8 Early Winners and Losers of the Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason

Mike Batista@Steel_TweetsContributor IJune 21, 2013

8 Early Winners and Losers of the Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers obviously can't win or lose games during the offseason.

    However, individual players and coaches might be winners or losers based on what's happened since the Steelers salvaged a .500 season with a home victory over the Cleveland Browns in December.

    If the Steelers have enough offseason winners, they could get back to the playoffs and perhaps even the Super Bowl discussion. On the other hand, too many offseason losers could doom the Steelers to a second straight non-playoff season.

    The Steelers' offseason winners and losers will come into sharper focus when the pads come on during training camp, which begins July 26 at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

    For now, here's a look at the Steelers' early winners and losers for the 2013 offseason.

Winner: Emmanuel Sanders

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    Emmanuel Sanders' salary nearly doubled without him playing any games.

    Sanders will earn $2.5 million in 2013 after the Steelers matched the New England Patriots' one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet for Sanders in April.

    Had the Patriots not signed Sanders to an offer sheet, the fourth-year wide receiver likely would have played under the $1.323 million tender the Steelers placed on him as a restricted free agent.

    After being hampered by injuries in his first two seasons, Sanders played 16 games for the first time in 2012 and caught a career-high 44 passes. If he carries that momentum into 2013, he'll generate a lot of interest as an unrestricted free agent in 2014.

    The better Sanders performs in 2013, the less likely the salary cap-strapped Steelers will be signing his checks in 2014. Even if they only have him for one more year, the Steelers would take a big year from Sanders if it helps them get back to the playoffs.

Loser: Curtis Brown

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    Even though Keenan Lewis went to the New Orleans Saints, Curtis Brown isn't likely to move up the Steelers cornerback depth chart.

    The Steelers are so unimpressed with Brown's coverage skills that they brought back William Gay, who was cut by the Arizona Cardinals.

    Cortez Allen is projected to take over for Lewis as the starter opposite Ike Taylor. Gay, who played for the Steelers from 2007 to 2011 before going to Arizona in 2012, will come off the bench in nickel situations.

    Brown has been a valuable special teams contributor. According to Steel City Insider (subscription required), he's led the Steelers in special teams tackles in each of his two seasons.

    A third-round draft pick from Texas in 2011, Brown didn't play any defense as a rookie. He finally saw action at cornerback late last season, but it didn't go very well.

    In Week 14 against the San Diego Chargers, Brown was pulled for Josh Victorian in a 34-24 home loss. Philip Rivers targeted Brown six times and completed all six of those passes for 84 yards, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    Unless he makes a big leap, Brown will remain limited to special teams duty in 2013.

Winners: Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin

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    It's too early to tell if the Steelers' 2013 draft will be a success, but general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin are offseason winners because of the slight shift in their draft philosophy.

    In the past, the Steelers often would pick the best player available regardless of their needs at a certain position. That's why they drafted Rashard Mendenhall in the first round in 2008 when they needed offensive line help after losing Alan Faneca.

    Mendenhall wasn't a bust, although his career in Pittsburgh came to a disappointing end. Limas Sweed, however, was an unmitigated bust. Some mock drafts had the Texas wide receiver going in the first round. So when he was available to the Steelers at No. 53, they snapped him up. He caught seven passes in two seasons with the team.

    The Steelers waited until the fourth round to address their most pressing need in the 2008 draft, taking offensive tackle Tony Hills, who couldn't get on the field until 2010. Even then, he only played in three games before going to the Broncos in 2011.

    Like Mendenhall four years earlier, David DeCastro was projected as a top-15 pick in 2012 and tumbled to the Steelers at No. 24. They took him even though guard wasn't necessarily their biggest need.

    Time will tell how the DeCastro pick turns out, but in the 2013 draft, Colbert and Tomlin understood that the Steelers had urgent needs at several positions, and they checked them off like a shopping list.

    Their first six picks and seven of their nine picks came at positions where the Steelers lost at least one player from the 2012 team.

    James Harrison went to the Bengals, and the Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones. Mendenhall went to the Cardinals, and the Steelers drafted Le'Veon Bell. Mike Wallace went to the Miami Dolphins, and the Steelers drafted Markus Wheaton.

    After addressing their biggest free-agent losses in the first three rounds, the Steelers took care of positions that needed depth in the middle rounds.

    Backup safeties Ryan Mundy and Will Allen went to the Giants and Cowboys, respectively, and the Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas. Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich remained unsigned, and the Steelers drafted Landry Jones. Keenan Lewis went to the Saints, and the Steelers drafted Terry Hawthorne.

    There might have been a time when the Steelers could afford to think they were smarter than anyone else and draft the best player regardless of position.

    Not anymore.

    The Steelers are coming off a .500 season and haven't won a playoff game since 2010. Colbert and Tomlin couldn't afford to over-think the draft, and they didn't.

Loser: Jonathan Dwyer

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    When the Steelers chose Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, Dwyer became expendable.

    According to the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah via Rotoworld, the Steelers offered to trade Dwyer on Day 3 of the draft.

    Dwyer led the Steelers with 628 rushing yards last season with an average of 4.0 yards per carry. Isaac Redman ran for 410 yards with an average of 3.7 yards per carry. Yet according to Jeremiah, it was Dwyer not Redman who the Steelers dangled as trade bait.

    Dwyer's conditioning could be the problem.

    According to Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required), Dwyer is 15 pounds overweight.

    If he doesn't lose that weight by cutdown day in August, he could be turning in his playbook.

Winner: LaMarr Woodley

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    After registering nine sacks in the first eight games of the 2011 season, LaMarr Woodley has had just four sacks since then while battling hamstring and ankle injuries.

    In February, an anonymous teammate questioned Woodley's dedication to staying in shape, according to Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    In May, Woodley told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he had been working out regularly during the offseason. A little more than a month later, he appeared to be in better shape at the Steelers' mandatory minicamp, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    With middling Jason Worilds or wet-behind-the-ears rookie Jarvis Jones starting at the opposite outside linebacker spot, the Steelers will need Woodley to get to opposing quarterbacks in 2013.

Loser: Plaxico Burress

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    Plaxico Burress could be the odd man out in the Steelers' numbers game at wide receiver

    Burress left the Steelers as a free agent in 2004 but rejoined them at midseason last year for a second tour of duty. He appeared in four games and caught three passes, including a touchdown.

    The 6'5" Burress told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he can still "dominate in the red zone."

    However, he'll have to overcome some hurdles to make the team. The Steelers took Markus Wheaton in the third round of the 2013 draft. He'll get every opportunity to win the No. 3 receiver spot behind Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

    Jerricho Cotchery is five years younger than Burress and caught 14 more passes last year. He has the inside track on the No. 4 spot.

    Fifth receivers must normally play special teams in order to keep their jobs. Burress, who will turn 36 in August, is a little old for that.

    Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required) said Burress didn't show any "burst or quickness" during organized team activities and minicamp.

    It looks like Burress is in four-down territory in his quest to make the Steelers' 53-man roster.

Winner: Ramon Foster

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    The Steelers chose to keep Ramon Foster and dump Willie Colon during the offseason.

    Foster signed a three-year, $6 million contract in March and is projected to start at left guard.

    Undrafted in 2009, Foster will line up with four players drafted in the first or second round if all goes according to plan.

    Center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro were first-round picks. Left tackle Marcus Gilbert and right tackle Mike Adams were second-round picks.

    Foster has started 30 consecutive games, including playoffs. According to Pro Football Focus via ESPN.com, he allowed just two sacks last season.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Foster the NFL's No. 31 guard in his B/R NFL 1,000 series, saying he needs to work on his run-blocking but that he's an "exceptional pass protector."

Loser: Drew Butler

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    Drew Butler has his work cut out for him if he wants to earn a second season as the Steelers' punter.

    Butler will have to compete for a roster spot with Brian Moorman, a veteran punter who the Steelers signed in April.

    After a pedestrian rookie season in which he was 28th in the NFL with a 37.8-yard net average, Butler will fight for his job against a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s.

    The 37-year-old Moorman posted a net average of 38.9 yards per punt in 12 games with the Cowboys last season. He punted for the Bills from 2001 through the first three games last season and made the Pro Bowl in 2005 and 2006.