Overreactions from Steelers Nation: Post-draft roster moves

Welcome to my weekly edition of “Overreactions from Steelers Nation” a weekly column where I poke fun at fans, reporters, and so-called experts while trying to figure out if some of these hot takes are real – or just for attention.

Bickering over offseason moves is an act of futility. It’s worse as the offseason progresses, as once we’re beyond the initial weeks of the free agency period in March, and the NFL Draft which follows, there isn’t much in terms of major signings.

Yet, this won’t stop some fans from overanalyzing every detail. For example, the Steelers released linebackers Tae Crowder and Emeke Egbule, as well as running back Master Teague. The latter, Teague, played his college ball at Ohio State, but was never truly a fixture in the pros.

Teague was added after training camp started last year, and had signed a futures contract after he briefly rejoined the team in November (after failing to make the 53-man roster or practice squad following last Summer). Yet, some made a major deal over his release… when there’s nothing major about it.

Meanwhile, Crowder leaves Pittsburgh after joining the team from the New York Giants practice squad near the end of last season. He didn’t make a single appearance for the Steelers. Egbule, had a similar path as Teague, joining the practice squad late in the season and signing a futures contract after three years with the Los Angeles Chargers.

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Simply stated, a lot of the maneuvers going forward are to shore up depth for running drills in camp. A few lucky players might get noticed and flourish from there, but the ceiling is usually that of playing in Latrobe during the Summer.

Take the signing of Sam Houston LB Toby Ndukwe, who had a tryout in Pittsburgh’s recent rookie minicamp. Ndukwe started eight games for Sam Houston, making 34 tackles, with 19 of them on his own, as well as 10 tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, two pass breakups, one interception, and a half sack. He also made 43 appearances for SMU, during which he made 26 tackles, six of them for loss, 4.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery.

Those are great college accolades but it’s an uphill battle for someone like Ndukwe to stick to the final rosters. It’s unlikely these moves change the Steelers +5000 odds to win the Super Bowl on the best sports betting apps; but it could be worse, with those being the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans, who are both +20,000 to go all the way.

One of the moves that’s more likely to move the needle in terms of remaining competitive is the extension of QB Mitchell Trubisky and the re-signing of QB Mason Rudolph.

Trubisky, a former second-overall draft pick, lost his starting job to last year’s first round choice Kenny Pickett, but will remain in a veteran backup role. Some speculated that Trubisky could be released to save $8 million in cap space, but the two sides worked out a deal to keep him in Pittsburgh for an additional two years, which coincides with Pickett’s four-year rookie contract.

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Rudolph, the third man in the three-way starting competition to replace Ben Roethlisberger in 2022, rejoins the team as a potential backup or third quarterback, keeping last year’s room intact and adding another experienced player who is familiar with the Steelers system.

With the new emergency quarterback rule in place for 2023, Rudolph will be in uniform on game days with the potential to play as needed, should the options ahead of him get sidelined.

This is the sort of depth, those players who will be on the 53-man roster in September and have an opportunity to play, that should make more headlines than the Master Teague’s of the world. And I mean no offense to Teague, but the competition is on another level at this point where a fourth of fifth string running back is likely to have the same impact as a backup quarterback: especially with the way concussion protocols have altered playing time in today’s NFL.

That makes the Trubisky and Rudolph knows paramount to backup linebackers, although the Steelers made another move that qualifies as more significant, signing former Cardinals LB Markus Golden.

The 32-year-old edge rush will come to camp as a backup to T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, the latter of which could be “sitting in” on a new contract entering the final year of his original rookie deal. The team will benefit from Golden’s veteran leadership, but the signing also adds depth to a position that was sorely lacking playmakers behind the starters last season.

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Golden represents one of many free agents who were available post-draft, for a variety of reasons ranging from age to injury history to contract desires. It’s what makes evaluating those moves from the end of the NFL Draft through training camp a difficult process. While Golden could be key to the Steelers plans, a healthy (and happy) Watt and Highsmith will probably keep the newly signed outside linebacker mostly observing from the sidelines.

Yet, what happens if the Steelers don’t sign Golden, and the worst were to happen as in 2022 with Watt missing a significant number of games?

That’s where the overreactions come into play. Steelers Nation has to understand that every signing isn’t a slam dunk and many are to help provide a “Plan B” in case of emergency.

Trubisky, Rudolph, and Golden provide that, while Teague, Crowder, and Egbule did not.

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