By Matthew Marczi
There has been some speculation around the football world, and more particularly within the Pittsburgh Steelers fanbase, that there will only be room for one main backup at running back. This has been suggested for a multitude of reasons, though the main reason is related to salary.
Because both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman were retained under one year restricted free agent tenders by the team, worth $1.323 million apiece, the reasoning was that it would be senseless to pay both of them nearly $1.5 million to play 10 snaps a game, if that.
In addition, there were some reports following the selection of Le’Veon Bell in the second round back in April that the Steelers were putting Dwyer on the trading block. Of course, nothing ever came of this, and in fact the reports were never satisfactorily verified, but they helped to create the narrative that one of either Dwyer or Redman would be shown the door.
As we approach the start of training camp, however, it does not appear to be all that likely that an either or scenario is necessary. To be fair, much of this speculation came early on in the offseason, when the salary cap was a greater concern.
On the contrary, however, the Steelers now find themselves in fine shape with respect to their available salary cap. According to the latest reports, the NFLPA has the Steelers’ Rule of 51 number at $4.4 million under the cap, with all draft picks signed.
Of course, that figure does not include the last two roster spots and the practice squad; however, veterans not likely to make the final roster, such as John Parker Wilson and Brian Rolle, will help minimize its impact on the salary cap.
Given that the Steelers like to carry a couple million into the season, it stands to reason that the team actually has a couple million to play around with, should they want or need to That potentially could include an extension or two for players such as Emmanuel Sanders, Maurkice Pouncey, Ziggy Hood, Jason Worilds, or even Ryan Clark and Brett Keisel.
Barring the unlikely scenario that the Steelers want to do so many extensions that they feel that they need the extra $800,000 or so that they could get from cutting one of their running backs, it doesn’t seem that financial issues would play much of a role in shaping the team’s running back room this season.
What could be a factor, however, is motivation. There have been reports that Dwyer, for instance, had shown up once again out of shape to OTAs, so he will need to turn it around in training camp. While he may not be cut for his $1.323 million salary, he could still very well eat his way off the team. Or, he could come in motivated and be the starter the first week of the season.
There have also been suggestions that undrafted free agent rookie Curtis McNeal could have a shot to make the team, which could influence whether or not the Steelers would want to keep both Dwyer and Redman. In fact, it would be almost a certainty that one would be released in the event that McNeal made the final roster.
However, considering the coaches’ statements that even Bell would not start unless he can show adequacy in pass protection, it does not seem all that plausible that McNeal could make the team in front of Dwyer, Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and Baron Batch. He looks much more like a practice squad candidate at his point. If there is a roster battle amongst the backs, it is between Stephens-Howling and Batch.
Despite some of the harsh comments pertaining to the talent in the running back room made by the team’s leadership this offseason, I believe that they do understand the value that both Redman and Dwyer possess, and given that finances are not an immediate concern—and the fact that one of the two may very well be the starter week one—I see the team being able to find room for both in 2013. Expect one of the two, however, to be gone for 2014.