Saturday, March 23, 2013

Addressing Steelers Free Agent Linebacker Rumors And Draft Possibilities

The annual NFL free agency period tends to bring about more rumors than a high school girls' locker room. This year has been no different. And the Pittsburgh Steelers have definitely had their share, including a couple this week that wouldn't be so bad if were they to come true.

The whispers heard were that the Steelers will meet with former Chicago Bears middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher. Supposedly, the five-time All-Pro linebacker and former University of New Mexico safety says he is to meet with the Steelers to discuss possible contract negotiations.

There haven't been any confirmations as of yet.

Of the five main free agent rumors that surfaced, Urlacher is one who would seem to be viable. The 13-year veteran is still a good player who could definitely help in the middle. Though he's had some injuries (arthritic back, broken wrist, sprained MCL and pulled hamstrings) and has missed 19 of a possible 64 games in the last four years, it isn't as if the injuries are literally piling up. In fact, 15 of those 19 games were in 2009. So he could still be a contributor to the inside if he could make the transition.

The biggest obstacles to a possible signing are his pride and also his cost vs. his value. The Steelers let go of a player for just those reasons, as was Urlacher himself released from the Bears. As ESPN reported, though, when talks with Chicago started to break down, "Urlacher countered with a one-year, $3.5 million offer with incentives that would have allowed him to make an additional $500,000..." - http://tinyurl.com/d9oty8j

In order to be signed by the Steelers, something similar would have to be penned. That would be the case, however, with whomever the Steelers may choose to sign.

*FREE AGENT RUMORS - INJURY REPORT VERSION:
IN: Elvis Dumervil (As in "in play" for him - this is the viable move, and one I could see the team make and believe they did try to make);
PROBABLE: Ahmad Bradshaw (Probably a good pick up IF he's healthy, comes with his own insurance and can be obtained at a good price);
QUESTIONABLE: Brian Urlacher (He could help in the middle, yes, but pride and cost vs. value are biggest issues here - they let go of James Harrison for those very reasons);
DOUBTFUL: Dwight Freeney (He struggled last season as a 3-4 OLB. Sure, he terrorized QBs for 10 years prior to that, but as a 4-3 DE. Very little chance of this one happening);
OUT: Beanie Wells (If you kicked the tires on this one, they'd fall right off).
*


But the potential is there as the Steelers have definite need for depth, if nothing else, at the position. Thus Foote's being re-signed. He knows system and he wanted to stay.

As for the others on the roster (besides Lawrence Timmons) there are Sean Spence, Stevenson Sylvester, Marshall McFadden, Kion Wilson and Brian Rolle, with only Sylvester and Rolle having real game experience.

Spence, a third-round choice in 2012, dislocated his patella, tore multiple ligaments including the ACL, and sustained peroneal nerve damage (located behind the knee leading to loss of movement or sensation in the foot and leg). The Steelers do not know whether Spence can return in 2013, or ever, because his ability to play depends on the recovery of that nerve. - http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000791.htm

Sylvester has yet failed to show any discernible improvement and subsequently wasn't tendered. If he returns, and unless he makes a quantum leap forward, will only be a backup linebacker.

McFadden is currently under a Reserves/Futures contract. After being buried on the depth chart in training camp last season, the South Carolina State graduate only saw playing time in the preseason late in games. Played both Buck and Mack positions and also played on special teams and led the Steelers in preseason tackles with 15 total. He didn't make last season's final roster, but he was signed to practice squad. All of that should give him a solid shot at making the Steelers 53 man roster in 2013.

Wilson went undrafted out of South Florida in the 2010 NFL Draft, and was a part of the San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers practice squads before signing a Reserves/Futures contract with the Steelers.

Rolle spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles and, according to rotoworld.com, "failed miserably when asked to serve as a starting weak-side linebacker. He does have some range as a nickel 'backer and is a special teams candidate." In the limited action he had in 2011 he had 40 tackles, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and recovery and one touchdown. He could seen as a backup to Timmons.

If in fact the Steelers do look to free agency and sign a veteran inside linebacker, they won't have great need for a high draft pick at the position. If not, there are a few choices in the middle and lower rounds where good players can still be found.

Jonathan Bostic - ILB, Florida, 6'1" 245 lbs., 4.61/40
Projected Round: 4th
Bostic had 68 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble in 2012. He was a core player in the Gators' tough defense, though he might need to be covered up in the 3-4 scheme and would be relegated to the Mack 'backer position.


Nico Johnson - ILB, Alabama, 6'2", 248 lbs., 4.86/40
Projected Round (2013): 4-5.
Johnson had 55 tackles and two forced fumbles, but had no sacks or interceptions. He is a good run-stuffing, but struggles in pass defense as his speed isn't stellar. However, that's also partly because of all of the talent surrounding him, causing him to have to do less. Has talent that can be coached up.

Michael Mauti - ILB, Penn State, 6'2", 243 lbs., 4.79/40
Projected Round: 5-6
Mauti suffered a knee injury late in the year. Natural leader, wrote a letter to every NFL GM about his love for the game, and would be a steal if found still around in the sixth round...if rather extensive medical information on his knee can be attained. Mauti finished 2012 with 97 tackles, four tackles for a loss, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks.
- http://tinyurl.com/cmdyl5t

UPDATE: And just like that, Dumervil is off the table as he has signed with the Baltimore Ravens.