Big Ben still needs an O-line

Mewelde Moore isn't a big-name free agent, but he does give the Steelers something they've lacked for two years: a solid returner. Next up: protecting that $100 million investment.

It's taken more time for Sean Mahan to whiff on a block than it did for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger to come to terms on a shiny new deal that will pay the team's starting quarterback $102 million through 2015. Or for context, roughly $50 a sack for the next eight seasons. This was obviously the news coming out of Pittsburgh yesterday and for good reason. Roethlisberger is the franchise, and probably could've squeezed a few more million out of the deal if he wanted. And he still would've been worth it. Some people wonder if it makes sense to throw all that cash at Big Ben when there are other needs to address, primarily along the offensive line. That these same people offer the Cleveland Browns as a model franchise when it comes to putting together a roster tells you all you need to know.

While the Roethlisberger signing was front-page news, it was the other deal that was more interesting to me. Pittsburgh inked former Vikings running back Mewelde Moore to a three-year deal, basically for chump change, and although I know virtually nothing about the guy who sat behind Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor last season in Minnesota, I'm jazzed by the move for one reason: he's a returner.

That's reason enough to offer him a contract. At 209 pounds, he's not a typical bruising Steelers third-down back, but any offensive responsibilities should come second to his primary job: see punt, catch punt; see kickoff, catch kickoff. And I'm not kidding.

This is all very bad news for Willie Reid. With each new coaching decision and personnel move, it's becoming clear that Reid isn't in the team's plans. I have no way of knowing but I get the sense that the new coaching staff considers Reid a holdover from the Bill Cowher regime, just like Ricardo Colclough. The organization made a mistake taking him so high, just like Ricardo Colclough. And if Reid and Colclough are to continue down this parallel career path, Reid could be looking for work sometime in the near future.

In retrospect, it's hard to fault the Steelers for trying to find a dynamic returner to replace Antwaan Randle El, but they just went with the wrong guy. It happens. Yeah, Devin Hester or Maurice Jones-Drew would've been nice, but we've been down that road.

I suppose Reid could have a great training camp, actually push for playing time as a fourth or fifth wide receiver and win the kick returner job (assuming Moore will handle the punts), but it sure seems like a long shot. I mean, it got to the point last season where Cedrick Wilson was on spot return duty. That should clue you into Reid's future in Pittsburgh.

An ancillary benefit to the Moore signing? Apparently, the Steelers won't entertain the notion of taking a running back in the first round. Answer Man tells Jim Wexell that "This shuts the door on drafting a running back … So much for the best available athlete." I don't know if that means Pittsburgh won't consider a running back in any round, or just early in the proceedings. My views are well known on this matter so I won't stuff them down your throat here, but I think it would be shortsighted to completely clear the draft board of running backs. Of course, there are no absolutes, and maybe the team is happy with the current stable of scatbacks (sans Najeh Davenport), and don't think any of the likely Day 2 running backs are better than the guys currently on the roster. Fine, I can live with that.

Additionally, this could also mean that guys like Devin Thomas and Eddie Royal are out of the picture as well. While the thought of a wideout early doesn't thrill me given all the other needs, I am intrigued by finding a game-changing returner. FanHouse's J.J. Cooper points out that, on average, Moore had slightly better pun-return numbers than Antwaan Randle El. I was all set to say Cooper's comparison is a tad misleading, but then I looked at Moore's stats. In 2005 and 2006, he returned 57 total punts, and twice he went for 71 yards. Last season, in just 13 returns, his longest was for 42 yards. My point:. Randle El, like Willie Parker, did plenty 40-yard sideline-to-sideline sprints only to lose two yards, and then he'd bust the next one for 75. Moore seems to be just as effective but more consistent.

Moore doesn't elicit the same sort of fan reaction that a Thomas or Royal might, but just as long as he's competent at his job, he'll be worth the moderately priced contract he signed.

Mock drafts are for entertainment purposes only. I know this. Yet I still read them like they are written on stone tablets and recently found on a mountain somewhere. Part of it is wishful thinking, and part of it is just a means to kill time until the actual draft rolls around. Since Wexell announced former Virginia guard Branden Albert as the Steelers' dark horse first-round pick, the bandwagon has exceeded maximum capacity and is careening downhill, out of control. It could all come blow up if another team takes Albert before the 23rd pick, or if the Steelers decide that the crop of offensive linemen is so deep in this draft that they can wait until Round 2 to fix the gaping hole between the left hashmark and Heath Miller. I don't think the latter will happen, especially with the Moore signing, but the former concerns me greatly. It wouldn't have just a few weeks ago, but in the time since Wex brought Albert's name to our attention, everybody has pimped the guy. NFL Network's Mike Mayock is smitten (Albert looks great in shorts!), and even Mel Kiper took time out from his wig-enhancement treatments to put Albert on his big board. And just about every mock draft I've come across has Pittsburgh taking Albert. Weird.

My concern now -- because I'm quite certain that NFL front offices consult countless mocks when putting together their draft board -- is that Albert's stock will continue to rise and he won't be around late in the first round. This has less to do with Albert being a special player (he may be, I just don't watch enough college football to have an opinion) and everything to do with the sorry state of the Steelers' offensive line.
Just as I was thrilled by what should've been a small potatoes MeMo signing, I'm even more stoked about the possibility of Albert coming to Pittsburgh. I'm desperate.

The good news is that even if another team takes Albert before the Steelers go on the clock, it's an extremely deep draft for offensive linemen. Which Roethlisberger's agents hopefully stressed during the negotiations for that new deal. Either that, or Big Ben should get some kind of hazard pay for leading the league in sacks. If Pittsburgh doesn't fix the o-line, he could be the NFL's highest paid player by 2009.

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