With the Steelers’ 2015 season now on the books, it’s great to take a little time to look back and be proud of a pretty good season.
I can tell you though, that while the front office may take a couple weeks off; I can guarantee they won’t rest for long. Soon, the Steelers will be onto figuring out how to get this team over the hump in 2016. We at Steel City Blitz will be doing the same!
Obviously, a million decisions go into an off-season, and there’s a lot of small details that I’m going to gloss over, but this is my high level recipe for what I would consider a “perfect” off-season. This is just one fan’s opinion, feel free to give yours in the comments!
Despite the out-cry from Steelers fans every year for heads to roll, there won’t be any major changes to the coaching staff this off-season. However, the team does tend to make a couple small changes.
- Fire Special Teams Coordinator Danny Smith; Hire Kevin Spencer to replace him.
- Outside of the occasional Antonio Brown punt return, the special teams has been pretty below average under Danny Smith. Kick coverage has been ok, but I think that’s because the team has some really talented special teams players in Ross Ventrone, Robert Golden, Roosevelt Nix, Antwon Blake, etc. Kick return blocking in particular has got to improve. Kevin Spencer was recently fired by the Chargers, but had some success prior to that job in Arizona where he coached Patrick Peterson in his rookie season where he returned 4 punts for touchdowns in a season. Prior to that, he was with the Steelers where he won “Special Teams Coach of the Year” in 2003.
- Fire Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake; Hire Tim Lewis to replace him.
- The Steelers’ struggles in the secondary are well known. Tim Lewis is another guy that was formerly on the Steelers’ staff. Lewis was most recently with the 49ers for one season. Prior to that he was coaching the Falcons defensive backs from 2010-2014. During his time there, the Falcons tied for 7th in the NFL for interceptions, and saw multiple pro bowl berths for cornerbacks and safeties.
Internal Free Agents/Contracts
- Restructures: Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey
- Extensions: Lawrence Timmons, Antonio Brown, David DeCastro
- These three get new deals for very different reasons. No way Timmons plays out the season with his 15.1 million dollar cap hit. He could be cut, which would save 8.8 mil in space but puts about 6.4 in dead money against it. I think an extension is what will likely happen to spread that money out. Brown finally gets paid like an upper echelon receiver. DeCastro gets a deal and likely retires in the black and gold.
- Free Agents Re-Signed:
- Steve McLendon- Quietly had a fantastic season. Steelers’ run defense was above the line towards the end. Run defense was especially stingy in the redzone, in large part thanks to McLendon. Shouldn’t cost much, being a nose tackle.
- Kelvin Beachum- I’ve thought all along Beachum walks. However, with his injury I’m hoping (and this is my hypothetical perfect world so we’ll say it happens here) that Beach’s demand on the market is lukewarm due to his size and injury, and he signs a one year deal to prove he’s fully healthy, in order to cash in in 2017.
- Antwon Blake– I know, I know. I like Blake on this roster as your end of the roster cornerback with starting experience in the scheme, and special teamer. In that role, he’s very good… The problem is the coaches playing him over more talented players.
- Robert Golden– Golden is a great special teams player and we saw this season he can handle being a primary backup at the safety position. I might even be comfortable with him starting in 2016.
- Darrius Heyward-Bey- This receiver group is special. Keep DHB around and don’t change a thing from 2015.
- Ross Cockrell– Good size, outside cornerback with some ball skills. Lock him up for a few years.
- Greg Warren, Mike Adams, Terence Garvin, Roosevelt Nix, Chris Hubbard- Depth signings.
- Free Agents to Let Walk:
- William Gay– I think that Golson is going to replace Gay and Boykin in the slot. Gay probably gets a pretty nice contract elsewhere to finish his career. I could see Ray Horton poaching Gay and bringing him to Cleveland. Horton coached Gay during his tenures in Pittsburgh and Arizona.
- Brandon Boykin- See William Gay write up above…
- Ramon Foster- Solid, but can be upgraded. I think he’ll get a decent chunk of change on the open market.
- Sean Spence- Amazing story, but Vince Williams can be the primary backup, and Terrence Garvin is a favorite of Keith Butler.
- Mike Vick/Bruce Gradkowski- Landry Jones will be the #2 QB in 2015.
- Will Johnson- Nix has made him unnecessary.
- Cam Thomas- Can easily be upgraded.
- Cortez Allen- Allens has had his chances. I’d cut him post-June 1st which would save about 4.5 million in cap space.
- Heath Miller- I know you’re all going to hate me, and I’m still not totally sure I’m on board. I think Big Ben would lobby for Heath so this doesn’t happen… but Miller’s 7 million dollar cap hit is hard to swallow at his age.
- Shaun Suisham- With so many teams needing kicking help this year, I think they should be able to grab a 5th or 6th rounder for an accomplished kicker like Suisham.
- External Free Agents:
- Eric Weddle, FS– Probably wishful thinking on my part. My hope is that Weddle wants to play for a contender and the free agent market isn’t crazy about his play lately due to injury. The team’s window is right now, before they have to start paying all their young players on offense, and before Ben’s play starts to drop off. They’d be wise to sign a couple of missing pieces that are aging. Weddle feels like a perfect fit.
- Sean Smith, CB– Smith has been a hot and cold player in his career but his play down the stretch helped the Chiefs in their impressive win streak. I believe this teams needs a #1 cornerback with size. The AFC North features wide receivers AJ Green(6’4″), Breshad Perriman (6’3″), and Josh Gordon (6’3″). I also think Marvin Jones (6’2″) ends up back in Cincinnati or goes to Cleveland. There’s been plenty of mocks with the Ravens grabbing Laquon Treadwell(6’3″) this year too.
- Al Woods, DE- Woods was snatched away last off-season by the Titans, just as he was looking like he was starting to get really comfortable in the Steelers’ scheme. Heyward and Tuitt are young, but they played too many snaps this year. A quality rotational DE is needed.
- Assuming all of the above happens, it really would allow the Steelers to be flexible in the draft, and not really need to reach for any position. I’m not ready to start naming names yet… But here’s just a few of my general thoughts…
- Early Rounds- I think the first round could be really flexible. I’m not sure a corner they like is going to be there at 25 but it might be a good year to trade up for one if they like him enough. Right now though, I’m really liking this Henry Hunter kid out of Arkansas at the end of round 1. An athletic all-around tight end to replace Heath, and help with the team’s struggles in the redzone. I like the depth at the safety position in rounds 2 and 3, and it’s definitely a need even if Weddle was brought in. I’d really like to see another edge rusher added but it’s a pretty weak class there. So cliche, but the Steelers can really sit back and take the best player available early in this scenario.
- Mid-Rounds– This is where I’d guess they probably address the cornerback position if one doesn’t fall to them in the first round. I also think it’s a good spot to address depth in the trenches. The OL and DL are pretty solid across the board at starting positions, but they lack depth in several areas across both lines.
- Late Rounds- I would like to see the team grab a Quarterback in this draft that they think may compete for a backup spot down the line. I’m not looking for Ben’s replacement yet, but we saw this year a guy that can step in an win you a few games is extremely valuable. We need to find a guy that can do what AJ McCarron did for the Bengals this season; that is get the ball to playmakers and don’t turn it over. With a roster spot freed up by not carrying Will Johnson, they may also seek a CB/RB/WR late that serves as mainly a return specialist. It was clear in the Denver game that this team has no good backup punt returner options.