Steelers initially snake-bitten by recent free agent acquisitions
The NFL season is opening for business, and fans everywhere are excited about what pieces their team can add to improve upon their previous season.
Steelers Nation is no different in this regard, clamoring each year for Pittsburgh to make a splash in free agency, but ultimately disappointed when the team barely enters the shallow side of the pool.
That’s because the Steelers have always been a team content on building their roster through the draft, and then, rewarding those drafted players who have excelled in the pro ranks, with large contracts. Money is seldom spent on bringing in outsiders, though, the team has made a few dips into free agency in the past.
Among the most notable signings over the years are Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, LB James Farrior and S Ryan Clark. Those signings proved to be good, if not great ones; however, Pittsburgh has been struggling with free agent acquisitions making an impact in their first season with the Steelers.
Those names often find controversy later surrounding their signing.
This could be the most famous flop of the list, as Blount was brought in during the 2014 offseason to help be the “bell cow” for Le’Veon Bell, but soon saw that he was a distant number two on the depth chart, and ended up pouting his way off of the team. The Steelers would release the backup running backup after he left a game early due to his lack of playing time.
The move would backfire when Bell would get injured in the final game of the regular season, and the Steelers were left without any Plan B at the position.
It ultimately cost them an early exit from the 2014 playoffs.
A dependable slot receiver with the New Orleans Saints, Moore was initially brought in to be insurance for an inexperienced wide receiver group which had lost Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery in the 2014 offseason.
Starting the season injured, Moore would also sulk his way through the year, after having lost his perceived role that had never materialized due to his availability.
The only memory I have of the receiver is scoring a touchdown in a game where the Steelers were blown out on the road in Cleveland. With the score already out of hand, Moore celebrated as though he won the Powerball.
He asked for his release the next offseason, and with little surprise, the team granted it.
The next two names on the list will come as a bit of a surprise, but there’s solid explanations as to why their first year with the Steelers were in fact snake-bitten.
Williams was brought in for the same reasons Blount was earlier: to backup Bell. More importantly, Williams would need to replace Bell as the latter was suspended for the first few games of the 2015 season.
It’s not that role, and subsequent performance which lessened the impact of Williams’ signing. In fact, DeAngelo has been a fantastic find for the Steelers. Rather, it’s when he was needed most in year one with the franchise, during the 2015 postseason, that hurt most.
Williams would end up injured at the end of the regular season and never play in either of the two Steelers playoff games that season. Pittsburgh’s backfield ended up being Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman, who both helped carry the team to a win over the Bengals. But it was Toussaint’s fumble which doomed the Steelers a week later in a loss to the Denver Broncos.
If DeAngelo were healthy, would the result have been different?
That’s the only reason he makes this list, much like the next player…
Be honest: how many of you wanted the Steelers to cut Mitchell after his first season?
Coming over from a big year in Carolina, there were high expectations for Mitchell, who ended up underwhelming while playing next to the legendary Troy Polamalu (during his final season). (It was also reported that Mitchell had a groin injury that he played with throughout most of the year.)
Mitchell would up being a dependable player (he hasn’t missed a game), a hard-hitter, and taking on the identity of the Steelers defense. It’s hard to not imagine him out on the field in black and gold now, but his first season was certainly not that way.
Green could single-handedly be the most polarizing player on this list, perhaps overtaking the record amount of heat that Mike Mitchell received in his first year as a Steeler.
That’s due to Ladarius signing a four-year deal, then being unavailable to participate in training camp, and landing on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to start the season. He wouldn’t make his Steelers debut until the 9th game of the 2016 season against the Dallas Cowboys. He’d all but disappear a week later against the Browns, though, he was gradually being eased back into “football shape” by playing a small amount of snaps and gradually increasing them as the weeks went on. (A similar approach the Steelers took with Bud Dupree coming off of Injured Reserve last season.)
Green would have his biggest game against the New York Giants, catching 6 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. He’d play in his final game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals, catching 5 passes for 72 yards, before entering the league’s concussion protocol; a procedure the former Charger is all but too familiar with.
The health history has made many precautious to the point that they didn’t even think Green would play last season; and they’re not sure he will beyond that either. However, no news right now is good news, and considering that the first year for many new Steelers have been rough ones, there’s optimism that Green could bounce back in 2017.
I wouldn’t put too much stock into the Steelers standing pat in free agency by not bringing in any outsiders. As shown above, even a “surefire” signing doesn’t always amount to an immediate impact on the field.
That’s not to say the wheels of fortune couldn’t turn in the Steelers favor, as they had in the past with players such as Greene and Farrior. I’d rather temper my expectations of any “blockbuster” deals living up to the hype.