Steelers Were Prepared To Withstand Offseason Exodus

By Matthew Marczi

As is widely known, the Pittsburgh Steelers have faced some significant departures this past offseason through free agency and release. The Steelers are currently without seven players that would have been opening day starters last season if injuries were not a factor; perhaps eight, if you include punter Jeremy Kapinos.

Such an overhaul has not occurred since at least the 1990s. Not even in head coach Mike Tomlin’s first two years with the team in 2007 and 2008 was there was an overhaul in the starting lineup as there will be this year, and at that time they lost players such as Alan Faneca, Marvel Smith, Jeff Hartings, Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, and Kendall Simmons.

This season, the following players have either signed free agent contracts elsewhere, remain unsigned, or were released for salary cap purposes: James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Max Starks, Willie Colon, and Casey Hampton. All seven were certain to be opening day starters in 2012 barring injury. In fact, all but Mendenhall and Harrison started week one.

These players have accounted for a lot of snaps in 2012, as well as throughout their respective careers, particularly Hampton and Starks, and the snap count alone will not be simple to just replace. Harrison was for a while a perennial All-Pro caliber player, while Wallace and Hampton have merited Pro Bowl nominations.

It is primarily because of all of these departures—especially the high-dollar deals of Wallace and Lewis—that many experts of varying credibility question whether the Steelers can even muster an even record again in 2013, let alone reach the playoffs and make a dent in the postseason.

But change is not always a bad thing, especially when it is planned for, and one thing that the Steelers cannot be accused of for this wave of defections is being unprepared, as they so rarely are.

The Steelers underwent some pretty significant changes between the 2004 and 2005 seasons, especially if you compare the opening day starters, considering quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not intended to start in his rookie season, with injury necessitating him playing earlier than anticipated. The 2005 year, of course, ended in a Super Bowl victory.

Aside from Roethlisberger being the opening day starter in 2005, however, there was also a change at running back, switching from Jerome Bettis to Willie Parker as the starter. Starks also took over for Oliver Ross at right tackle, and Ike Taylor replaced Willie Williams at cornerback.

Additionally, Plaxico Burress left for the New York Giants, replaced by Antwaan Randle El, and then rookie tight end Heath Miller replaced Jerame Tuman, although Tuman remained a contributor, primarily as a blocker. Bettis, of course, was also a significant contributor, and Tommy Maddox started two games that season while Roethlisberger was injured.

Unlike in 2005, the new starters this season will come entirely at the expense of players no longer on the team, and not partially due to demotions, as in the cases of Roethlisberger, Miller, Taylor, and Parker.

But the Steelers have prepared for this scenario through both this and past drafts, as well as in free agency. The new starters are more or less already in place, and names like Mike Adams, Cortez Allen, Steve McLendon, and Jason Worilds should be playing major roles in the success or failure of the team in 2013.

While we currently sit waiting for training camp to begin in the heart of summer and for the news cycle to pick back up, I intend to utilize this time to take a closer look at each position in flux one by one and analyze how the changes will affect the team from a personnel perspective.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • 2443scott

    as far as mendenhall and wallace go they both didnt want to play there best just collect pay checks so i dont see them as a lost but more so as a god sent now maybe some one else step up who really likes football and likes playing for steelers ..colon was a good player but he was starting to get to many flags i think cause ben was his friend ownership left it slide some what and he just cost to much …max was a keeper but steelers just didnt have money for him …lewis just took to long to come around and by time he did steelers couldnt afford him either its another reason i complain about these guys waiting to show what they got till that last year contract when they could of been a starter sooner but rather they sit around collecting there pay then that last year they show what they can do to just get big pay day some where else i think this is a growning trend in nfl and is another reason to push these guys harder as they come in league to be ready to play by 2nd year and if they dont then time to move on with new players ..why teach them just so they can leave to go else where.

  • Alfredo Reveles

    We didn’t win the Super Bowl in Roethlisberger’s rookie season. We lost in the AFCCG to the low down, stinking, cheating Patriots.

  • charles

    The Steelers have made a make or break investment the last few years on the O and D lines starting with Ziggy. While many focus on Wallace and the guys who carry the ball, I think Colbert and Tomlin have gone in the only real direction that we can. This is what the Steeler’s tradition is. If this investment works, you will see the neomodern look of the traditional Steelers.
    I don’t know how to find the stats, but we should be the youngest team on both sides of the line of scrimmage. In the end, this will be Tomlin’s and Colbert’s legacy. I think they have not made the right decision, but they have gone the only way possible.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I was talking about 2005, his sophomore year.

  • Jazz

    Mike Wallace is over-rated; Rashard Mendenhall lost his way, was in the news too often off the field, less production on it; Keenan Lewis? Now I do believe the Steelers may have jumped the gun trusting in Cortez Allen to quickly, just as they jumped the gun with Antonio Brown. Willie Colon? IR the previous three seasons, it was time to say goodbye. The only two players I wish the Steelers would have kept are Max Starks and Keenan Lewis. Truth be told, I think they should have tendered a 2nd round pick to Emmanuel Sanders. I don’t have any confidence in Sanders ever being more than a slot receiver in the NFL. If his agent wants to seek a contract similar to what Mike Wallace got, See Ya! Better yet, I wouldn’t even give him a contract similar to what Antonio Brown got.

  • steves

    The Steelers have always brought player up through the draft and they like to resign players that work out and make contributions. Yes,, they bring in a few Free Agents that they sign a few players that were not drafted – That is the Steeler way. The Packers also use the same philosophy and both teams rely heavily on this way of building their team. If you look at teams who bring players up in their way of doing things Steelers and Packers run neck and neck through the years.

    Wallace, Mendenhall and Colon were NOT working out. Colon got hurt every year and made way too much money for being hurt. Wallace and Mendy had bad attitudes and that was making the Steelers look bad. Big Snack ate too much and was never in shape when camp came around. Starks was a good addition but was getting too old. We had a replacement better than Lewis in Allen, so his departure was no big loss.

  • steves

    Sanders will be a 1 year player. He dog’s it too often when the ball is not thrown in his direction. He is not an over the middle type of receiver who in my estimation is afraid to get hit and does not block the best. When he gets hit he has dropped the ball too often.

  • steves

    This will be the year to see if Ziggy or Hayward can make significant contributions to the “D” line. So far they have not been #1 draft pick players.

  • steves

    I always wonder if the Pat have not been cheating, would they have won??? Spygate was costly to their organization and they have not won a Super Bowl since.

  • PoKey21

    I think in the long run Keenan Lewis will be a bigger loss than Mike Wallace.Steelers have never invested heavily into the WR position. Defense on the other hand we have invested in. Lewis wanted to be back in his hometown, and thats understandable. I just think when both careers are finished the Steelers will be more upset having seen Lewis leave rather than Wallace.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    I think Sanders is one of the better blocking receivers we have, if not the best.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    I strongly disagree with you. I was never a fan of Lewis. I always thought he was too stiff in the hips, and that left him a step behind the receiver. Yes, he improved greatly last year, but maybe if he was a step quicker he’d have some int’s instead of all those passes defended. I would say the Steelers thought similar of him too, or else they probably would’ve at least made him an offer. But, they didn’t. Wallace was obviously way out of our price range, and his attitude no longer fit here, but he brought something to the table that only a few players in the NFL can boast. The guy was arguably the fastest player in the NFL. You don’t replace that no matter how poor his route running is.

  • steves

    The best blocker was Ward and none come close. Wallace was a Prima-Donna and dropped too many balls in his hands. He could run but he was not a clutch receiver and never will be.. He stirred up too much negativities and I am glad he is gone. King and Van Dyke of the Steelers are both faster then Wallace.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Yeah, the best blocker WAS Ward. We’re talking current Steeler players here. I doubt anyone will ever come close to Ward’s receiving/blocking combination, but Sanders plays his position, and runs are usually rolled to his side with Sanders as the lead blocker. So, not sure why you’re saying he does not block the best. That’s one of his best attributes.

    Just like when you’re talking about Ward’s receiving/blocking combination, you also have to discuss speed in the NFL with the same constrictions. Speed does no good in the game if you can’t play football. You always have to couple speed with production, and although Wallace had his negatives, such as route running, he was pretty damn productive. DVD and King have done absolutely nothing, so they can run as fast as they want and it don’t mean squat.

  • charles

    Remember it is LeBeau’s defense. The splashy Von Miller stats won’t be seen here.

  • charles


  • Christopher Wilkes


  • charles

    Dunn has been clocked at a faster 40 than Wallace Dope.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Read my post before spewing your drivel. I don’t give a crap about speed players that can’t play football. Dunn ONLY returns kickoffs. What the heck does that have to do with replacing Wallace’s deep speed at receiver?