Ed Bouchette On the Steelers: The Steelers' Way



Two high-profile wide receivers switched teams in free agency last week. The Washington Redskins signed DeSean Jackson. The Steelers signed Darrius Heyward-Bey.

The Redskins had room under their salary cap to sign Jackson for three years at $24 million. The Steelers had enough room to sign Darrius Heyward-Bey to what looks like a one-year minimum.

What if the situations were reversed, and the Steelers had the room? Should they have tried to sign Jackson?

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It's likely Steelers management would have squelched the idea. There is a reason the Steelers have won two Super Bowls and been to three over the past nine seasons and the Redskins have won two playoff games in the past 15 seasons.

The Redskins for a long time now (since Daniel Snyder became their owner in 1999) have not shown an ability to build a winner. Snyder means well, wants to win, but merely throwing money at his team will not turn it into a champion. He also seems very impatient with the process. That's not how it's done in the NFL, not solely. It can work in baseball, not necessarily football.

Spending money on your team is not bad in itself, but in the NFL there is a salary cap, and there is only so much one team can spend on its players (for coaches and executives, there is no limit). How to divvy that money among your players is more important than the amount of signing bonuses and guaranteed money that is thrown at big names.

Snyder's Redskins have been among the big spenders. Yet his team made the playoffs in 2012 (10-6) for only the fourth time since he became owner. They followed that 2012 success with a 3-13 record last season. More than merely throwing money at players went into that, but Snyder could learn a big lesson from how the Steelers operate -- spend wisely, stay the course, don't let fans influence anything and be patient with your plan and with those who work for you.

That would mainly involve the coach and the general manager, but there have been scouts who have worked for years for the Steelers. Since 1999, the Redskins have had eight head coaches, including one interim coach, Terry Robiskie. Jay Gruden is the new Washington coach for 2014. If Gruden lasts more than one season, it will be longer than Marty Schottenheimer's tenure. If he goes more than two years, he will have surpassed the service time of both Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn as Washington coaches under Snyder. The Redskins have had five different general managers/bosses/GM-head coaches since 1999.

There's just no continuity there. The Steelers, as well as others such as the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, have shown that continuity is an important ingredient to success in the NFL.

Back to the two wide receivers.

There's a reason the Philadelphia Eagles cut DeSean Jackson, and a reason none of their players criticized the move. He reportedly was not a good teammate and selfish. He has denied reports that he has ties to gangs.

You want that on your team? Some might say yes as long as he produces, most of those probably are involved heavily in fantasy football play. But at what cost does that production come to the rest of the team?

Talking to the great Joe Greene about another matter the other night, he mentioned the success the Steelers franchise has had since they first cracked the playoff barrier in 1972. He noted they've had some down seasons, but those did not last long. He cited a philosophy in the organization of "treating players right," among other things. He mentioned Dan Rooney as the driving force for many years in keeping it that way.

"That's the Pittsburgh Steelers most every team in the NFL is trying to get, why the Pittsburgh Steelers are competitive year-in and year-out,'' Greene said.

The NFL is designed to even the playing field, to reduce the odds for successful teams and increase the chances for teams not so successful to become so. It makes it more difficult to stay near the top all of the time.

"That's the test for a quality organization, making the transition," Greene said. "It's never easy, never has been easy. Dan went through the transition in 2000 and they'll make it again, they'll make the right decisions about people, about players, and it's up to the coaches now to make the right decisions about the players.''

So the Washington Redskins added DeSean Jackson to their roster and the Steelers added Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both teams followed their long-held philosophies of how to pursue success in the NFL.

Status quo

So how have the Steelers done in free agency? They've signed seven from other teams but of those, only one or two should start for them in 2014, barring injuries.

Mike Mitchell, signed from the Carolina Panthers, will start at free safety to replace Ryan Clark. Lance Moore, signed after New Orleans cut him, could start at wide receiver, and defensive lineman Cam Thomas, signed from San Diego, could start.

The rest of their free agent signings were for depth and some might not even make the team, such as cornerback Brice McCain.

Their scorecard in free agency? They are better at halfback with the addition of LeGarrette Blount, and better at safety with Mitchell. They are worse at wide receiver because they did not make up for the losses of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. They are worse at linebacker because, despite LaMarr Woodley's performance, they have not replaced him, merely kept Jason Worilds. They are not as good in the defensive line because adding Cam Thomas is not better than having Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Al Woods.

However, with what salary cap room they had, how they created room and the creative use of that room (Mitchell, for example, counts just $2.2 million on their cap this year), they did as good a job as might be expected.

They also are not done. There is the draft, which could provide some immediate help at wide receiver, and possibly some signings after the draft (Brett Keisel, James Harrison?) to shore up some areas.

So far, the Steelers overall prospects for 2014 did not improve over 2013, nor did they get worse.


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