Steelers Could Be Winners No Matter What In The Mike Tolbert Chase

By Cian Fahey

This time of year is generally pretty quiet in Pittsburgh for football fans, as the Pittsburgh Steelers generally don\’t make too many waves in free agency.¬†They do make waves however, it\’s just, they tend to be tiny ripples opposed to major tsunamis.

While the team is adverse to signing big name free agents, or even averagely sized name free agents, they do have a tendency to fill out their roster with role players and have never been too adverse to a trade or two.

In recent years, the Steelers\’ biggest move in free agency was arguably the signing of Ryan Clark, which wasn\’t a signing at all but a re-signing. Outside of that, the biggest name signed in free agency has been Flozell Adams, who at the time was signed late in the off-season as a replacement for the injured Willie Colon, but even he was an aged veteran well past his prime at the time.

Outside of free agent additions, the Steelers have worked some important trades since Mike Tomlin took over. Most notably, the Steelers traded away Santonio Holmes, but they also acquired Byron Leftwich for a seventh round pick and added Bryant McFadden for a fifth, which came with a sixth round selection two years ago.

This year, another trade for a role player could be on the cards.

The Steelers are in need of a new, proven, running back. Their current running back situation is too insecure and unproven without Rashard Mendenhall. The outlook at the position entering this league year is too vague for a team looking to compete for a Super Bowl again this year.

As was previously reported, the Steelers were supposedly part of a two horse race trying to sign for former San Diego Chargers running/full-back Mike Tolbert, but a visit is not currently scheduled despite those reports.

If the Steelers were to somehow end up signing Tolbert later on in free agency, their running back problems will be solved, if he doesn\’t, then they can directly replace him from a resultant move the Panthers will have to make.

Because of Cam Newton\’s running prowess, Newton ran only 16 times less than Jonathan Stewart last year for third on the rushing stat sheet in Carolina, the Panthers have a need for only two running backs in Carolina. Ron Rivera proved that last year when Mike Goodson didn\’t receive a carry all season long despite a productive 2010 campaign under the previous regime.

As such, if Tolbert chooses the Panthers, then one of the running backs in Carolina will come free. That running back is expected to be Stewart.

Stewart, because he had less carries last season and only has one year left on his rookie contract, is currently filling the role that Tolbert would play in Carolina. Tolbert had 54 receptions in San Diego last year with the Chargers, while Stewart had 47 with the Panthers. Both Stewart and Tolbert essentially played as extended third down backs in pass heavy offenses.

An extended third down back in a pass heavy offense is exactly what the Steelers need. An extended third down back is essentially a third down back who sees more time on the field than is typical for a third down back, ie: doesn\’t just play on third down and is a more than capable runner with the ball.

While it may seem astonishing, Stewart is only 24 years of age despite playing four seasons in the NFL.¬†Stewart\’s one year left in Carolina is actually the final year of his rookie deal.

With that in mind, the cap hit for Stewart cannot be very high. Rotoworld has him at $1.3 million for the year, as does sportrac, even if those aren\’t the most reliable numbers.

Stewart is one of the most talented running backs in the NFL, in the past he has had his injury issues but that is likely a result of entering the league at such a young age. Considering that he is not going to cost the team too much against the cap, or as far as trading for him goes as the running-back market is sure to be considerably weaker than any other position, it is not foolish to think that the Steelers may be a candidate for his signature if Tolbert signs with his old coaches in Carolina.

The question begs, if Stewart is so good then why is the team signing Tolbert?

NFL coaches generally prefer the sure thing over any sort of chance. With Tolbert, they are getting a player who the head coach has worked with for years previously who also has no record of injury issues. Tolbert also could be signed to a long-term deal opposed to Stewart who could walk away in free agency next year.

If any fans should understand the Panthers\’ logic it is Steelers fans as they went through the same situation with Leftwich a few years back. Leftwich left the team for the opportunity to start with Tampa Bay but the Steelers traded for him back once he lost the job because of the familiarity they had with him opposed to signing a different backup quarterback.

With Mendenhall sidelined, there is no doubt that Stewart would be the most talented back on the Steelers roster if the team traded for him. The only question is what represents value in a trade?

In my opinion, considering Brandon Marshall went for two third round picks recently and Holmes went for a fifth rounder when he only had a year left on his deal. Stewart could be had for anything from a fourth round pick to a seventh round selection because he is only a year away from free agency at the running back position.

Would Stewart be worth that? I think so.

You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf

  • SteelersDepot

    Cian I am guessing that you are not very high on Redman? lol

  • SteelersDepot

    This should create some discussion for sure, but at this point I really do not see them adding another back unless one is drafted late in April. This is the first i have heard the name Stewart brought up in Steeler discussion, but I really think that the report that Tolbert would land in Pittsburgh or Carolina was highly speculative by Kevin Acee. Time as they say will tell though.

  • Eric87

    I bet the Panthers would be asking a bit more for a talented rb, though his numbers were down

  • AC_LJ

    The writers here working with Dave are so circumspect, I wonder if they’re CSI agents in real life. I’m impressed with all the tough angles these writers dig through to inform us Steeler fans keep us to date. Kudos, well written and well thought out. Thanks.

  • SteelersDepot

    I was circumspected at birth.

  • Do the Steelers have extra picks in the 5th round? Interesting stuff

  • I love Redman, but no one is sure if he can handle that kind of work for an entire season.

  • Steve Moye

    Running backs are analogous to personal footwear. If you rely on one pair of shoes, they’ll be rundown when you really need them to be at their best. If our team relies on any single running back, they’re asking for trouble. That being said, acquiring Jonathan Stewart would be a good short-term option, along with drafting another with an early-round choice.

  • greeny

    Very nice 007

  • carp24000

    Carolina would never trade stew to Pitt….unless they get Wallace….

  • LouPGH

    I’m high on Redman, and I think at least two of the other young guys can step up to the challenge next season. (My guess on the number of touches would be: Redman, Dwyer, Batch or Clay, and then Spahn, assuming no one is injured. Admittedly, that is a big “if.”)

    That said, Stewart would be a steal at that price. Giving up a late round pick is hard when we have so many needs, but given the uncertainty that comes with developmental players, it’s hard not to like the chance to get a bona fide starter on the cheap even when the stable is approaching capacity. Another team will probably be willing to give up more though.

  • No, they don’t.

  • Daveb1952


  • Maverickchef311

    Did Stewart get injured in college also?

  • Toronto Mike

    Interesting connection here as well. Stewart was often linked to the Steelers pre-draft in 2008 with Mendenhall expected to be picked earlier – often by Carolina. The Panthers decided on Stewart and the Steelers were thrilled to get the higher rated back.

    Sadly, the three RBs chosen after Mendenhall were CJ2K, Forte, Rice…..ah, what could have been.

  • hmmm