By Matthew Marczi
Player: LaRod Stephens-Howling
Position: Running Back
Experience: 5 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2013 Salary Cap Hit: $620,000
2013 Season Breakdown: Many are quick to point out that the loss of Maurkice Pouncey in the first week of the season forced the Pittsburgh Steelers to rethink what they were going to do on the offensive side of the ball, which is true.
I would argue that the loss of LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was also lost due to an ACL tear in the first game of the season, also contributed to that divergence from strategy, though not to the same degree.
Stephens-Howling is the type of hybrid skill position player that offensive coordinator Todd Haley covets, because it gives him the option to do a variety of things in all different types of scenarios. It’s what he had in Dexter McCluster while he was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s what he was hoping to get when the Steelers drafted Chris Rainey in the fifth round in his first season as offensive coordinator. And that’s, of course, why Stephens-Howling was signed as a free agent.
He impressed during the preseason, showing that he can run to the outside or between the tackles, but he was already bothered by knee trouble then, and so was limited. The ACL injury changed a lot.
Stephens-Howling was the kick returner. Instead, the Steelers were forced to rely on Felix Jones, who turned in a very pedestrian job. Stephens-Howling likely also would have taken the majority of Jones’ third-down and two-minute snaps and done a better job with it.
Now with the knee injury, we may never know what the offense would have looked like with a dynamic complementary piece like him in it.
Free Agency Outlook: There already wasn’t much of a market for Stephens-Howling when the Steelers signed him to a veteran-minimum contract last year. Coming off a serious knee injury, he may struggle to draw much attention from any team.
Could the Steelers bring him back in 2014 and try it again? Possibly, but with his game so predicated on sharp cuts and elusiveness, the knee injury has to be a serious cause for concern. Of course, he will be approximately one year removed from the injury when the regular season begins. But I could just as easily see the Steelers promote Alvester Alexander and draft another running back for depth while re-signing Jonathan Dwyer.
Other Steelers Free Agent Player Analysis
Ryan Clark - Unrestricted Free Agent
Emmanuel Sanders - Unrestricted Free Agent
Brett Keisel - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jerricho Cotchery - Unrestricted Free Agent
Ziggy Hood - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jason Worilds - Unrestricted Free Agent
David Johnson - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jonathan Dwyer - Unrestricted Free Agent
Fernando Velasco - Unrestricted Free Agent
Cody Wallace - Unrestricted Free Agent
Will Allen - Unrestricted Free Agent
Stevenson Sylvester - Unrestricted Free Agent
Felix Jones - Unrestricted Free Agent
Al Woods - Unrestricted Free Agent
Plaxico Burress - Unrestricted Free Agent