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The Frustration of Steelers Free Agency

Jim Wexell comes to terms with the dashed expectations of another quiet opening day of free agency for the Steelers.


Oh, sorry. Just got up from a great night of sleep, as I'm sure you all did.

The panic ended last evening when the Pittsburgh Steelers re-signed Landry Jones and David Johnson.

I mean, talk about a sense of relief. When I heard that news, I downed a couple shots of apple cider vinegar and went right down for a good 10 hours.

My understanding this morning is that both players had barged into Art Rooney's office and said, "Sign both of us -- or neither of us."

Rooney rose to the moment. "Sit down, boys, take a load off. Let's talk about this," he allegedly told them. 

And the matter got worked out.

So now the Steelers have their backup quarterback in place and D.J., the fighting tight end who throws better blocks than the three playing in front of him, can resume active duties as the backup fullback.

Like I said to open, yawwwwnnnn ...

... and that also serves as a perfectly fine way to describe the Steelers' first day of free agency, as I edge back into reality. 

Now, I'm always the guy, if I recall, who comes on here during this part of the offseason and reminds readers that not only all is well, but why all is well. 

Do I have to bring out my cardboard posters of Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones again?

So, yes, I can muster up an all is well, because in general I think it is. I think the Steelers are a very good team that's getting back something on offense which money couldn't buy -- a legitimate, scary deep threat/red-zone threat -- and is looking forward to a draft that's overflowing at the positions the Steelers need on defense: pass-rusher and cornerback.

But that doesn't take away from the disappointment of coming away from the first day -- after expectations had been heightened -- with only the backup QB and backup FB/TE to show.

The Steelers wanted a No. 1 cornerback. This was going to be the year they flexed their muscles and dipped into what seems to be a pool which only other teams can dip. 

While the Steelers have managed to come out of previous free agencies with a top center, an inside linebacker who became a captain, a starting free safety, a quality running back and a playmaking tight end, they've never dabbled in the position groups normally reserved for the rich: quarterback, pass-rusher or cornerback.

But this was to be the year they pursued a cornerback, and actually had the money to make a real run at one.

Perhaps they did make a real run, but their first priority, Dre Kirkpatrick, slipped back to his old, never-was team at $10.5 million per year. 

The Steelers don't like to blow up their pay scale, and $10.5 million is a few dollars more than their highest-paid defender, Cameron Heyward, makes in a season. 

But, really, would it have killed them to break the barriers by just a little? After all, they knew they were going to be playing a rich man's game and allowed the info to leak. The fans were excited. So it's difficult for those fans not to be disappointed when that No. 1 cornerback is within reach, only to re-sign with a never-was for a few dollars more.

Of course, maybe the Steelers did go that extra mile with that extra dollar, and Kirkpatrick -- as we always like to believe when it comes to re-signing players -- didn't want to learn a new playbook and uproot his family by getting greedy.

Or, maybe Kirkpatrick just prefers losing.

I don't know the man, but we can tell he doesn't want to take that extra step required to win.

And then the next most realistic target went down. Logan Ryan signed with the Tennessee Titans for $10 million per year, and I present the same rant as above. 

A couple of other cornerbacks were probably carrying too high expectations coming into the day: A.J. Bouye signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars for $13.5 million per year and Stephon Gilmore signed with the New England Patriots for $13 million per year.

So who's left?

According to my trusty Scout.come free agency list (located under the free agency tab at the top of your page), the next best cornerback is, wait, what? Ross Cockrell?

I love Ross. Don't get me wrong. But my understanding is the team is trying to replace him as a starter. The fact that came as a bit of a surprise to me should tell me this entire column is a crying waste of time, because I expect -- particularly with us in the media running with this info and pretty much embarrassing him -- Cockrell to come back even better and, hopefully, make fools of all of us. That's how much I like Ross Cockrell the man, and frankly he showed great improvement last season as a player. He has the brains and the drive to become even better.

But if we are to believe the plan, that the Steelers want better press-man corners, then they'll have to choose from among the next five on the list: Alterraun Verner, Prince Amukamara, Darrius Butler, Morris Claiborne and Captain Munnerlyn. 

Not a bad list, but no one there is going to surpass Artie Burns in the search for "a No. 1."

Not that the aforementioned targets are Mel Blount or Lester Hayes in their primes, either, but I thought last season guys like Kirkpatrick and Ryan were sticky press-man players, or exactly what the Steelers need and desire. 

Yes, those types are available in this draft. And it appears some of those available at pick 30 might even become a Blount, a Hayes or a Darrelle Revis, and easily a Dre Kirkpatrick, some day. But it makes things more difficult, particularly down at the bottom of the first round, where, yes, you can draft a cornerback who'll play for you early, but can you also draft that needed pass-rusher at pick 62?

Signing one of these top cornerbacks in free agency sure would make that task a lot easier. The pass-rushers are easier to find at 30 and talented slot corners will be plentiful at pick 62.

But at least we know they won't have to waste pick 94 on a backup quarterback. 

That's all settled. Now go back to bed, my friend, and sleep like a baby.

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