Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers' Offseason Thus Far

Joshua Axelrod@jaxel222Correspondent IMay 22, 2013

Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers' Offseason Thus Far

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    It has been a pretty typical offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers so far.

    Instead of pressing the panic button like many pundits and fans were calling for, Pittsburgh kept calm and carried on its business like usual. They continued the offseason patterns that the Steelers have been exhibiting for quite some time.

    As usual, Pittsburgh refused to dip into the free-agency pool. They made a few boring pickups, but nothing that made anything resembling a splash. Showing interest in Ahmad Bradshaw was the closest Pittsburgh got to taking full advantage of free agency.

    There were legitimate reasons for this, mainly the Steelers’ depressing salary cap situation. But spending lots of money on big names just is not the Steeler way.

    Right as fans began to question Pittsburgh’s decisions, it came out and had another strong draft. Honestly, it is like clockwork at this point. The Steelers have a plan, stick to it through the rough patches and always manage to execute in the end.

    If nothing else, it has been an eventful offseason for the Steelers. Let us see how some of their biggest offseason moves stack up in a grade book.

Releasing James Harrison

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    This one hurt. The 2008 Defensive Player of the Year had been a force at linebacker for years. In his prime, he was a master of drawing holding penalties and making opposing quarterbacks quiver with fear.

    Sure, he said some stupid things in his day. And he almost ended Colt McCoy’s life. But Pittsburgh fans loved him despite his meathead-like tendencies.

    As much as it pains me to say this, letting Harrison go was the right thing to do. The man just completed his least productive season in a while and is clearly on the decline.

    The Steelers clearly felt it was time to go younger at linebacker, which meant Harrison was expendable. Rookie Jarvis Jones should prove to be a worthy replacement for Harrison. He probably will not produce at that level for a while, but getting him experience early can only help his development.

    Seeing Harrison in a Cincinnati Bengals jersey stings. It really does. But as painful as that sight is, releasing him was a step in the right direction for the Steelers.

    Grade: B+

Resigning Emmanuel Sanders

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    The Sanders decision was a rare case of the Steelers reaching into their pockets and making sure a player stays with them for at least another year.

    The Steelers could have let Sanders sign an offer sheet with the New England Patriots, but they decided he was important enough in their offense to keep him around. It was a smart move on their part.

    Sanders is no superstar, but he is speedy and can play the slot well. The Steelers’ receiving corps is notoriously thin, so resigning Sanders should allow Ben Roethlisberger to breathe easier knowing that one of his favorite targets is not going anywhere.

    Think about this: If Sanders had left, the Steelers might have been forced to give more playing time to Plaxico Burress. Something tells me no one in Pittsburgh is clamoring for more Plax.

    Grade: A-

Letting Keenan Lewis Walk

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    Pittsburgh should be kicking itself for allowing the New Orleans Saints to snatch Lewis without even putting up a fight.

    Lewis is not a sure thing at cornerback, but he was the best option the Steelers had to play across from Ike Taylor. Pittsburgh has very little depth in the secondary, and even less now that Lewis is gone.

    Who are the Steelers even going to start there next season? Cortez Allen? William Gay? Terry Hawthorne? None of those options deserve their own island.

    Sorry Pittsburgh, but this was not one of your smarter moves.

    Grade: D

Bringing William Gay Back

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    I am torn on this one.

    The Steelers let Gay go because he had developed a nasty habit of getting beaten…a lot. He had his moments, but he never really measured up as a capable complement to Taylor.

    But now he is back, and frankly he might be the Steelers’ best option at the second cornerback slot. It may not be an ideal situation, but adding more bodies at the position was a good idea.

    The Steelers like bringing players back to the land of black and gold. Max Starks and Larry Foote found success in their second stints with the Steelers. Hopefully Gay follows their example.

    I am going to label this move as interesting. It is not bad, but it would be tough to call it good until proven otherwise.

    Grade: C+

Letting Mike Wallace Walk

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    This is by far the best move the Steelers made this offseason. Nothing even comes close.

    I bought a Wallace jersey a few years ago thinking he would become a Hines Ward-esque fixture on the Steelers. After his antics over the last season, all I want to do is burn it. And I would if the thing had not cost so much.

    Obviously Pittsburgh is going to miss Wallace’s speed and big-play potential. But otherwise the Steelers should be glad to get rid of a guy who had become a certified locker room cancer.

    It started with his childish lockout early in the season. When he finally did play, it took him forever to get back in sync with Ben Roethlisberger. And then he took his talents to the Miami Dolphins without even considering staying with the Steelers.

    Basically, I cannot imagine a more toxic presence on a team. Wallace morphed into a diva of Chad Johnson-like proportions. At least Johnson was a fun guy; Wallace just comes off as a sour ingrate.

    So to him I say: Good riddance. Wallace, have fun dropping balls and bashing gay people in Miami. I am sure you will not regret turning your back on the team and city that put its faith in you.

    Grade: A+

The 2013 NFL Draft

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    As usual, the Steelers rocked the draft. What else is new?

    Jones was a great first-round pick who should be able to step in immediately and upgrade Pittsburgh’s linebackers. Running back Le’Veon Bell has a real shot at starting if Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman cannot get their acts together.

    Wide receiver Markus Wheaton might muscle his way into some playing time, which would give Roethlisberger another big target. Safety Shamarko Thomas probably will not play immediately, but could see some action if Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark cannot stay healthy again.

    The most important pick in this draft could be quarterback Landry Jones. It is quite possible that the Steelers want to groom him to be Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement. Whether he can become the new Big Ben or not, Jones should be a much better backup option than either Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch.

    Those are five incredibly solid picks. The other four were unspectacular, but they all at least attempted to fill needs. Overall, the Steelers did a solid job drafting players with lots of potential.

    Grade: A-

Overall Offseason

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    Like I said, this has not been an unusual offseason for the Steelers.

    They let big names like Harrison, Wallace and Lewis go without a second thought. Not all of those players needed to go, but for the most part the Steelers dropped a lot of dead weight. Bye Willie Colon; we will not miss all the holding penalties.

    Pittsburgh did not sign any big names, though its free agency signings did try to address a few needs. The backup quarterback position is now solidified with Jones and Bruce Gradkowski. LaRod Stephens-Howling could provide a spark at running back and special teams.

    The Steelers wisely made sure to keep Sanders and resign other integral cogs in the machine. Shout out to long-snapper Greg Warren and his new one-year deal!

    The draft proved to be pretty fruitful for Pittsburgh, who patched a few holes and took on some projects who have the potential to pan out nicely.

    And through it all, they have managed to stay controversy free. It has been the quintessential Pittsburgh offseason: quiet but effective.

    Grade: B+