Friday, February 14, 2014

The Seven Musts For The 2014 Steelers Offseason

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told a handful of local Pittsburgh writers on Wednesday that the team has work to do this offseason. It is work that will include “terminations, restructurings, and extensions.” -

As Colbert himself stated, a second straight 8-8 season is "disappointing," but it differs from that of "2012 because of {the} 6-2 finish.” Therefore, per Colbert, the Steelers are "never going to say, OK, we're not going to be a contender, let's gut this thing and start over.” 

So, then, If It Ain't Steel discusses that and the seven things the Steelers need to do this offseason to avoid 'gutting it' and to hit the ground running in 2014.

Despite missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Bill Cowher's 1999 and 2000 teams, the Steelers finished strongly. This was due mainly to their offense, an offense led by Ben Roethlisberger.

EXTENDING BIG BEN should be priority No. 1 this offseason. Even with his horrid start (he himself accounting for nine of the team's 20 turnovers before the bye), he still had one of his best seasons, setting team records for attempts and completions, and was largely responsible for the offense truly clicking as many knew it could.

It was an offense that averaged 28.2 points in the final nine games, led by Big Ben's nearly brilliant second half as well. Though he suffered nine interceptions in the first half of the season, Big Ben cleaned up his act and had only five the rest of the year. He also improved his overall QB Rating to 93.5 in the second half of the season to finish with a 92.0 rating overall. 

He finished the season as the 11th-rated QB in the league and 8th among all quarterbacks when under pressure according to Pro Football Focus - which might have been a higher ranking were it not for his ineffectiveness in the first part of the season, and despite suffering from an inordinate number of drops (36 - 6th highest) from his running backs, receivers and tight ends. 

The franchise quarterback turns 32-years old next month and has plenty of good play left in him. The Steelers, as we have written before, need to extend his contract now in order to ensure that finishing his career in Pittsburgh is a reality. Something with which many agree. -

With all of this being true, the next thing that must come to pass is that there need to be, regarding both players and coaches, FEW CHANGES ON OFFENSE.

“I like the way we finished and some of the things in terms of how we finished — the improvement of the offense,” team president Art Rooney II said. “Those, I think, are positive signs. In general, I think there's a lot of younger players we feel good about....I thought we were pretty effective on offense coming down the stretch."

That effective offense allowed just 11 sacks in the second half (and just seven in the last seven games), was 14 for 20 in the red zone in the final six games and ran for 99.3 yards per game in the final eight games, including 115.3 YPG over the final four, as opposed to the pedestrian 73.6 YPG in the first half of the year.

Also, the infusion of more of the no-huddle energized the offense, allowing the Steelers to finish the 2013 season with 20 or more points on offense in their last nine games. 

For all you revisionist history majors, the Steelers never did that once under Bruce Arians. Not once. 

The few changes that are to happen should mainly come from what has to be a CAN'T-MISS NFL DRAFT, which Colbert says is "as deep across the board" as any he's "seen in 30 years." 

In saying that, Colbert brought wonderful news to many, but also put a possible noose around his own neck if he doesn't produce because of it. -

Over the next two months, we'll chronicle the players who would fit the needs the Steelers have. One need which may be a present for Big Ben if beat writer Gerry Dulac was correct when he wrote, "Their intent is to take a tall receiver early -- they have already indicated that to Ben Roethlisberger." -

Those who follow the If It Ain't Steel Facebook page or my (Jason's) tweets on Twitter know I have finally been an advocate of a big receiver this offseason. If for no other reason except that there are a bevy of talented big receivers in this draft. So strike while the iron is hot. -

If, though, the rare combination of size and speed that is Kelvin Benjamin isn't in the cards, there are about five or six others we'll soon be highlighting as part of our offseason wish list. 

The other aspect of how the draft needs to be addressed is the approach, i.e. DRAFT HEAVY FOR DEFENSE.

That said, other possible first rounders are nose tackle Louis Nix III (especially if he can stay on field as sub package rush DL also), defensive tackles Aaron Donald or Timmy Jernigan (if the Steelers feel they already have their NT), cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard or Justin Gilbert, or even safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. 

Due to a trade of their 3rd rounder last year, the Steelers currently have six draft picks. They will likely end up with a total of nine (barring any action by the league) via the compensatory picks. So more defensive selections than offensive, especially in the higher picks, and more hits than misses are both paramount.

Even so, the draft may not be enough. The time may be to LOOK TO FREE AGENCY to fill in gaps and procure the players they need. 

That doesn't mean making a big splash the moment the FA period opens, but getting players who can contribute immediately. 

B.J. Raji, Brandon Spikes and Brent Grimes are names that come to mind. The reason being that the Steelers highly value a quality NT, Spikes knows how to win and the Miami Dolphins' secondary wasn't the same when Grimes wasn't in there. And while they themselves may not be the exact names desired, it is definitely those types of players they should covet as Kevin Greene, James Farrior and Ryan Clark once were. 

Speaking of free agents, the RE-SIGNING OF JERRICHO COTCHERY is imperative. They must find a way to keep a guy who was tied for 10th in the NFL with a career-high 10 touchdown passes, the most by any Steelers player since 2010. 

As I've always said about him, Cotchery is clutch ("Clutchery?") - all of those touchdowns came in the red zone. An approximate 2/3 of Clutchery's career touchdown receptions have come inside the 20-yard line as well.

Clutchery (ok, I'll stop) also caught 46 passes in 2013, the most since he's come to the Steelers. 

Colbert said that he would like to see certain players signed before the start of free agency and the new NFL year (March 11th). It's likely that Cotch was one whom he meant. 

Speaking of re-signings...

Colbert said that the team 'could keep both LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds.' He wouldn't estimate, though, the chances of RE-SIGNING JASON WORILDS.

Colbert said it's a "concern" when a player like LaMarr Woodley has "constant injury issues.” He wouldn't say, however, if Woodley's injury issues are enough to consider cutting him and eating $14 million in dead money this year (or taking lesser Cap hits over the next two years).

Regardless, Worilds is a priority. The 25-year old outside linebacker had a career-high eight sacks last season, seven of which came in his last eight games when the Steelers finally just put him on the left side and...well, left him there like we had been advocating for a year that they do. 

Worilds wants reassurances that he'll continue to be a starter before he'll sign. Rightly so. He is a more dangerous pass-rusher on the left, and Pro Football Focus ranked him the Steelers' second-best run defender behind nose tackle Steve McLendon.

Point blank: the Steelers need to re-sign him. Though it's a less likely scenario, they could place the franchise tag on him, as we've brought out in the past, which would cost between $10-11 million.

Colbert has said that it is unlikely they'll use the Transition or the Franchise tags, though it would be a wise investment. 

They say that a cynic is someone who knows the cost of everything yet the value of nothing. The value of Worilds far exceeds his cost, and he is a key component to truly, as Colbert alluded, building a team to compete for Super Bowl again.


TIDBITS: Ryan Clark turned last Thursday's episode of ESPN's First Take into "First Toke," when he said that some of his teammates smoke marijuana and that the NFL is "fighting a losing battle" in that regard. - 

Though Colbert said that RC25's comments were a 'player's thoughts and not the organization's, Marijuana use in the NFL is still a blazing topic lately, yes, and players - I would imagine an approximate 2/3 of them - turning to it to help with pain and stress is to be expected. So I don't now, nor did I ever, understand the uproar behind RC25's statements, for which he did later apologize saying, "To Steeler Nation I apologize that I didn't say 'I know people who smoke but not on my team.' Just didn't think that was believable.”

As I privately said at the time and as Scott Brown, AFC North writer for ESPN, has written since, it was much ado about nothing and the general public "misses the point." -

Per Mark Kaboly, "Steelers LB Sean Spence working out at renowned Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami."