Monday, April 15, 2013

With Sanders In Place, There Are 7 Musts For Steelers In 2013

The Pittsburgh Steelers have retained the services of Emmanuel Sanders for at least one more season after matching the offer sheet he signed with the New England Patriots less than a week ago. The team will now have to make a move of some sort, a restructure or a release/re-sign as they are at approximately $740,000 under the Salary Cap now with Rule of 51 compliance.

As Manny said in the above tweet, that's the business side of it. Not all of it, though. As Sports Illustrated's Peter King said, "Steelers tried to steal him at low tender. When it failed, they still got a bargain--a starting deep threat for one year for 2.5m."

Really? The Steelers may have gotten "a bargain" to spend needed Salary Cap money to keep Manny, but a second-round tender would've paid him $2.02 million. So, it ends up costing a little less than a half-million more to secure their investment. Plus, while matching the tender does buy them some time, Manny could still leave after this season.

Manny's agent, Jordan Woy, told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Steelers are going to have to make Sanders a very lucrative offer if they’re going to lock him up for the long term before the start of the 2013 season.

“We are also open to him playing the year out. It would have to be a very good deal for us to sign a multi-year agreement,” Woy said. -

So, there are pros and cons to this: Manny has good upside, he's a very good route runner and blocker (this blog has referred to him in the past as "the future Hines Ward") and does have 4.4/40 (4.41 to be exact) speed. But if he leaves next offseason as an unrestricted free agent, the Steelers will have been left no compensation, and they could put the extra draft pick and Cap money to good use. So, to quote Glengarry Glen Ross, getting him to "sign on the line that is dotted" is paramount.

Now it's back to the gridiron itself and what the team must do to have some modicum of success in 2013. And while the latest version of the NFL Draft fast approaches, there are players already in place on the team that must take the next step forward in their maturation processes to help the Steelers return to respectability.

With wide receiver Antonio Brown and Sanders in place, they are both directly under the spotlight and the microscope. The remnants of Young Money is considered spare change by a few too many in Steeler Nation. The belief is that erstwhile Steelers wideout Mike Wallace was Daddy Warbucks and the other two are just Annie and Sandy.

Well, AB has been very vocal this offseason, speaking on how he wants to be a Steeler for life and that he feels he needs to step up and be a leader. Not all of what he's said has been well received, but all of it points to his meaning what he says. That being the case, it's time for him to put his money where his mouth is.

If It Ain't Steel is on record as saying that we believe the greater overall upside belongs to Brown, and that he has the better hands and is the better route runner. People like to point to Wallace's touchdowns as a reason for him being better. However, that is somewhat of an erroneous argument considering that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger often chose Wallace over AB despite him being open.

Columnist and Pro Football Focus contributor Andrea Hangst brilliantly made this clear in an article she wrote not long ago. In it she makes many of the same points that we did, but also provides examples along with photographic evidence. -

While both AB and Manny will have to step up, AB has been the vocal leader and must become the vocational leader also. In other words, time to talk and walk. As for Manny, and if he stays, he mainly just needs to live up to his jersey number.

Though we thought it was a mistake not offering cornerback Keenan Lewis a contract, the Steelers brass obviously liked enough if what they saw in third-year man out of The Citadel, Cortez Allen.

What did they see? As a rookie, on October 30, 2011, he was responsible for shadowing New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. In doing so he limited Gronk to just seven ineffective receptions and no touchdowns in the Steelers 25-17 victory. In 15 games of an expanded role in 2012, Tez had 55 tackles, 10 passes defended and six forced turnovers.

But it was his three starts at the end of the season that raised the most eyebrows when all of those six forced turnover occurred. He himself had two interceptions and three forced fumbles, but he also tipped another pass that allowed fellow cornerback Josh Victorian to pick it off. For a team thirsting for turnovers, Tez was like a tall glass of sweet tea on a sweltering Mississippi summer day. Now the question is, can he do it for an entire season?

Fullback Will Johnson proved he could be a good pass receiver with the physicality to bull over would-be tacklers and the toughness to bully opposing defenders and rushers as a blocker. Baron Batch has untapped talent that manifests itself especially when catching passes out of the backfield.

Honestly, though, it comes down to who wants to step up and be the man and tote the rock 320 times a year. Roethlisberger is 40-12 when the Steelers rush for 4.5 or more yards per rush in a game. So the return to a healthy running game is importunate.

Dwyer has shown pop, power, ability and promise, but he also has been oft injured.

Redman has been "Redzone" and his power is unmistakeable (just ask the New York Giants), but he has also fumbled seven times in his last three seasons (three times against the Cleveland Browns).

Bradshaw, if that ends up being an option, has a laudable career 4.6 yard per carry average, but he also had multiple foot/ankle problems and is still healing from his most recent surgery.

And then there is that ultimate crowd favorite, Draft Pick, who could be college football's version of Rashaan Salaam or the NFL's version of Rashaan Salaam.

A three-headed monster can work, just ask the Giants and the Carolina Panthers, but not the way the Steelers did it last season and not without one head taking the lead.

We thought of saying LaMarr Woodley here, but being a has-been is better than a never-was. Worilds had 27 tackles and five sacks despite starting just three times. Yes, he saw action all season, but his snaps were still fewer than Woodley's...he just did more with them. The questions, though, are can he do it over 16 games and can he do it on the right side? Early outside linebacker draft pick or not, it starts with Worilds.

With Heath Miller to be PUP listed while he recovers from his knee injury, the Steelers will need to replace his production.

Paulson is the best candidate to win that job. Matt Spaeth is a very good blocker and is good in the red zone, and David Johnson plays the hybrid H-Back role, but Paulson is the one who is more of a Heath clone and can make a real difference.

I don't care if you hold, trip, fishhook, bite, whatever...just keep my quarterback upright! ... I'm sorry, I had a flashback to actually watching a game.

Truth be told, the interior of the offensive line is set and is strong, it's the edge that is in a bit of flux and unproven. I'm of the mind that Adams should be on the left because he's played there for so long already - it's more natural for him.

Gilbert, though, has been lobbying for the blindside position. He has less experience at the position, but more experience in the league. However, both will be new to the zone-blocking system Jack Bicknell, jr. will be instituting, though the system isn't completely new to the Steelers on the whole.

Which will be better at the right or left? Nice Pick, Cowher does a surprisingly good job of breaking down the subject. -

Lastly, the 2011 first-round draft pick will see a lot more playing time in 2013 and could overtake Brett Keisel as the starter by as early as training camp or at least by some point during the season. Considering the Steelers Cap issues, a release and resign of Keisel, owed $2,825,000 while carrying a $4,500,000 Cap hit, to a veteran minimum so as to facilitate and promote the Heyward move may not be out of the question.

If those seven things come to fruition, the Steelers actually have a chance to land on their feet in 2013.