfolded, Staley ran for 707 yards in his first seven games with Pittsburgh. In each of the final four games of that season in which he had 20-plus carries, Duce had at least 100 yards. In between those outings, he ran for 93 yards on 18 carries during an exhilarating 24-20 comeback win over Dallas.
Unfortunately, a hamstring injury hampered the second half of the season, and his slated start against his former squad—the Philadelphia Eagles—never happened. It was a truly unfortunate occurrence as the offensive line blocked the Eagles defensive linemen like gangbusters in the game, and Bettis rushed for 149 yards in his return. It was the first of four straight 100-yard games for "The Bus."
After offseason knee surgery, Staley performed pathetically in the 2005 team training camp. After agreeing to take a $1 million salary cut to remain in Pittsburgh, he only carried the football 38 times during the Steelers' championship season. Meanwhile, the surprising Willie Parker shocked Steelers Country with a prolific campaign.
In 2006, the deteriorated Staley saw only one snap in an opener against the Dolphins, then remained inactive for each of the next 10 games.
Finally, in a disappointing ending to such a fast start in the 'Burgh, the once promising Staley was deactivated and eventually released. The Steelers brought in Najeh Davenport to fill the roster void.
Though it wasn't completely his fault, fate intervened cruelly for No. 22, who finished playing only 16 games in three seasons with the Steelers.
No. 3: Todd Peterson
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Kris Brown struggled through 2001, giving further meaning to the classic Adam Sandler tune, "The Lonesome Kicker."
The kicker's low point came against the Baltimore Ravens when four of his five attempts sailed wide right in a 13-10 loss to the defending champions.
Clearly, the Steelers couldn't be blamed for suspecting a change was needed. Yet, nobody could have anticipated the horrors that stood before Pittsburgh at the start of 2002.
Twelve of 21.
That was Todd Peterson's conversion rate. When the odds between having an NFL kicker attempt a 40-yard field goal and a coin flip start to lean more in favor of the dime or nickel (the change, not the defensive formations), there is a serious problem.
Beyond just his accuracy issues, the reason Kansas City had NO desire to return Peterson became painfully obvious quite early in the season: His leg, at least in 2002, lacked any semblance of the power needed to be a professional NFL kicker.
In one of the team's classic games, the Steelers and Falcons battled to a 34-34 tie at Heinz Field. The game ended with a Tommy Maddox desperation heave to end overtime, which was caught by Plaxico Burress inches short of the goal line.
Everybody remembers the blown lead in the game, and even more fans recall the classic finish. However, raise your hand if you recall Peterson's performance.
His two missed field goals surely influenced the final outcome. Worse yet, however...his missed extra point likely cost the Steelers a victory.
Thankfully, a no-name kicker named Jeff Reed got his chance later in the season. He was introduced to Steelers fans during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that had released him in the preseason.
Jacksonville coach Tom Couglin's expression was priceless when Reed converted all six of his field-goal attempts, including efforts from 46 and 50 yards, in a 25-23 Pittsburgh win.
No. 2: Sean Mahan
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It was March 10, 2007.
The Steelers signed center Sean Mahan to a five-year, $17 million deal.
Ultimately, Mahan wouldn't even last more than one season before it became clear to fans and team management that he simply had to go.
Mahan spent the entire season being domineered at the line of scrimmage, along with missing assignments, taking untimely penalties and becoming the focus of the rage of Steelers Country.
It surely didn't help the maligned center that the team's typically stupendous offensive line was withering into mediocrity or worse before fans' very eyes all season long. In fact, Mahan's presence marked among the only times in the previous three decades or better that the team wasn't starting a center with a Pro Bowl pedigree.
Still, the dip in production at the heart of the offensive line was not a matter of degrees, but a matter of entire protractors!
His final game in Black and Gold served as a microcosm of his lone season in the 'Burgh.
After a tremendous rally against the Jaguars, the Steelers had a stunning 29-28 lead. Going for the two-point conversion, it appeared the Steelers had a field-goal lead after a catch by Hines Ward.
Instead, a holding penalty on Mahan nullified the fine play. Instead, forced to try from the 12-yard line with little time remaining, the conversion failed. The Steelers would lose, 31-29, by that exact two-point gap.
Mahan's response was classic.
He noted that the call was terrible, elaborating that he "chop blocked" the Jaguars defender...not held him!
If that doesn't just make it all better, what does, right?
No. 1: Kent Graham
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Kordell Stewart had hit hard times in the late 90's. Everybody remembers the "Slash" doll, which allowed the user to pull a string that caused water to come from the toy's eyes. The theme was "pull him and he'll cry," referencing Stewart's teary-eyed reaction to being yanked from a 16-3 loss at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay.
While No. 10 would find further success in Black and Gold in the coming seasons, nobody could have imagined it by the end of 1999. His play was brutal, and—if possible—the fan reaction was even worse!
At the start of the new millennium, the team went quarterback hunting. On February 28, 2000, they signed Kent Graham.
Anybody reading this now realizes the horrible mistake that was made. The former Giants and Cardinals signal-caller who barely completed half of his passes was going to replace the struggling Stewart.
Newsflash: Replacing a cayenne pepper with a Tabasco pepper does nothing to help with heat. And swapping one bad quarterback for another only intensified the hot seat.
By the end of the Kent Graham experiment, fans were begging for the return of Kordell Stewart.
Graham only completed 17 passes on 38 attempts in an opening day loss to the Ravens, 16-0.
In their second contest in Cleveland, Graham again failed to complete half of his passes. Worse yet, with a 1st-and-goal from the 9-yard line, the Steelers failed to at least tie their rivals. Facing third down with no timeouts, Graham struggled to find an open receiver. Instead of throwing away the pass, he allowed himself to be sacked by rookie Courtney Brown with eight seconds left. The clock ran out as the field-goal unit sprinted onto the field.
With the team's record eventually at 0-3 under Graham, Kordell reprieved the overwhelmed quarterback rallying the team to a 9-7 record.
Sadly, it wasn't the last of Kent Graham playing in Black and Gold.
Later in the season, Graham's combined total of 16-for-45 passing couldn't derail back-to-back shutouts over Ohio rivals Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Then, after Kordell fell to injury against the Raiders, Graham's first pass off the bench resulted in an interception, which was returned by a touchdown by Oakland. His ineptitude changed the course of the game, and the Steelers trailed 17-7 at halftime despite having had the early lead.
Stewart returned behind center in the second half on a bum leg, and he rallied the Steelers to a 21-20 victory.
Thankfully, it was the last time Kent Graham ever touched the pigskin for Pittsburgh.