Steelers Re-Signing Jonathan Dwyer A Move Of Prudence, Not Penance

By Matthew Marczi

There remains a large portion of not just sports fans, but also sports writers, who questioned the decision of the Pittsburgh Steelers to release Jonathan Dwyer and his $1.323 million contract. Some of those individuals have taken the re-signing of Dwyer yesterday as a mea culpa, or an acknowledgement of guilt or wrongdoing. The reality is that that is far from the case.

The fact of the matter is that the conditions that existed that led to Dwyer’s departure were very much present when the team determined that his value to the team was diminished by his cost. The only thing that has changed is the circumstances in which the Steelers now find themselves after certain events earlier in the week.

Of course, the move to re-sign Dwyer was directly necessitated by the ACL injury suffered by running back LaRod Stephens-Howling. It is important to stress that had that injury not occurred, we would not be discussing this topic right now. LASH’s injury left the Steelers with just three running backs on the roster, all of whom presented the team with one extenuating circumstance or another.

Starting with Isaac Redman, who was given the start, his first showing of the year was undeniably a poor one. Whether or not that could be attributed in part to rust after missing the last three preseason games is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that with him in the game, the Steelers could only generate nine yards on the ground in eight carries.

What is more, he fumbled twice during the game, and head coach Mike Tomlin likes to send a message to his players when they make mistakes by benching them. This may have even contributed to LASH’s injury, as Tomlin asked him to take on greater responsibility than he was expected to as a result of Tomlin sitting Redman for a spell.

Le’Veon Bell, of course, is their rookie second-round draft pick that they ultimately envision to be their everything-back in time. But first, he must recover from a mid-foot sprain that looks to sideline him for at least another week or two. Tomlin also made it clear that he will need to go through a full week of practice before he can play, and even then, there is no guarantee that he will start immediately.

The third back, Felix Jones, was a recent acquisition, and it was clear that Todd Haley was not yet entirely comfortable with his grasp of the offense in the few weeks that he has been a part of the team. He was intended to be in on the play in which Redman and Ben Roethlisberger failed to make a clean exchange on a handoff, which resulted in a fumble that rolled into the end zone, recovered by the Tennessee Titans for a touchback.

After Redman’s second fumble, which he recovered, one would have expected the team to utilize Jones, but instead they turned to LASH until he was injured before finally giving Redman another chance.

Given the circumstances surrounding each player, it is impossible right now to say who will be the starting running back come Week Two between Redman, Jones, and Dwyer, who was the only suitable street candidate to be brought in at this point due to his knowledge of the offense.

Even if he starts and strings together multiple 100-yard games before Bell returns, however, that will not change the past, nor will it mean that the team’s decision to release Dwyer at the time was a mistake. Hindsight, in this respect, is irrelevant.

Dwyer still possesses his history as a yo-yo dieter that extended even into this offseason. It is one thing to ‘impress’ your teammates by dropping a lot of weight, but having an inconsistent professional attitude is part of why he was released.

Of course, his performance in the preseason was also a factor in being released. Beyond simply putting the ball on the ground twice when he knew he was essentially being asked to audition for either the starting running back spot or an exit from the team, he had his issues running the ball and looked lost as a receiver other than his touchdown reception on a broken play.

Whether it was a steep learning curve to adjust to the zone blocking scheme or not, time and again Dwyer looked hesitant and indecisive, doing a poor job of reading his blocks, which in turn led to negative yardage or short gains that should have gone for more yards if not for missing his reads. Even in pass protection, he struggled to live up to his performance in this area from a year ago. This is all on tape and easily reviewable for anybody with a Preseason Live subscription.

The Steelers were not going to release Isaac Redman. Redman has been the leader in the running back room for the past couple of years now, and his minimal preseason work was offset by his past performance history and his showings during practices that saw him promoted to co-starter with Bell. He is also the team’s best pass protector, has better vision as a runner, and has also flashed some pass-catching ability and surprising elusiveness for his size.

When you add all that up to the fact that the Steelers would save hundreds of thousands of dollars by opting to go with Jones, a former first round draft pick that is still relatively young and offers a skill set that is more differentiated from Redman and Bell than is Dwyer’s, it should be relatively easy to understand why the Steelers decided to release Dwyer at the time.

The present circumstances may have changed the game plan, but the sequence of events that led to his dismissal in the first place should not be forgotten, regardless of what takes place from here on out. And with the way the Steelers run blocked in the first game, it truly would not have made a difference who was carrying the ball.

About the Author

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

    Yep. Agreed and the Steelers office and coaching staff probably does too.

  • Bob Byrne

    Steelers Depot likes to assert that Dwyer should often get more yards than he does. But the guy led the team in rushing in 2012 (with a better ypc average than Benjarvus Green Ellis and Trent Richardson. And Redman). He was the best back in the preseason and he stayed healthy, which Redman, Stephens-Howling and Bell could not do. He was the best back on the roster last year and in preseason. He’s not a great back, but he outperformed the the other options. Why the constant “He should do better” comments? He’s still outperforming the other backs, even with these supposed shortcomings. Go with the guy that is delivering something and staying healthy.

  • Steeler Goetz

    I was one of the people who thought ill of the decision to cut Dwyer over Redman. Thankfully, Dwyer has another opportunity to prove he belongs on this team. I’d have felt better about the decision if Redman had a game this pre-season like the one Dwyer had against the Redskins, but he was injured. Redman has only had 1 good game as a Steeler and that was last year against the Giants, and even that came on the heels of Dwyer’s back-to-back 100+ yard games against Washington and Cincinnati. I didn’t get then why Dwyer got the hook and I didn’t understand it this year. Does Redman have pictures of Tomlin or something?

  • JPDQ

    Yes, yes, and yes. But don’t try to point out facts with this writer. He’ll just dismiss them with unquantifiable points about Dwyer’s vision or his conditioning. Forget that the stat sheet PROVES he was the better back in 2012 and remained the only healthy back this preseason. Or that Red and Dwyer had the same number of fumbles last year, except Dwyer carried the ball like 45+ more times. Doesn’t matter at Steelers Depot.

    The agenda behind this post to somehow validate the writer’s opinion on cutting Dwyer is as transparent as the Saran-Wrap our offense was wrapped in on Sunday.

  • Weiss Chad

    Who is listed to start Monday?Im guessing redman but I don’t like it…

  • Christopher Wilkes

    lol, if Dwyer puts together multiple 100 yard games you damn well better believe his release will be seen as a mistake. Redman’s performance was a joke, and his past performance wasn’t anything to justify him being anointed the starter. Dwyer has his faults, and you spend a lot of time pointing them out, but Redman has not outperformed Dwyer to the point where he deserves to be placed on a pedestal high above Dwyer. I don’t care what anyone says. I can see with my own two eyes. Maybe Dwyer is not the professional or locker room presence that Redman is, but he’s the better RB, blocking aside. You can go on and on about the O-line not being able to support any RB on that day, but the fact remains that the diminutive Hyphen was able to get 3x as many yards per rush as Redman did. This team took a nose dive after his first fumble, and although you can’t asses the entire blame on him, he did have that ball placed on his numbers, wether it was high or not. THAT was the turning point of the game.

    The Steelers handling of this situation is a joke too, and even more laughable when you consider they dressed Felix Jones against Tennessee, who was considered to be the player that pushed Dwyer out the door, but didn’t use him in the game when Redman was sucking it up with his East to West double spin moves and fumbles. Hopefully, Bell comes back soon, plays lights out football, and we can all forget about this, but as it stands right now the Steelers running game looks ridiculous, and so does their offseason decisions behind this unit.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I agree that Dwyer has shown an unprofessionalism but like others have said whether he has short coming or not he does somehow produce. I hope it lights a fire under his behind and the light bulb turns on on how he needs to be and maybe he sticks. I do disagree that if he goes for 2 100 yard plus games that he will be discarded like yesterdays newspaper. Bell is the heir apparent but it is always hard to tell a hot hand to sit the bench. Ask Trent Green!

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I agree that bringing him back was a prudent move, but if he starts for this team ahead of Redman and Jones, than the team made a mistake by cutting him….period. The FO has been provided an opportunity to correct this if in fact it was a mistake. now let’s see what they do with some game tape.

  • treeher

    I have been critical of the coaching in other posts, and this article reminds me of still another criticism … that is the misuse of LASH as an inside runner. Somehow he survived for 4 years in the league as a scatback, but he comes to the Steelers and coaches misuse him, resulting in severe injury.

  • JPDQ

    Yup. Here’s the thing. It’s obvious they wanted to upgrade the RB position (as they should) by drafting Bell. I’ve no problem with that. But it seems like they just put all their eggs in that basket, and when he got hurt, they had no Plan B. The way they handled the situation with Redman, Dwyer and Jones just doesn’t make sense.

    They acted like Redman was the only conceivable starter (even though he was hurt and not playing) and it was a foregone conclusion that everybody else should be playing behind him. Then they essentially said, “Well, Redman could’ve played the last two preseason games, but we wanted to see what we had in Dwyer and Jones.” So then Redman goes out there and looks exactly like a guy who had two carries in the previous month, fumbles twice, gains no yards, and the coaching staff ends up looking like complete buffoons. And not playing Jones on top of it was just the icing on the cake.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    I’m still undecided about which of the two is worse, but Redman did go for 121 vs. Denver in the playoffs and has a career ypc of 7.1 in playoff games.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    You guys are arguing with the writer about which back sucks more. Neither is a complete back, both have had a few good moments in the NFL, both put the ball on the carpet twice recently, neither is worth a damn on ST, both are unrestricted free agents next year, both will be out of football next season.

  • Douglas Andrews

    I always felt like Dwyer was the more suitable back for the new running scheme. He did a decent job in preseason and like the O Line I’m sure this was all new to him also. Redman was injured then was rested on the sideline like he was Adrian P. or the second coming. We shouldnt be dissapointed with Red, he’s doing what he does..he’s a short yardage back not a #1 he lacks speed, shiftiness and about all he is a straight ahead runner. I’m not hoping to prove the FO or Coach T wrong on their decision, I just Dwyer comes in with a humble professional attitude and tears up some ish.

  • Bill Molinaro

    NJ Bill

  • Bill Molinaro

    I maintain that Dwyer is a better RUNNING BACK than Redman and below are the reasons.

    Salary cap hit: Both Redman and Dwyer had the same hit so that argument is non sequitur.

    Nothing I’ve seen from Redman’s performances over the years demonstrates to me that he is an NFL RUNNING BACK. He has no burst, he is slow and
    plodding and cannot run wide under any circumstance.

    Based performance in past, years Dwyer is as good a pass blocker as Redman.

    A RUNNING BACK must present a threat as a RUNNING BACK not just a pass catcher because if that’s all he is, that’s the way he will be defended. If I were the DC, I would not lose a lot of sleep over Isaac Redman as a RUNNING BACK. Dwyer on the other hand has good acceleration and is capable of reaching the second level as a runner.

    It’s true that Dwyer has not read his blocks very well but to me that’s a teachable skill; I’ve heard so much about Kirby Wilson as the great running backs coach but where is he in all this? Learning to read blocks takes experience and Dwyer has not had a lot of experience either in college or the pros. And that brings me to what I believe is the real problem with the RUNNING BACKS and the present Steelers in general: they do not have a great record when developing players.

    Tomlin’s ‘dog house’ form of instruction is the same treatment as Chuck Noll heaped on Terry Bradshaw and it nearly broke him and it’s the same treatment that did eventually did break Kordell Stewart. Players don’t develop while doing punishment detail on the bench like some grade school dunce. Are you people old enough to remember that if “Jefferson Street Joe” had not imploded or Hanratty had not been so bad, that the Steelers would might not have seen Bradshaw develop and thus might not have won those four Super Bowl trophies? Players do have to be sat down now and then but that’s a tactic than must be used sparingly and judiciously.

    I’ve seen the effects Tomlin and staff’s reticent style of coaching long enough to believe that they play the greatest role in the lack of player development. They’re so afraid of possible player mistakes, they refuse to let them play. As soon as a young player makes a mistake he’s likely to get yanked. This I know to be true: either the coaching staff can’t teach & develop or the drafting is really bad.

    You people run a great site but I believe you need to look less at player failure and look deeper into the weaknesses of the coaching staff and the organization to find the root cause of the Steelers woes. I really believe that Dwyer’s lack of development along with that of other players lies there to a large degree.

  • JPDQ

    Excellent post Bill and interesting thoughts. Every coach has his style, to be sure, but it seems like as Cowher’s players slowly make their exit, the current regime is not doing a good job replacing the talent. Injuries are, of course, a huge factor into the overall product we’ve put out there the last few years. However, I agree that Tomlin and his staff seem to get too much of a pass for playing down to opponents, poor clock management, questionable personnel changes and lack of overall accountability in favor of cliches and double-talk.

    I know Tomlin has won a pair of rings, but that doesn’t get you a lifetime pass. If there’s a negative trend that’s developing, it needs to be looked at before it takes us out of contention altogether. And, just to clarify, I’m sure the Rooneys are well aware of everything that is going on and planning accordingly. I’m not a guy that believes in firing coaches for one bad season, I’m a guy that expects a different result when the boss mandates it. I’m not sure we’re seeing that.

  • JPDQ

    Awesome. Thanks for those revelations. And both play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is why people are discussing it.

  • Matthew Marczi

    This discussion was never predicated on last year’s performance. As I mentioned in the article, there was no chance that the Steelers would cut Redman because he is the leader of the running back room and has been for the last couple years. The other players look up to him as an example of how to be a professional. You think that I actually dislike Dwyer, which is not the case. This article is providing perspective from both a business and football standpoint as to why it made sense not only to cut him then, but to bring him back now, and that one does not negate the validity of the other. You don’t have to agree, but don’t assume there’s an ‘agenda’ here other than examining the current events of the team.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Felix Jones was not used because the Steelers were running the no huddle at that point and the team didn’t feel comfortable enough with his grasp of the no huddle by now to put him in.

  • Brendon Glad

    My guess is that this will end up being “a happy accident”.
    Until Bell proves otherwise, Dwyer immediately walks in and is the best “running-back” on the roster.
    I would expect that IF IF IF Dwyer can keep himself from putting the ball on the ground, that he will force Tomlin to play him. Because the guy gains yards, with or without good-blocking. So call me “old-fashioned”, but that’s still my preference when talking about my “running-back”.

  • JPDQ

    Just in case my other comment doesn’t get approved b/c of the link, let me try it this way. I’m not buying it, and I’ll stand by my previous comments in the thread:


  • Mike Popovich

    “Of course, his performance in the preseason was also a factor in being release.”

    So then you’ll be able to tell me about Isaac Redman’s preseason performance that factored in the Steelers keeping him. Or maybe you could tell me, based on Redman’s performance last year, also helped factor in the Steelers keeping Redman.

    I’m not trying to start an argument here, my point is that Dwyer certainly showed more on tape warranting more respect from Tomlin than what Redman can provide. In all honesty, this signing was probably for not, Dwyer at best is going to split carries, which won’t benefit either back, as was demonstrated last year and will only drive public demand for Bell.

    I hate how Tomlin has turned this RB situation into a scenario where I feel Steeler fans are divided.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’m assuming your other comment is awaiting moderation, so may I ask what you’re not buying?

  • Matthew Marczi

    Redman was rested during the preseason after his stinger because the team was already comfortable with what they believed he had to offer. Dwyer and Jones were worked more because the team determined that they would only keep one of the two, and they were essentially auditioning for a job. Dwyer fumbled and missed holes, whereas Jones looked decisive and quick. Hence, his performance in the preseason was a factor in being released.

  • Mike Popovich

    This is hardly an acceptable answer. So your saying of all the RBs who carried the ball last year, they were comfortable starting the season with a guy who tanked the season opener against the Broncos last year to the tune of 11 carries for 20 yards, followed that game up with 12 carries for 25 yards a TD against the Jets, and then followed it up again with a 9/27 performance against Oakland?

    This wasn’t a ‘bad game’, Redman’s performance was a direct representation of his career statistics. There is/was no justification for Redman to come into camp as the #1 back, and certainly not the #1 back coming out of it.

  • Mike Popovich

    I would also add, every game that Dwyer has played in, he has supplied at least one splash play that Tomlin raves so much about.

  • r4kolb

    Wow a lot of anger from a pretty to the point article. Dwyer’s professionalism is what got him cut. That is what I think Matt was saying. I think as has been stated many times on this site, the running for the last spot was between Dwyer and Redman. Honestly if Dwyer lit it up during the preseason he most likely would have been in and Red out. However, that was not the case and they felt Red was as good a fit as Dwyer minus the issues. They knew they would only keep one due to the fact they both were on the same pay rate and were looking to save cap money. That makes sense to me. It’s not like either one is really a #1 running back. Also let’s be honest, is there really any back in the NFL that would be successful behind this god awful line? Stop hatin’ people. Remember “Don’t hate the game, hate the player!” Pretty good spin I must say. Peace n Love

  • Mike Popovich

    I know Tomlin wants to point out that Dwyer has a fumbling problem, and I know that the media wants to push it too, and thus its the popular opinion for week-to-week fans, but…

    Dwyer has 2 career fumbles in 181 carries, while Redman just coughed up his 7th on 280. Tomlin needs to redirect his ‘dependability’ statement he made today.

  • r4kolb

    Yo Mikey….this just in……THEY ALL SUCK BEHIND THIS O LINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Matthew Marczi

    The Steelers’ evaluation of Redman was obviously not limited to last season, and was also shaded with the perspective that he was nursing multiple injuries to start the season from a year ago and was the guinea pig for Todd Haley’s early ‘feeling out’ process, figuring out which plays the offense was comfortable running. There is more to the game than a glance at a traditional stat sheet. But I’ve said that time and again and been called an idiot and accused of having an agenda, so I guess I should just stomp my feet about the front office being full of idiots and proclaim Dwyer as the antidote for all that ails the running offense instead.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’m rewatching this game now, and my initial impression is that the main culprit was the run-blocking of the tight ends (including Beachum early on). Paulson is really struggling and Johnson is still rusty. I think they need to use Palmer more on running downs, which was his forte with the Falcons.

  • Jeff

    You have to wonder how many pounds Dwyer packed on since he was cut. I’ll put the over/under at 10.

  • GoSteelerz

    Yep, I totally agree with this article. The blocking was terrible, it wouldn’t have mattered who was in there. And yep letting Dwyer go made sense and he may be let go again once Bell comes back and Jones gets more comfortable int he offense. At the same time his familiarity with the team and scheme makes sense to resign him at this time.

  • Steeler Goetz

    Yes, he can boast a 7.1 yard per carry average in play-offs. You also have to consider that he’s only appeared in four play-off games, and averaged only six carries per game. He’s never scored a touchdown in the post season either. I’m not interested in those stats, though. What I am interested in is how he performed as opposed to Dwyer, and I simply don’t see one RB who deserves to be cut and another who deserves yet another start for this club.

  • rishop

    Redman was also one of the league leaders in yards after contact last year. That is one of the better ways to gauge a rbs skill set/production. That being said he has never had to be the man. To me its a wash between the 2. Redman more reliable (usually)dwyer more upside. Heck if the line doesnt play A LOT better it wouldnt matter if they had barry Sanders.

  • JPDQ

    Statistics? Logic? REASON?
    Didn’t you get the black and gold memo? We don’t allow that in our RB evaluations, Mike!