Patience Is The Key To Building A Successful Team - By Mark Mihalko
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|As the first week of the 2004 free agency period winds down the Steelers are off to a nice start. Sure the Steelers aren't slinging money at free agents like some teams (Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions to name a few), but once again the front office is setting the example of loyalty to the rest of the NFL. True to form the Steelers will never overpay for a free agent, preferring to build their team through the draft or with second tier free agents. While many fans may not agree with this practice all you have to do is look back at the most recent Super Bowl and the evidence is clear.
Re-signing FB Dan Kreider and LB Clark Haggans were critical moves that the team had to make this offseason. Both players will play a huge role in 2004. Kreider is one of the most underrated fullbacks in the NFL and his blocking will be vital in the power running game we want to get back to this season.
The Steelers brought in LB Marcus Washington (Colts) for a visit early in the week, although he eventually signed a monster contract with the Redskins, the message sent was loud and clear. LB Jason Gildon, the Steelers all-time sack leader, is on the downside of his career and the team is looking to replace him. By re-signing Haggans (4 years $10.2 million) the Gildon watch has officially started. Haggans filled in well for LB Joey Porter last season as has some pass rush skills.
While neither of the signings are blockbusters, they allow the Steelers to pursue the positions of need in a patient manner. Going into this offseason our biggest needs were cornerback, right tackle and running back. While most of the big name free agents at those positions are gone, there are still quality players available.
Looking ahead to the 2004 NFL Draft, cornerback is one of the deepest positions. While there may not be a player worth the 11th selection, a starting caliber cornerback can be found deep into the third round. If the Steelers want to address the cornerback position in free agency cornerbacks Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent (Eagles), Mario Edwards (Cowboys), David Barrett (Cardinals), and David Macklin (Colts) all have the ability to come in and contribute without demanding a $10+ million signing bonus like the injury plagued Shawn Springs (Redskins) or diminutive Antoine Winfield (Vikings).
With offensive tackle being one of the weaker positions in the upcoming draft, The Steelers would be much better off pursuing a free agent tackle to upgrade the position, much of the struggles on offense last year can be attributed to the offensive line, so reshaping some of this unit will be key to the success of the offense in 2004. Tackles Damion McIntosh and Solomon Page (Chargers), Greg Randall (Texans), Orlando Brown (Ravens) and Cornell Green (Buccaneers) and have starting experience on the right side and would be an upgrade to what we already have at the position.
Like cornerback, running back is also a very deep position in the 2004 NFL Draft and a team could find a starter into the second day of the draft. Running backs Kevin Jones (VA Tech) and Steven Jackson (Oregon State) are worthy to be taken early in the first round and may figure into the Steelers plans. With RB Jerome Bettis returning with a reduced salary, there may not be a need to pursue a free agent. If the Steelers decided to pursue a free-agent, running backs Shawn Bryson (Lions), Stacy Mack (Texans) and Sammie Morris (Bills) have the size and speed to be starting caliber running backs and are young enough to be worth investing in their future.
As Steelers fans the free agency signing period is always a frustrating ordeal. We sit back and watch teams throw money around like it is water, while we parade players through our training complex with little hope of giving them the huge payday they expect. As maddening as that may be to us, the fans, it is the proper way of doing business. Some people may not agree with that mentality but teams that build from within are proving to be more successful then the teams that continually push the limits of the salary cap.