Ranking Pittsburgh Steelers' Top Offseason Moves Following 2014 NFL Draft
It has been an offseason of change for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The theme has been out with the old and in with the new.
Mike Tomlin made changes to his coaching staff, bringing in several new positional coaches. Though these coaches may not get the recognition of a coordinator, they form an integral part of the team.
Besides the staff, general manager Kevin Colbert made plenty of changes to the roster. He knew that changes had to be made for the Steelers to break the trend of two consecutive eight-win seasons.
Over a dozen veterans from the 2013 season were not retained, including defensive starters Ryan Clark, Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel and LaMarr Woodley. To replace these players, Colbert reached agreements with nine free agents from outside the organization.
These players will join a nine-man draft class to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster.
But which of these new additions will be the most vital to revitalizing the Pittsburgh Steelers? The following article will examine how each major transaction will impact the Steelers this season ranked from least to most significant.
5. Free-Agent Wide Receiver Lance Moore
Losing two of your top three wide receivers in one offseason is tough to handle for any NFL team and the Steelers are no exception.
Emmanuel Sanders left for the Denver Broncos, while Jerricho Cotchery signed with the Carolina Panthers. Neither player was the focal point of the Pittsburgh offense, but they did combine for 113 receptions for 1,342 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Second-year receiver Markus Wheaton will be asked to replace Sanders in the starting lineup, but it is veteran receiver Lance Moore who will play a more integral role in training camp and early in the season.
Wheaton had very little playing time as a rookie and still needs to get acclimated to the NFL game. That will not be a problem for Moore.
The nine-year veteran has four seasons with at least 50 receptions, and he set a career high in 2012 with 1,041 receiving yards. He has scored six or more touchdowns four times in his career.
Moore’s former head coach—Sean Payton—spoke very highly of him, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com.
While his production on paper is obvious, it only tells half the story. Lance came to us an undrafted rookie who went to NFL Europe and spent time on our practice squad. He went on to produce outstanding results on the field for us as a result of his work ethic, reliability and commitment to get better every day. He's been one of the pillars of what we have built here as an organization.
Moore may not be a superstar, but he will provide a solid veteran presence on the field and locker room leadership for the team's young receivers.
4. Release of LaMarr Woodley
LaMarr Woodley was once thought to be a building block for the Steelers defense. He was on the verge of not only being the best pass-rusher on the team, but one of the best in the entire league. It was no wonder that the Steelers signed him to a long-term multimillion dollar deal prior to the start of the 2011 season.
All did not go as planned as Woodley followed up his mega-deal with three injury-plagued, disappointing seasons.
Whether he was out of shape or just had bad luck with injuries, Woodley was not only failing to produce on the field, but he was failing to stay on it. By the end of the 2013 season, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote that the Steelers must release Woodley.
That is exactly what they did.
Never will it be easy to allow a once great member of your franchise to go when he should be in the prime of his career. Never is it easy to eat all of that cap space. But it was a move that needed to be done.
Pittsburgh’s old philosophy was that they would let a player go a year too soon rather than a year too late. That’s the approach that they took with Woodley.
Rather than continue to pay an unproductive veteran who could not stay on the field, they decided to go with their young, up-and-coming options in Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones.
Maybe the move will not pay off and Woodley will have a great season with the Oakland Raiders and Worilds and Jones won’t produce. But beyond this, the move was a return to their old ways and one that favors youth and potential over old and washed up.
Pittsburgh’s young linebackers are hungry and ready to compete. This is the type of attitude that the defense needs to succeed.
3. Hiring Mike Munchak to Coach Offensive Line
“I think we can have a special group here.”
Those are the words that new offensive line coach Mike Munchak told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week.
It is hard to argue with him. There are two former first-round selections and a second-round selection starting on the line with another high pick more than prepared to compete for a starting job.
Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro are two high-pedigree players who have Pro-Bowl potential this year. Ramon Foster provides a second dependable option at guard while Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams are a trio of young tackles yet to realize their full potential.
Munchak comes to Pittsburgh touted as one of the top offensive line coaches in the league, and he has plenty of talent with which to work.
Asking him to develop the Steelers’ offensive line into one of the best units in 2014 is a bit much—Munchak isn’t a miracle worker. However, he will be able to get the most of his talent and should have this unit improving each and every week.
The line has been a weak point for the offense in recent years and now with one of the best coaching the unit, it has a chance to finally realize its potential and no longer be a liability. If the O-line gets it together, the offense has a chance to explode this season.
2. Drafting Defenders in the First and Second Round
Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently wrote how rare it is for rookie defenders to get on the field under Mike Tomlin. No rookie defender started a game until last season when four earned at least one start.
Tomlin may continue this trend as Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuittj add speed and power to a defensive unit in need of playmakers. From what he told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, he will consider them for starting jobs as rookies.
"I'm open to it," Tomlin. "Obviously it's not something that will be given to them. I do believe within this group there are guys capable of doing just that."
Shazier will have to beat out Vince Williams and others to start at inside linebacker. But with his amazing athletic abilities, it will be tough to keep him off of the field. Not only can he us this when rushing the quarterback, but also when dropping into coverage.
In front of him, Tuitt will compete with Cam Thomas, Nick Williams and Brian Arnfelt for a starting job.
According to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com, Cam Thomas was signed for depth along the defensive line, but he is the only experienced defensive end outside of Cameron Heyward on the roster.
Tuitt is a massive-framed defensive end who is a perfect fit for the Steelers' 3-4 defense. He will have to prove to defensive line coach John Mitchell that he can master the proper technique if he is to get on the field early in his rookie year.
But with so much potential from both players, at some point they will crack the starting lineup and will provide an immediate upgrade for this defense based on their raw talent alone.
1. Signing Free Safety Mike Mitchell
Free safety was a weak spot for the Steelers last season. Ryan Clark looked a step slow in the secondary and as a result the Steelers were more susceptible to big plays.
The Steelers decided to move on and they wasted no time finding a replacement. Mike Mitchell signed a five-year $25 million and will immediately take over for Clark in the secondary.
Mitchell is a player on the rise after having the best season of his career for the Carolina Panthers last season. He finished the year with 66 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, eight passes defensed and four interceptions.
Prior to his one season in Carolina, Mitchell played four years for the Oakland Raiders. He was originally drafted because of his speed and athleticism, but he was never able to find a role on the team. That will not be the case for the Steelers, as he immediately becomes one of the fastest players in the secondary and this will help in deep coverage.
Mitchell has potential to be a playmaker when defending the pass and is physical enough to step up against the run. Based on Clark’s production, Mitchell could make upwards of over 90 tackles this season on top of three or four interceptions.
Dick LeBeau will count on Mitchell protecting the deep part of the defense so Troy Polamalu can do what he does best—freelance near the line of scrimmage.
Replacing Clark will be no easy task, but Mitchell should be ready for the task. There will be no more productive newcomer on the Steelers and therefore no player who will make a bigger impact than Mitchell will in 2014.