What Exactly Does Staley Do For The Steelers? - By Ryan Wilson
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|On the surface, the signing of Duce Staley looks to immediately improve a moribund running game that finished 30th in the league last season--and I think it will. But one of the ancillary benefits is that the Steelers can now focus on other personnel needs in free agency and the upcoming draft. Specifically, they still need to address needs at cornerback, offensive line, outside linebacker, defensive line and quarterback. Staley will help the Steelers in two ways--by immediately upgrading the running back position (at least in the near term) and thereby mitigating any reasons to solve this problem through the draft.
Some fans and sportswriters alike have voiced their displeasure with the fact that the Steelers seemed asleep at the wheel as the free agency free-for-all began in early March. Some even described the Steelers offseason to date as 'pathetic' because while the Steelers were busy resigning fullback Dan Kreider for a million per, teams like the Redskins, Lions and Eagles were making moves that clearly improved their teams. I've said this before and I'll restate it here: teams don't win the Super Bowl in March. The last two offseasons the Redskins have made a lot of free agent signings (second only to the Houston Texans--and remember, they were an expansion team) and have managed to win only twelve games. Thus far, the Redskins have followed the same blue print--trying to solve their problems not through the draft, but through free agency. As a result, they have overpaid for (at least some) middle-aged talent and only have two picks remaining in the April draft to address their long-term needs. Not only that, but after spending $50 million in signing bonuses last week, the Redskins will be facing some serious fiscal questions in the next few years; and by trading all their draft picks, they won't be able to address any of their long-term needs anytime soon. And while this free agency has had a glut of cornerbacks, by most accounts they were average at best, even though several teams have overpaid for their services.
What does this have to do with Staley?
Because the Steelers didn't get caught up in the race to sign a bevy of average players, and with the addition of one player--Staley, the Steelers have positioned themselves to address other, perhaps now more pressing, needs in the April draft.
First things first, the Steelers need to address the cornerback position. And just as there were numerous cornerbacks available in free agency (all of whom were overpriced and undertalented), there are also a lot of cornerbacks in the draft--many of whom are very talented (if not very raw). I've said before that if the Steelers were going to cut someone it should have been Chad Scott instead of DeWayne Washington (but that is all water under the Clemente bridge now). Either way, they are still weak in the defensive backfield and that should be the first need they address come draft day. I think it's important that Polamalu and Chris Hope are starting as strong safety and free safety, respectively come September. The Steelers would also be well served to resign Mike Logan and maybe return him to his role two years ago--nickel and dime back who can cover and who is also tough against the run.
The next glaring need is at offensive tackle. The duo of Todd Fordham and Oliver Ross certainly weren't the answer last year, and using an early round pick to address this need can quickly alleviate a lot of the Tommy Maddox sandwiches we were grew accustomed to. And don't forget, one of several benefits of restocking a team through the draft is that players are both young and relatively cheap (apparently this lesson has been lost on the Redskins).
Jerome Bettis and Staley should split time this season (with the knowledge that Bettis will retire as a fan favorite at season's end), and Staley should still productive for several years thereafter. The Steelers could still choose to pick a back like Greg Jones (FSU) in the second round this year and work him into the offense over the next few years. They could also opt to keep Verron Hayes and groom him to be a big part of the offense in the future (of course, he should first prove that he can get through an entire season without getting injured).
Director of football operation, Kevin Colbert, made it clear last week that Tommy Maddox is not going anywhere (and Tim Couch won't be getting anywhere near Pittsburgh), and Charlie Batch is still firmly entrenched as the backup. The real question is what, if anything will Brian St. Pierre do to someday be a adequate NFL quarterback. It could very well be the case that he's destined for a career of third-string and scout team gigs, but he could also show marked improvement (as have several late round quarterbacks of late--see Tom Brady and Billy Volek) and be a valuable part of the Steelers future. Any projections on St. Pierre's future will probably determine in what round the Steelers draft a quarterback. Even if they think St. Pierre is not the answer, they still should not take a quarterback before the third round (and that may still be too early). Of course, I'm still in the, "Trade a second round pick for Patrick Ramsey" club, even though there's no way possible it will happen.
When the Steelers chose not to match the offer made by the Patriots for defensive linemen Rodney Bailey, they not only got a sixth round draft pick as compensation, they also signed Travis Kirschke from the 49ers, whose contract actually saved the them money when compared to what they would have had to pay Bailey. Kirschke will be used as a backup, and the Steelers may choose to address the defensive tackle position later in the draft (they currently have nine draft picks--three in the sixth round).
After losing out on outside linebacker Marcus Washington (who of course was signed by the Redskins), the Steelers resigned Clark Haggans. To many, this was the straw that broke the camels back--another free agent that used Pittsburgh as a pit stop to a bigger payday. My first question after Washington signed with the Redskins was, "Who is Marcus Washington?" I imagine this was the same question many people were asking when they found out he was scheduled to visit Pittsburgh. And if that's the case, who cares that he signed somewhere else? How many games did anyone see this guy play, anyway? I saw Clark Haggans play the last two years and he did a pretty solid job. Resigning him was a prudent move on the part of the Steelers, and hopefully they will at the very least restructure Jason Gildon's contract to free up some more cap room.
There is also the second round pick from last year, Alonzo Jackson. Last year he was lost in the shuffle, and hopefully this year he will see more action (the Steelers could certainly stand more of a pass rush from the outside).
So while all of this is probably nothing new, I think it's important to emphasize that although the Steelers haven't made many moves this offseason, the moves they have made have been practical (and some might even say far-sighted). The point is, the Steelers, by being conservative early on in this process, have left themselves with options in April. So far, so good (unless of course, they draft a quarterback in the first round).