By Jeremy Hritz
There is going to be much debate moving forward about which current Pittsburgh Steelers free agents will return to the for the 2012 season. The debate will be much less about which soon to be free agents on other NFL teams will join the black and gold next year. Historically, the Steelers are wary of signing coveted free agents, opting for mid-tier to somewhat above average guys such as Jerricho Cotchery this year, or a few years back, Cedrick Wilson. Some of these offseason free agents have worked out well for the Steelers in longtime captain James Farrior, who came from the New York Jets, and Ryan Clark, who left the Washington Redskins. It is probably safe to predict that the Steelers will not sign any superstar free agents this offseason, but what is a serious possibility (or what should be a serious possibility) is the signing of a quality free agent offensive lineman, guard or tackle. Set at center with Maurkice Pouncey and one of the tackle positions based on where Marcus Gilbert plays next year, the Steelers are in need of a guard and a tackle. The Steelers will more than likely draft an offensive lineman in the first two rounds this year, most likely the second round since the majority of the highest ranked offensive lineman (Matt Kalil – T, Riley Reiff – T, Jonathan Martin – T, David DeCastro – G) in this year’s draft are expected to come off the board before the Steelers make their pick at number 24. The ideal, though not likely, would be that the lineman that they would draft early would be able to step into the starting line-up like Pouncey and Gilbert have over the past two years. If they could land a solid lineman in free agency and line him up with Pouncey, Gilbert, a stud rookie, and either Ramon Foster or Doug Legursky, what the Steelers will have is an offensive line worthy of a franchise quarterback and one that Ben Roethlisberger has never had the luxury of playing behind, having been sacked nearly 40 times per season since he emerged in the league in 2004. Guard Carl Nicks from the New Orleans Saints and Chris Myers from the Houston Texans who can play either guard or center, are the best available lineman this year. Both would definitely command a solid offer to lure them away from their teams, but the Steelers need to make a commitment to protecting Big Ben who continues to take a pounding year after year. Though he has won behind less than stellar offensive lines, Roethlisberger has not enjoyed a solid one since his first two seasons. It would be intriguing to see an experienced, mature Ben behind a staunch line, and what his production would be, not to mention how it would benefit the running game. But most importantly, for a quarterback who has been battered and shattered, it would extend his career which, if the pounding continues, would end much too soon.
With games next year against the pass-rushing specialists in the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles, and two match-ups against the ever-hated Terrell Suggs and the Baltimore Ravens, it is more important than ever that the Steelers put the money up to take care of their quarterback. We have seen how an injury can impact his game, but what we have yet to see are the heights Big Ben and the Steelers could reach behind a powerful offensive line. For a quarterback who has brought home two Super Bowls with mediocre blockers, it’s about time that he gets some time, and maybe a season devoid of injury.
What the Numbers Say: Big Ben and Sacks
Average Times Sacked Per Season: 39.25