Steelers Cap Off Uncharacteristic Offseason With Flurry Of Moves

If there is anything that can be said about how the Pittsburgh Steelers front office has handled its business over the course of the past month, it would be that it has been uncharacteristic. Just for starters, they made four trades, including some fairly significant ones, and they also made a major free agency signing.

I think it’s clear that there are multiple factors at work here. It should go without saying that that they are in win-now mode. They claim to always be in win-now mode, but it would be ignorant to deny how that dynamic has changed with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s decision to take the rest of his career on a yearly basis.

When your franchise tells you that this might be the final year of your championship window until you find another quarterback, who are more likely to make uncharacteristic decisions that boost your current roster talent while potentially negatively impacting your long-term prospects.

But it is not just because of that pressure of the closing championship window. It is also quite simply because, for one thing, they have depth, and for another, they have money. They have not had too much of either in recent years, and where they’ve lacked depth, they’ve thrown money at it, while using depth to acquire further resources.

The signing of Joe Haden was a major departure, even though the circumstances are rare. Not too many starting cornerbacks get released in late August. But when such players have become available in the past, the Steelers have not had the cap space to pursue it.

Likewise with the solid addition of tight end Vance McDonald, the only player of the group making more than the minimum salary. Presumably an immediate starter, they acquired him via trade—giving up a 2018 fourth-round pick while also getting a fifth-round pick back—after being unsatisfied with the results from the group.

On cut-down day, the Steelers made not one, but two trades, shifting personnel resources to turn them into draft resources. Having displaced cornerback Ross Cockrell in the starting lineup with Haden, the former lost much of his value. Set not to make the roster, they were able to get back a conditional pick for him.

Earlier, they were able to recoup their 2018 sixth-round pick they gave up in exchange for Justin Gilbert last year by dealing wide receiver Sammie Coates to the Browns, also giving up a seventh-round pick in 2019 to make it happen.

Both Cockrell and Coates, the two most expendable pieces at their positions of depth who also had some trade value, were moved in order to prevent their accrual of talent from going to waste. Both were going to make some other team this year. By working out trades for them, they at least got something back.

Of course, there was also the minor trade for cornerback Dashaun Phillips in exchange for a fourth-string rookie undrafted free agent center. This was a sort of trade they’ve made in the past, a no-lose situation for both teams. Neither player made their respective roster. Phillips was signed to the practice squad earlier today.

Update: This article ended up missing its scheduled posting time, but in a way it proved to be a good thing, because Kevin Colbert and the Steelers slipped in yet another trade earlier today, sending the sixth-round pick they got back from the Coates trade to the Buccaneers in exchange for safety JJ Wilcox and their 2019 seventh-round draft pick.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Steelers12

    While i understand Ayers thinking i wonder will he regret the decision he mad not resigning with Steelers PS. Once he cleared waivers that should of been a sign to change course. I wonder what advice his agent gave him. I bet Golson would of loved to have got that offer.

  • Boots

    I could get used to this available cap space thing!

  • Nolrog

    Trying to figure out how this has anything to do with the article Matt wrote.

  • SteelerSurfer

    Because Ayers was one of the moves Steelers made during cuts and I think most expected him on the practice squad

  • Matthew Marczi

    Somebody asked me this question on Twitter. I would assume the major advantage of turning down a spot on a practice squad is that it gives you the opportunity to work out for other teams. For a player like Ayers who doesn’t have much tape, he would probably need a workout in order to get signed, so it would be a much slimmer chance of signing if he were just waiting to be plucked from the practice squad.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Maybe Ben should have talked retirement a bit sooner? lol

  • Steelers12

    Ok that makes sense, damn i liked him

  • Steelers12

    It doesn’t just a bummer because i liked Ayers

  • CP72

    Having some cap space doesn’t hurt when you’re doing some moving and shaking.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Kinda feel like Ben is forcing our hand a bit. I’m not mad at it, because today we’re a better team on paper! Would be nice not to hear the retirement talk all year.

  • Boots

    I’m also glad we kept Phillips liked what I saw from him Thursday.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, it’s too bad he wasn’t healthy. It seems obvious they would have loved it if he returned a couple of punts for touchdowns in that finale and forced them to keep him.

  • francesco

    Ayers saw what became of Hamilton and figured there is no hope in Pittsburgh.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Oh yeah, he definitely knows there’s no place for him here anymore. I would assume Golson would feel the same if he were also offered a practice squad spot. There’s just too much depth. For once.

  • francesco

    All these moves were made because the FO were asleep from February to August. The FO thought that they probably just needed to tweak a few things here and there but the reality soon dawned on them that fundamentally they lacked talent in many areas namely CB Safety ILB.
    They failed to address these areas in the draft preferring to instead take a 3rd string QB (Dobbs)…a long snapper (Holba)….and a very raw CB (Allen) and there you have it.
    I’m just glad we got something back for Cockrell and Coates!

  • Douglas Andrews

    When Ben speaks like he did in the offseason people listen. Not sure if this really had anything to do with what Ben said during the offseason or if this is the new method of upgrading a team since there’s no longer a cutdown from 90 to 75 players anymore. At any rate I praise the Steelers FO for being proactive and upgrading most of the areas lacking depth or quality starters on this team.

  • Luneth Gardens

    Though they could’ve rolled the extra cap space over to next year and maybe kept Bell. Now it’s like they are going all in figuring they won’t even franchise him next year. Tuitt, Shazier etc need new deals next year too, would’ve been nice to have that cap space rolled over to use next year

  • Douglas Andrews

    Ayers showed some promise at the end of last year. It’s just a shame he wasn’t healthy during any of his training camps to push for a roster spot at least as a returner

  • Jacob

    Understandable, as Big Ben’s clock is ticking toward his final hour with the Steelers.

    With an improved secondary, and additional weapons on offense he may finally be able to slay the dragon and bring #7 home.

  • Luneth Gardens

    And the passing of Dan Rooney. Now there’s a Hall of Honor and Kevin Colbert is wheeling and dealing. Coincidence?

  • nutty32

    Dan Rooney, Sr.’s passing probably also has the ownership in a mood to do everything it can to win while the patch is on the jersey. “This one’s for Dad” while hoisting the silver football may be a goose bumps moment.

  • Brenton deed

    Harsh…the draft didn’t fall the way they wanted (run on CBs) and they were always going to pick a QB they thought was value. Then they needed to evaluate what they had. Most people are happy they kept Allen on the roster for fear of him being poached. At the time drafting Holba was seen as a savvy move. Everything carries a risk and when some things don’t work it’s disingenuous to retort that people were negligent

  • AndreH

    They’re setting themselves up for a serious Super Bowl run. Ben got one foot out the door and the other one not far behind. I say the next two years #7 will be gone. Art Rooney II patience must be wearing thin.

  • Jordan James

    I read that the Steelers are seriously scouting a QB for next year’s draft. Could be a first round pick.

  • Jacob

    Ross Cockrell’s picture looks like he just ate a smurf.

  • Robert E Lil

    It’s A GREAT day to be a Steeler fan. Relish this moment

  • Steelers12

    Yep the old injury bug

  • JNick

    Did you forget they pushed hard to get Donta Hightower?

  • francesco

    I just remember scratching my head at every draft pick.
    JJ Watt? When they needed ILB more? JuJu? When they needed CB more. Sutton? When they needed a Safety.
    Dobbs? When they needed another CB or TE more? Holba? Please!!!
    And furthermore…they signed nobody of any pedigree in FA period.
    So instead of pressing to match what the Patriots were doing we were doing nothing at all. Until now for some reason.

  • francesco

    It wasn’t realistic. They knew Hightower was going to stay loyal to the Patriots.

  • JNick

    Well it contradicts your notion that they were asleep…

  • Dorian James

    Depth, aggressive roster moves, I could get used to this. I’m a little more optimistic about this season

  • Dorian James

    And he’d better play his best football after all this, he can’t make any excuses this year

  • JNick

    Im sorry but this post makes no sense. The only viable ILBer when they selected Watt was Foster and he comes with big red flags, both medical and drug. Then you say they need a CB in the second round but when they select one in the 3rd you say they needed to get a safety? So at that point they didn’t need the CB that they did the round previous?

    Why don’t you stop compartmentalizing every facet of the off-season and look at it as a whole?

  • JT

    I would enjoy reading an article penned by Dave/Alex/Matt/etc in February titled “The Week in August that Won the Steelers the Super Bowl”.

  • Robert E Lil

    THe past few days have really given me hope. And that includes the report you are citing. Btw – that qb is awesome

  • Robert E Lil

    It’s in Minnesota. How perfect is that

  • Mike367

    “…he may finally be able to slay the dragon…”

    Umm, he has slain two “dragons”, numbers 5 and 6. But I hope you’re right about slaying #7 lol!

  • Jordan James

    Western Michigan?

  • Mike367

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ben play 3 or 4 more seasons. Remember, he has the “Drama Queen” label.

  • Grant Humphrey

    We all could get used to it lol

  • Jacob

    The dragon is the Patriots. Ben said regarding them, “They’re the dragon and we’re trying to slay them.”

  • Sam Clonch

    Haden’s a starter, Wilcox MAY be the future at safety (replacing Mitchell). Other moves didn’t really have an impact on this coming season, only got picks for Coates and Cockrell, and Phillips is on PS.

  • Mike367

    Steelers’ draft philosophy 101: best player available.

    Six Super Bowl Championships. Enough said.

  • Terrible Towlie

    i too, i still think he’s gotta chance to be a starter somewhere

  • Terrible Towlie

    cobi was also a decent wr

  • Sam Clonch

    Nailed it.

  • Jaybird

    You forgot about the TE Macdonald . He’s now the number one TE?

  • Mike367

    Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.

  • Sam Clonch

    Absolutely right. Two starters and guy who could be the starter if Mitchell stumbles (or more likely is hurt). Was a killer offseason. Can’t wait to get the regular season started!

  • Robert E Lil

    Wyoming I thought

  • 2winz

    I remember it differently, everybody was scratching their head at the Holba pick, the Dobbs pick, and the JuJu pick. Even Conner pick was being questioned by a lot of the ppl here. I would know because I was defending each of those picks

  • Steeler-Drew

    Does make me wander more about Ben with the sudden sense of urgency. He said in a recent radio interview that his wife didn’t even want him to play this year. I guess we will find out how much pull she has next year.

  • JT

    And technically Bryant was reinstated. And Bell reported and was the 54th man.

  • LucasY59

    Cap is going to go up next yr, and they will rollover some from this yr as well

  • Douglas Andrews

    It wouldn’t surprise me either. Front Office has a win now mentality. Great to see that as a Steeler fan

  • Rocksolid20

    Disalusional .

  • DerekMatthew.

    The only move I have disliked was Sammie Coates. I really liked him and I think he was ready for a breakout year. I understand the move, but I think it sets us back a bit at the receiver position. I still don’t trust Martavis Bryant to stay out of trouble, but then again I am on the outside looking in. The Steelers front office usually makes the right decision when it comes to troublesome players. I just hope they made then right choice. I’m so glad Eli Rodgers stayed around too. I think he has amazing potential for sure. I’m grateful for the strengthening of our secondary the most. Our secondary last year was atrocious and I think it has improved greatly at least on paper. If everything works out and injuries aren’t coming from left and right this year I think this could be a great year. I can’t wait for the regular season!

  • Rocksolid20

    Not just him , the team as a whole needs to
    see this as a chance to do something big .

  • Rocksolid20

    The good QB’s will be gone when we pick
    at # 32 .

  • Jordan James

    That’s why they are at Wyoming and not USC.

  • Rocksolid20

    Wilcox is an average safety and Tampa was crowded
    at the position .

  • Tom McConnell

    Yes Mike. You missed a stat, how many years since a losing season. The Steeler way works.

    I can’t dispute Steeler drafts. Most people critizise because a player they like doesn’t get picked.

    Look at last 4 or 5 drafts, they picked the best player available and at positions of need. Plenty of players they wanted were picked prior to the Steelers pick. You need only look and listen to fans from other areas, same complaints with losing records.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Not much. Don’t forget that the 52nd and 53rd roster spots plus the practice squad still need to be accounted for. With the addition of Wilcox, if they extend Tuitt at this point, there’s a very good chance we see a restructure.

  • Jeff McNeill

    Even if Coates is primed for a big year, which I don’t see, he was going to have a hard time finding snaps in Pittsburgh. I think the trade wil, be better for his career then watching AB, MB, LB, and ER catch footballs from the sideline.

  • Dorian James

    Very true

  • Jaybird

    This team is so much better( on paper) than it was last year. They’re going to be good. Real good!

  • Jordan James

    This might be our best chance to beat NE. It looks like our best team on both sides of the ball in years and NE lost Edelman, plus Brady is 40.

  • Mister Wirez

    Probably a fumble away from #7 too. The one that got away…

  • Mister Wirez

    The Browns can have Coates. He’s a big fast receiver that can’t catch. It was the knock on him from his college days. It was discussed during his draft as having “bad hands” and as a Steeler he still continued dropping passes even this year. He was a bad pick.

    During the first 5 games last year when he doing good, he still bobbled the ones he did manage to catch. The Steelers have a great group of receivers now.

  • NinjaMountie

    I’m more wondering if Ben told them this was his LAST year and not that he was taking it year to year.

  • Zarbor

    Not just him but mostly him….Tired of us claiming that our other players falling short. Ben needs to be pushed and in turn he should be pushing those guys towards perfection. No more excuses from or for anyone.

  • DAWAARE

    They know this is Ben’s last year.
    Its time to bring in Colt mccoy

  • dany

    then they win but Ben returns in 2018 and Omar Khan is like “dude now you’re complicating things”

  • NinjaMountie

    LOL…If he made this his last season it would be perfect because the Steelers could go get Kirk Cousins to take over.

  • NinjaMountie

    Yea, I’ll say it. If Ben does retire after the season. DO NOT sign Bell. Sign Kirk Cousins and move up in the draft to get Saquon Barkley.
    Boom..another long run at more SBs.
    I’m posting late at night so if this seems silly then TOO BAD cause I mean it, lol.

  • Besd1

    Between the aggressive moves, the bolstering of the secondary and tight end group to address specific deficiencies that cost the team last year, and Tomlin ‘s uncharacteristically frequent calling out of players, I think its fair to say that the AFCCG loss burnt Tomlin and Colbert far worse than they ever let on. Add in the need to honour Mister Rooney, and Ben’s timely reminder that the seasons always change, and Hey Presto! A fire has been lit under the Steelers this year.

  • Brenton deed

    They don’t want this era’s side to go down as NE’s bitches.. just like the great 70s sides the Raiders and the Cowboys had will always live in the 70s Steelers’ shadow. Beat them now and it looks like the Steelers got’em in the end!

  • Hec

    It’ll be a good year to find Ben’s replacement in this year’s draft because there will a few good ones coming out this year……That’s why front office has been filling the holes this year so they could make a 1st/2nd rd QB draft pick in 2018.

  • Michel Smiffi

    The thing is, if Ben indeed retires, it frees up 20+million of cap space, so that wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
    And if he doesn’t, the Steelers have still their Super Bowl window wide open, even though they would need to get creative to retain Shazier, Tuitt and Bell.

  • Brenton deed

    Funny… now the next thing I’m concerned about is the pass rush. Watt looks like a great all round player but is he a pass rush demon? Would you rather Woodley or Watt… even though Watt is better all round? Dupree didn’t light it up in the preseason either despite the talk of him working out with that pass rush specialist coach.

    Don’t misread me, I’m hopeful it’ll all be good it’s just that that pass rush now is the area where there is most uncertainty. I’m confident that the secondary will be much better now.

    Having written all that, after last season these were the two areas of concern and you can’t say that the FO hasn’t put some effort in trying to address them.
    They got a little unlucky in the draft with the early run on CBs but time may show that ju-ju and Sutton were great picks.

    I can remember in about 1992 they were after a LB in the second round called D’onofrio and the Packers nabbed him just before the Steelers. The Steelers checked down to their second option: Levon Kirkland. D’onofrio was out of the league in two years with chronic hamstring injuries.

    Sorry went for a bit of a ramble then….

  • MP

    Bizarre. Ben or no Ben, why wouldnt you put yourself in the best position possible every year? The author is right that there is something more.

  • Brenton deed

    Agree…if Ben isn’t there then Bell can go… without a bona fide franchise QB you’re not going to win a SB even with an all-universe RB and Bell is expensive and high maintenance.

  • Walt Dongo

    I hope Haley is going to light it up with some agressive play calling this time around

  • Conserv_58

    I’ll take Watt over a lazy Woodley all day.

    That signing of Kirkland in ’92 was a coup for the Steelers. That’s until they signed him to a then record breaking contract extension. Kirkland became the highest piad LB in the league. He got paid and then he got complacent and lazy. He would show up to camp thirty pounds overweight and it would infuriate Cowher. Of course Kirkland’s weight issue was compounded, exponentially, when he bought a pizza and wings joint. It got to the point that Cowher sent the team’s conditioning coach to Kirkland’s South Carolina home to get him and his fat butt off of the couch and outside to work out.

  • Conserv_58

    Another Brown’s cast off.

  • Conserv_58

    LOL! The only thing breaking out for Sammy this year is his other fingers. Face reality about him. He doesn’t fight for the ball, he has lapses in concentration which translate to his being inconsistent and unreliable and he doesn’t show the desire, drive and determination to take playing in the NFL serious enough. I’m not convinced that Sammy has what it takes to become an above average player.

    As for Eli Rogers, what’s not to like about him? He is the antithesis of Coates. He’s humble, focused, driven and determined to make a name for himself in this league. He proved where his mind is at by coming to camp wearing a hard hat. Eli’s story is a feel good one because it’s easy to root for guys like him.

  • Conserv_58

    She didn’t want to see him get hurt. Wives are like that and that’s ok.

  • Nolrog

    No, Ayers had absolutely nothing to do with the moves being discussed here

    There is already a thread where people are ripping and belittling the guy for his decision. That thread made me ashamed to be part of this community.

  • Conserv_58

    Not so fast there. The signing of TE, Vance McDonald will most certainly have an impact on this coming season. His signing moved Jessie James down the TE pecking order where he belongs.

  • Conserv_58

    Art Rooney II’s patience isn’t wearing thin. It’s the simple fact that he knows that he has at most the 2017-2018 season(s) left with Ben at the helm. Art knows that Ben gives them their best chance to keep the Steelers ahead of the patriots as having the most Lombardi trophies.

  • Conserv_58

    It foolhearted to think that Kevin Colbert and his staff haven’t already accumulated mountains of data on this 2017 QB class. They’re out in the field doing the leg work.

  • Conserv_58

    Your first sentence is absolute nonsense because it’s absurd to think that.

  • Conserv_58

    No they didn’t. In fact it was reported that the Steelers were serious enough about signing Hightower that they told him during the negotiations he wasn’t allowed to leave the meeting before making a decision and for good reason. They didn’t want to get into an unnecessary and fruitless bidding war with New England.

  • Conserv_58

    I thank God fans like you have no say in how the Steelers conduct their business.

    What about the fact that they have more Lombardi trophies than any other team because their steadfast business philosophy has worked since the day they hired Chuck Noll don’t you understand? No NFL organization has been copied and emulated more than the Steelers have.

    The Steelers don’t get the amount of ink that teams like the cowboys do because as far as the media is concerned, they’re boring. They go about their business, don’t make big splashes in free agency and stay the course that made them the most successful franchise in the league.

  • Conserv_58

    One must first have the ability to see the big picture.

  • RickM

    I think it’s more likely that they were unsure about CB and TE months ago and the pre-season confirmed their worst fears. The Safety addition was triggered by injuries. I could be wrong, but I doubt Ben knows whether this will be his final year.

  • Rick McClelland

    I didn’t see anything during the preseason that gave me a warm fuzzy about the tight ends or the defensive backfield.
    The Steelers made some bold moves with very current preseason tape on players at the varsity level. Pats type moves that take you from pretender to contender.
    I for one think we upgraded all the way around.

  • RickM

    Well, based on what’s happened over the last few weeks the Steelers have confirmed that their earlier belief that they were O.K. at certain positions and could sit tight was wrong. That’s beyond obvious.

  • francesco

    Yes perhaps for most teams in the cellar that would be a good philosophy but not where the Steelers are. They have a one year window to get it done and so the best player of need should have been preferred.

  • Brenton deed

    Hmmm I didn’t see it that way honestly. I get your point of view but I think it isn’t that bad. Nevertheless it’s all one big bet of course.

  • Brenton deed

    Yes I remember that about Kirkland now. Nevertheless he was a better pick than D’onofrio.

    Ahh it’s good to reminisce with people who remembered.

    Still my worries aren’t necessarily rational… I’ll trust the FO

  • Steeler-Drew

    I think it goes a little deeper than that. CTE, spending more time with his family. Remember she is or was in the medical field.

  • Jordan James

    What are you talking about?

  • Jordan James

    Give him a couple years behind Ben and we can go another 15 years.