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Grading Every Major Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Move to Date

Joshua AxelrodCorrespondent IJune 27, 2013

Grading Every Major Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Move to Date

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers' offseason has mostly been a case of addition by subtraction.

    The majority of this offseason was spent dropping players the Steelers felt no longer had anything to contribute in Pittsburgh with very few free-agent signings. It has been a classic Pittsburgh offseason: making small but important moves that may or may not pan out down the road.

    Honestly, the biggest Steelers story this offseason has been the stabbing of offensive lineman Mike Adams and his recovery. That has overshadowed some of the more significant moves the Steelers made this offseason.

    Significant in this case does not mean showy. Aside from brief flirtations with Elvis Dumervil and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Steelers never went for the big free agents in their attempts to patch a surprising amount of holes.

    Instead, they made a few under-the-radar moves, like re-signing long snapper Greg Warren and letting lineman Max Starks go, seemingly for the thousandth time.

    The Steelers stocked up on potential talent in the draft. Players like linebacker Jarvis Jones, running back Le’Veon Bell and safety Shamarko Thomas all have huge upsides. Of course, judging the value of these moves is silly until the rookies get some regular-season experience under their belts.

    Every other move, however, is up for scrutiny. With training camp set to start soon, it is time to go over every major Steeler offseason move and give it the grade it truly deserves. 

Releasing Rashard Mendenhall

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    As much as the Steelers need quality running backs, it became obvious that Mendenhall just was not going to fit in Pittsburgh anymore. 

    His lack of production was excusable at first because he was battling injuries. Then came the attitude problems, which quickly put him on Coach Mike Tomlin’s bad side.

    By the end of the season, Mendenhall had been demoted to third string behind Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. He finished 2012 with 182 yards on 51 rushes, one touchdown and three fumbles.

    Those are not numbers worthy of being a backup running back, let alone a starter. How the Cardinals plan to whip him into shape is beyond me, but if they can get through his thick skull, more power to them.

    Letting Mendenhall go was the best move for both him and the team. He still has the potential to play well under the right circumstances, but it was clear his best days in Pittsburgh were behind him. 

    He no longer wanted to be in the Steel City, and the Steelers were happy to let him go. Good move. 

    Grade: A-

Letting Mike Wallace Walk

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    Like LeBron James, Wallace decided to take his talents to South Beach. Unlike when James left Cleveland, though, very few Pittsburghers were sad to see him go. 

    No one denies his talent. Wallace is one of the fastest receivers in the league and, before last season, he had developed an impressive chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger.

    But then immaturity struck. Wallace refused to play earlier in the season, showed signs of rust when he finally returned and then bolted for Miami without a second thought. 

    After watching him drop catches and refuse to be a team player, it is hard to have any sympathy for Wallace. Like the Mendenhall situation, it was a case of the player and team being hopelessly out of sync.

    Wallace turned out to be a huge disappointment to Steelers Nation. This move may have left the Steelers light at wide receiver, but letting Wallace walk was basically like removing a tumor. A really distracting, annoying tumor.

    Now the Steelers can stop worrying about their resident diva. Sayonara, Wallace. You will not be missed.

    Grade: A

Re-Signing Emmanuel Sanders

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    On the flip side of the wide receiver spectrum, Sanders was a guy the Steelers needed to make sure they kept around, and they did just that. 

    Pittsburgh matched a one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet from the New England Patriots in order to keep Sanders in black and gold.

    Considering how Tom Brady’s targets keep dropping like flies, the Patriots probably should have pushed harder on this one. They would have gotten a guy coming off of career-highs in almost every statistical category.

    With Wallace gone and Heath Miller hurting, Pittsburgh had no choice but to ensure Sanders would remain with the team. Plus, this move made Roethlisberger happy.

    Sanders may not strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses, but he is a solid receiving option whom the Steelers are glad to have for another year.

    Grade: B+

Releasing James Harrison

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    Justifying this decision is not that difficult. The former beast was coming off his least productive season in a few years and the Steelers thought he was not worth his salary.

    Pittsburgh desperately needed to get younger at the linebacker position. Cutting Harrison and drafting Jarvis Jones proved the Steelers have already moved on from No. 92. 

    The reason this move is slightly questionable has to do with Harrison's new team. The Cincinnati Bengals picked him up, which keeps him in the AFC North. 

    What if he bounces back and terrorizes Pittsburgh’s shaky offensive line twice next season? Then this move will look like the Steelers jumped the gun on dumping Harrison. Pittsburgh had no control over where Harrison would end up, but it was still responsible for putting him on the market.

    Of course, he might continue his decline and Jones could become a monster on the outside. Whatever happens, we have to wait and see how this one plays out before we can properly grade this move.

    Grade (for now): B-

Signing Bruce Gradkowski

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    As free-agent signings go, this one was pretty boring. But then you think about how important it could turn out to be, and you realize that it was one of those disarmingly brilliant Steelers offseason moves. 

    It is no secret that Roethlisberger has trouble staying healthy. Whether that is because of his scrambling style or his makeshift offensive line, he tends to miss a few games each season with various injuries. 

    Charlie Batch may have beaten the Baltimore Ravens last season, but he and other backup quarterback Byron Leftwich will not cut it against the NFL’s faster, more dynamic defenses anymore. 

    Not only is Gradkowski a Pittsburgh native, but he should also be able to capably run Pittsburgh’s offense if Roethlisberger goes down. He will not dominate, but having a slightly younger veteran around will be a nice change of pace.

    Between him and drafting Landry Jones, the backup quarterback situation looks stronger than ever.

    Grade: B+

Letting Keenan Lewis Walk

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    Lewis is not exactly Darrelle Revis, but he was still a valuable asset the Steelers allowed to just walk out the door.

    Pittsburgh is light at cornerback as it is. Watching Lewis sign with the New Orleans Saints must have been painful for any Steeler fan staring at an old secondary that has apparently lost the ability to force turnovers.

    To be fair, Ike Taylor can be an elite cornerback at times. The problem is there are not two of him. Cortez Allen is not a proven commodity, and could make the Steelers really regret the decision to let Lewis walk.

    Pittsburgh has shown faith in Allen, so maybe its judgment is 100 percent right. But letting one of the team's most promising young players go was not the Steelers’ smoothest move.

    Grade: D

Re-Signing William Gay

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    Steelers Nation let out a collective sigh when it realized it would have to ride the William Gay roller coaster again.

    Sure, he will be mostly in the slot, and as NFL cornerbacks go, you can do worse.

    But Steeler fans have seen Gay drop enough potential interceptions and get burned down the field enough times to know exactly what they are getting, for better or worse.

    It is quite possible that Gay can cut down on the mental lapses and shore up an old Steelers secondary. But, either way, this move has too many questions surrounding it to be entirely positive.

    The best word I can use to describe it? Blah. 

    Grade: C

Releasing Willie Colon

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    This may have been a move more to open up cap space than anything else, but the Steelers did a great thing by letting Colon go.

    It seemed like every time there was a holding penalty last season, it was on Colon. Sure, holding can be called on just about every play in the NFL, but Colon was particularly bad at getting caught. 

    Then there are the durability issues. Colon missed five of the final six games last season. The last thing Pittsburgh needs is another offensive lineman who cannot stay on the field.

    Bye, Colon. You had a good run in Pittsburgh, but it was time to say goodbye. You will be missed for your hair more than anything else.

    Grade: A-

Signing LaRod Stephens-Howling

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    Yay? The former Cardinal is about as meh as free-agent signings get. He has a few nice tools in his arsenal, but none of them are particularly impressive.

    Stephens-Howling can rush, catch, block and return. He does all of those things adequately, with no skill really standing head and shoulders above the others. 

    The one thing Stephens-Howling has going for him is his special teams experience. After the Steelers cut Chris Rainey for off the field issues, there has been no one primed to return kicks and punts.

    Unless the Steelers are willing to risk overtaxing Antonio Brown, this might be Stephens-Howling’s best chance to shine. He has had special teams success in his career, but not recently. 

    This one could be a blessing in disguise or a quick flameout. Either way, the risk is low and the rewards could be worth it. So for now, this move defines average.

    Grade: B 

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