Colbert’s “eagerness” hints at return of two newer Steelers

We here at Steel City Underground are as guilty as anyone when it comes to getting caught up in the hysteria that is the NFL offseason.

That hysteria centers around two upcoming roster-shaping events: free agency and the NFL Draft. Everyone and their brother (and sister) has an opinion, a prediction, or a projection. What are team needs and how can a team meet that particular goal?

For the Steelers, one of those goals appears to be re-signing running back Le’Veon Bell. Considering the amount of money Bell is reportedly asking for, and calculating what the team may have left in cap space to pay him (or other free agents) everyone with an opinion has started to see where the organization could trim to save some money.

Among the players thought to be on the chopping block include S Mike Mitchell, S J.J. Wilcox, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, CB Williams Gay, TE Vance McDonald, CB Coty Sensabaugh, and CB Joe Haden. Those players who have a large cap hit and could produce savings if released are often called “cap casualties” meaning, they are usually let go to free up salary.

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As much as we would like to see every player retained, today’s NFL isn’t structured in a way to allow teams to freely spend to build superstar teams. Therefore, I have been on the edge of my seat for several weeks hoping that some of those components for a potential championship team remain with the Steelers for the 2018 season.

It appears, at least for two of the players mentioned, there’s good news. That is if you read into interviews, such as this one from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, who spoke with Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert recently.

I’d like to emphasize the part which had me most excited to read this handful of words:

Having that type of player with us for whole offseason will only enhance their abilities to help us

Needless to say, the semantics of looking into the future, along with Fowler describing Colbert as “eager”, leads me to believe that both Haden and McDonald will be a part of Pittsburgh 2018 plans… which is a good thing!

I’ve been very vocal about my love for these guys on each side of the ball last season. Unfortunately, both got a late jump with the team, being added to the roster at the conclusion of the preseason. Each also ended up missing time due to injuries as well.

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Another thing both players have in common is their big contracts. McDonald signed a five-year, $35 million extension with San Francisco before his former team shipped him off to Pittsburgh prior to the start of the 2017 season. McDonald has roughly $20 million still left on that contract, assumed by the Steelers, who retain his rights through the 2021 season under that deal.

Haden signed a three-year, $27 million contract including a signing bonus of $5.75 million. He carries a nearly $12 million cap hit over the next two years, leaving some to speculate if he’s worth that much cash.

However, Haden’s first season in Pittsburgh came with a lower cap hit but a larger dead cap (due to the signing bonus). This was likely done to see if the corner still had “it” after a couple of lackluster seasons in Cleveland. Now that he’s shown he still has the makings of being the Pro Bowl caliber player he once was, I was hoping that the Steelers would feel the same way as I do about Haden being worth every penny.

Haden is currently the 11th-highest paid cornerback in the NFL and could’ve gone elsewhere for more money. The Steelers know this and given their woes with the position over the years, I had a gut feeling that they would retain Joe. Plus, it’s not as if he costs more than Cortez Allen, a previously failed Pittsburgh corner project did.

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As for Vance McDonald, I merely scoffed at the idea he would be released due to “cap concerns”. According to various websites, it appears that McDonald carries the 23rd highest cap hit among players at his position.

That’s less than both, New England’s Dwayne Allen and Atlanta’s Levine Toilolo, who combined for 20 catches and 208 receiving yards last season.

Others making more money than McDonald include the Eagles Brent Celek (13 receptions, 130 yards) the Bears Dion Sims (15/180) the Saints Coby Fleener (22/295) and the Cardinals Jermaine Gresham (33/322). Each of those players is hauling in anywhere from $4.5 million (Toilolo) up to $8 million (Fleener).

When put in perspective, McDonald could be a steal. His 2017 numbers don’t add up favorably to those listed above (14/188) but he also missed six entire games and portions of others with nagging injuries.

In just one postseason game alone McDonald nearly eclipsed those figures with 10 receptions for 112 yards. While that will be the exception to the rule in an offense featuring Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell (tentatively) the new Steelers tight end could end up being far more productive than his price tag, which is already in the bottom tier of those who play his position.

Therefore, I’m as “eager” as Colbert sounds that these two Steelers will be part of the foundation for another Super Bowl winning Steelers squad. I welcome them back this season with open arms and also can’t wait to see what a full offseason has in store for them.

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