Pittsburgh Steelers: Predicting Leonard Pope's Impact as a Free-Agent Signing

Mike Batista@Steel_TweetsContributor IApril 11, 2012

The Pittsburgh Steelers rarely make a splash in the free-agency market.

They normally dip their toe in the free agent pool for a cost-effective, under-the-radar player.

It looked like the Steelers wouldn't even be able to do that this spring because they have so little room under the salary cap.

Somehow, though, the Steelers found enough change under the couch cushions to sign tight end Leonard Pope to a one-year contract on Tuesday.

No one expects this free-agent signing to have the same impact as the acquisition of James Farrior in 2002. But would it be too much to ask for Pope to provide a little more help than, say, Sean Mahan in 2007 or fellow tight end Jay Riemersma in 2003 and 2004?

If successful, this move could be reminiscent of the Mewelde Moore signing in 2008. Like Moore, Pope could turn into a useful role player for the Steelers offense.

It wouldn't be hard for Pope to contribute more as a pass-catcher than Jerricho Cotchery did last season. Pope had a career-high 24 catches for 247 yards with the Kansas City Chiefs. Cotchery, who re-signed with the Steelers, according to the New York Daily News via Pro Football Talk, caught just 16 passes, although most of them came in the second half of the season.

With Weslye Saunders suspended for the first four games of 2012 and David Johnson more of a blocking tight end, Pope has a chance to pair with Heath Miller and give the Steelers offense a legitimate tight end tandem.

Miller and Pope likely wouldn't be the focus of the Steelers offense like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in New England, but they could help move the chains and reduce the number of sacks Ben Roethlisberger absorbs by giving him more opportunities for shorter passes that require less time in the pocket.

Also, the 6'8", 264-pound Pope could be a handy tool in the red zone.

Pope played for new Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley when Haley was the head coach in Kansas City from 2009 until the middle of last season. He also played for Haley when Haley was the Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008.

Pope caught a touchdown pass and an overtime pass in the Chiefs' 27-24 win over the Steelers in 2009 at Kansas City. It was the second loss in a five-game losing streak that sank the 2009 Steelers.

Pope could go from tormentor to tutor for the Steelers as he helps his new teammates learn Haley's playbook.

That alone would make him more accomplished in a Steelers uniform than Riemersma.

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