By Cian Fahey
The Pittsburgh Steelers biggest off-season priority may be the upcoming NFL draft, while their levels of activity in free agency this year have remained consistently non-existent until very recently, however the Steelers have never been adverse to making a trade or two during the Mike Tomlin era around this time.
Since Tomlin\’s first draft in 2007, the Steelers have traded draft picks in four of the team\’s five drafts so far.
During Tomlin\’s first year, the Steelers traded up in the fourth round with the Green Bay Packers to bring in punter Daniel Sepulveda. Sepulveda was a quality player for the Steelers who was not brought back this off-season because of recurring injury issues. If he had been able to stay healthy, this would have been an excellent trade for the Steelers.
In the trade, the Steelers gave up two picks which turned into offensive tackle Allen Barbe and linebacker Korey Hall.
Barbe started seven games in three seasons for the Packers before being let go to join the Seattle Seahawks. He was cut by the Seahawks in 2010, landing with the Miami Dolphins, before returning to Seattle last year. He is yet to start a game since playing in Green Bay. In fact, he has only been active seven times since the 2009 season.
Hall came out of school as a linebacker but played fullback in the NFL. In four seasons he never carried the ball for the Packers but had 21 receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown spread out over each year. Last year, he spent his time with the New Orleans Saints without registering a reception or carry.
In comparison to Sepulveda, those stats are hardly overwhelming even considering his lack of durability. Sepulveda was clearly more talented than either of those players and showed it during his first two active seasons. In his first two seasons he had 57 punts which landed inside the 20 with over 5,000 yards total.
In 2007, the Steelers were in need of a kick returner who could add an extra spark to their offense through special teams. By trading for Allen Rossum with their seventh round pick in 2008, the Steelers removed the cumbersome Najeh Davenport from that role and brought in a specialist.
Rossum wasn\’t a star but he did improve the area that year with a 23 yard average, two yards greater than Davenport\’s, for the season as well as a 98 yard touchdown return against the San Francisco 49ers. The Steelers didn\’t have a touchdown return at all, as far as kickoffs go, the previous year. Rossum\’s presence also allowed Santonio Holmes to pick and choose when he returned punts.
The 2009 draft may feature what is the most important trade of the Tomlin-era to this point.
Three years ago, the Steelers traded out of the second round, along with a fourth, for two extra third round selections with the Denver Broncos. Those extra picks turned into guard Kraig Urbik and, more importantly, wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Urbik was let go pretty quickly by the team and eventually became a more than respectable starter for the Buffalo Bills. Wallace on the other hand has become one of the most feared receivers in the NFL and a vital cog of the team\’s current offense.
Wallace is clearly the team\’s leading receiver right now and it is, quite literally, impossible to replace his speed. At 25 years of age he is also still developing with the potential to blossom into an even better player with further coaching.
The Steelers added two quality players while Denver brought in Richard Quinn and Seth Olsen in their places.
Quinn, like Urbik, is no longer with his original team but he has had nothing near the success of the guard. He may be a blocking tight end, but one reception in three seasons is nowhere near enough production for a second round pick.
Olsen is a guard who lasted one season in Denver before spending 2010 on the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. He never made it in Minnesota and started one game for the Indianapolis Colts last year. The Colts\’ offensive line struggled last year, that says a lot about Olsen\’s ability to play at the professional level.
When Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season, the Steelers gave up a seventh round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a proven backup and former starter who was comfortable in their system.
Byron Leftwich may have been injured prior to actually starting in Roethlisberger\’s place but it made perfect sense for the Steelers to bring back their former player. Having he, Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon gave the team outstanding depth which turned out to be vital during the team\’s run to the Super Bowl that year.
The last of the team\’s trades during Tomlin\’s tenure came two years ago with the Arizona Cardinals.
While Bryant McFadden was the main piece of the trade, it was Antonio Brown who made this trade a massive victory for the Steelers. The Cardinals traded up to add quarterback John Skelton, who has been an impressive late round pick, giving up a sixth round pick and McFadden for the Steelers\’ fifth round choice.
McFadden was a fine cornerback for the Steelers during both his tenures with the team when he was fully healthy. However, he was rarely fully healthy. McFadden started out well during the first four games of the season, but he quickly broke down and barely featured at all this most recent season.
He was released this off-season.
Brown alone however turned into a pro bowl wide receiver and kick returner who emerged as a star last year. This trade was a win for both sides despite McFadden\’s struggles.
With the NFL draft only a few weeks away, the Steelers may look to return to trading in the draft after playing straight up last year. The team\’s roster is relatively deep so it could be tempting for them to attain higher quality picks opposed to more opportunities to find diamonds in the rough.
You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf