By Christina Rivers
While 31 teams in the NFL turn free agency into haberdashery, selling and buying up players like they\’re playing the stock market, the Pittsburgh Steelers use March to reflect, inspect and quietly make their moves. The Steelers organization has always appeared to play chess during the period instead of following the \’trend\’. The don\’t get caught in the scrum, and they usually walk away with hardly a scratch and a nice payoff. It reminds me of the movie Braveheart; young William Wallace being told that before he learns how to use his sword, he must use his head. The Steelers have the weapons to make an impact during the free agency period, but traditionally they use their heads.
In cities across the country, multi-million dollar signings are happening, and the news of those deals seems to permeate sports news sites, newspapers, blogs and radio spots like a herald of trumpets. Everyone seems skull-locked on who Peyton Manning is going to sit down with over a steak, whether the Detroit Lions are going to extend a down-field receiver, and whether former coaches now on a team, like the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, are going to try to snatch players on the Steelers free agent list to mold themselves into a championship team. The moves get fans worked into a lathered frenzy, but in Pittsburgh, the fans know that the peace and quiet isn\’t a sign of laziness or lack of interest. Headlines are for football novices, and Steelers fans have seen over and over again how their favorite organization makes expert decisions; calculated ones.
With arguably the best fan base in the NFL, Steelers faithful don\’t expect their team to do cannon-balls to test the waters. Being fed a steady diet of playoff games, championships, Pro Bowl players, talent and an opportunity to see another Lombardi Trophy at Heinz Field keeps even the most rabid fan sedate. It\’s an elixir of trust. No one is sitting in front of their computer planning on which jersey they need to get for this year\’s season because they absolutely have to have the number that gets placed on the next big-name player for the team. They wear their favorite jersey because they love the player that wore it, regardless of whether they\’re in free-agency or not. I wouldn\’t think of dumping my Hines Ward jersey even if he signed with another team, and a lot of fans will cherish their Aaron Smith ones just as much. Steelers fans were excited about the 2012 season before the 2011 season even finished. They are prepared for success.
It isn\’t a secret that the Steelers have been able to walk into the NFL Draft and find the players they need and disregard most of the free-agent frenzy. It also isn\’t a surprise that the Steelers have some holes that need to be filled in their roster. This is the same boat every NFL team is in, especially when dollars and cents are highly cherished under a salary cap. Unlike other teams (I don\’t need to mention them), the Steelers have never built their team around one player. Their needs this season can easily be addressed by finding valuable draft choices that can be developed and groomed by players already in uniform.
You can reference Steelers Depot for nearly every possible angle and historical move on free agents, possible draft signings and who the Steelers are looking at on Pro Days to see that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are working to find just the right match to stand behind a veteran player and learn the system. It\’s just as likely that the Steelers will challenge younger players to step up into leadership roles now that some of their former mentors won\’t be at training camp.
Stay cool Steelers fans. Enjoy March Madness or attend a parade or picnic. The team is in great hands. While the Steelers work their magic, we can laugh when we hear that the Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins or even the Tennessee Titans are willing to burn through cash only to find out they\’ve broken the bank. We can sit back with a fishing pole and reminisce on how Troy Polamalu was picked in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft, or how big of a steal Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Maurkice Pouncey (2010) were. Frankly, I am thrilled the Steelers found Heath Miller in the first round in 2005. That\’s something I can raise a cold drink to. The last decade has been so successful when it comes to picking up players that have helped define the organization, I can even take a nap in the afternoon if I want to. So, here\’s to the fans and a bit of March happiness. I can\’t wait to see how impressed I\’ll be with the team in June.