Pittsburgh Steelers Keep O-Line Intact, Lose a WR and CB

Vicki FarriesCorrespondent IMarch 3, 2009

According to Kevin Colbert, Steelers director of football operations, the Steelers will proceed as usual with free agency biding their time and resources for a later date when things come cheaper—waiting for a good sale.

Obviously the Steelers must be doing something right because these “cheapskates” won two Super Bowls in the last four seasons. So much so it’s been reported that the entire Steelers coaching and scouting staffs spent the first weekend at a Pennsylvania ski resort.

Since free agency started midnight Feb. 27, the Steelers released left guard Kendal Simmons and the next day re-signed left guard Chris Kemoeatu to a 5-year, $20 million deal.

Some seemed surprised by this move. I was not. Simmons was a first rounder in 2002 (No. 30). After seven years with the Steelers, 2003 and 2007 were the only two complete seasons he had.

In 2003, Simmons was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. In 2004, Simmons was out for the season with a knee injury an in 2005 he started all 20 games to win Super Bowl XL.

In 2006, he experienced an off-field injury and while rehabbing, suffered frostbite on his left foot after he fell asleep with a cooling device attached to the foot. With all of this, Simmons signed a four-year extension with the Steelers until 2010. Finally Sept. 2008, Simmons suffered a season-ending injury to his Achilles tendon and was placed on season-ending IR.

Feb. 1, 2009, it was the offensive line that helped win Super Bowl XLIII, and it featured three new starters Justin Hartwig, Darnell Stapleton, and Chris Kemoeatu replacing Simmons.

Since the release, it’s been reported that Simmons plans to meet with the Buffalo Bills. The Bills need to replace Derrick Dockery at guard, and Simmons is no more than a journeyman.

Thus far, the Steelers are doing a pretty good job of keeping the offensive line intact. Along with Kemoeatu, will be right guard Darnell Stapleton, right tackle Willie Colon, who signed a one-year deal as a restricted free agent last Wednesday; center Justin Hartwig, 30, who will earn $1.75 million next season in the final year of his contract.

Now this low-cost efficient offensive line should be better with another year playing together. Left tackle Max Starks, will receive $8.45 million as the team's franchise player.

Starks started 11 games replacing injured tackle Marvel Smith, suffering from back spasms. After nine years and reoccurring injuries, Smith received no offer from the Steelers and is likely to look elsewhere as a free agent.

The Steelers issued three one-year contract tenders to their restricted free agents, TE/FB Sean McHugh and cornerback Anthony Madison.

Sean McHugh has shown his quality this past season especially as a blocker, tight end Matt Spaeth is not. In addition, he can be that third tight end offensive coordinator Bruce Arians likes to use.

From 2000-2003 the Steelers roster listed tight end Mark Bruener and fullback Dan Kreider both instrumental in helping the offensive line enhancing the power running game with Jerome Bettis.  

Another member was a "tweener" TE/FB Matt Cushing. McHugh could be the other link to the O-line to shore up the power running game using Willie Parker and Gary Russell. Also fullback Carey Davis and guard Jeremy Parquet are the two exclusive rights players who did receive tenders.

Let’s expect some positive production from the 2008 draft picks running back Rashard Mendenhall, (out for the season with a dislocated shoulder from the Baltimore Ravens game) and wide receiver Limas Sweed.

This would be especially crucial for Sweed since unrestricted free-agent receiver Nate Washington signed with the Tennessee Titans. Last year, Washington post career highs in receptions (40) and receiving yards (631, averaging 16 yards per catch) with three touchdowns.

It was his speed and abilities as a deep threat in the passing game that made him an asset. Now its up to Sweed to show what he can do.

It looks like there is competition in the cornerback position. It’s been reported that the Arizona Cardinals are expected to offer free agent Bryant McFadden a contract. McFadden is a good corner but not a great corner. It would not be a great loss to the Steeler secondary.

The Steelers have parted ways with unrestricted free agent safety Anthony Smith, a third-round draft pick in 2006, with linebacker Arnold Harrison, and tight end Jon Dekker, who did not receive a tender as an exclusive rights player.

There are still others to be considered and yet what seems to be surprising is no one has yet called quarterback Bryon Leftwich. So it is yet to be considered whether Charlie Batch will be back on the roster as Roethlisberger’s backup or will it be Leftwich?

Another consideration would be whether Leftwich would want to remain as the third quarterback on any team? Stay tuned.





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