Editor’s Note: Please be advised that David wrote this post several hours before it was announced that Dick LeBeau had resigned as the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator.
1.) Dick LeBeau
With a week now having passed since the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, I believe Dick LeBeau will be back as defensive coordinator. The Bruce Arians “retirement” fiasco in 2012 didn’t happen until Jan. 20th so I guess a move is still possible. But if Mike Tomlin and, more importantly, Art Rooney II wanted to make a change, I believe they would already have done so out of respect for the 77-year old Hall-of-Famer who has expressed a desire to continue in his role. The news of a two-year contract extension for Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley with no corresponding news regarding LeBeau raised some eyebrows, but I expect LeBeau to be back for his 12th season.
2.) The Rest of the Staff
At this point I expect the entire staff to be back. Five new NFL head coaches will be hired over the next two weeks and it’s possible they could look to poach some of Tomlin’s assistants or someone like receivers coach Richard Mann could retire, but as of now I would bet on everyone returning.
3.) The Future of Keith Butler
This continues to be the most interesting year-to-year storyline within the coaching staff. Keith Butler is the heir apparent to LeBeau and the Steelers have paid-up to keep him around when other teams showed interest. But, if at some point the Steelers decide to move on from LeBeau, would his protégé be the best choice to be the new DC? I’m sure Butler has many of his own ideas as to how to run the defense, but it’s hard to imagine a fundamental schematic change. If it’s ultimately LeBeau’s choice, it will benefit Butler enormously if he walks away on a high note as opposed to after a bad season.
4.) Jason Worilds
For the second year in a row the biggest on-field decisions will center around the outside linebacker position. Last year the Steelers had to decide what to do with LaMarr Woodley (cut) and Jason Worilds (transition tag). This year, with Jarvis Jones the only OLB with any experience under contract, Worilds will again be the center of attention. The Steelers are almost forced to get a deal done which means Worilds and his agent hold the leverage. A three-year, $20 million deal with $10-12 million deal guaranteed would probably be a favorable deal for the team, but Worilds is most likely going to be looking for a 4- or 5-year deal. The perception out there is that Worilds didn’t perform to the level of his $9.75 million contract this past season so there is no way the team would or should tag him for around $11 million next year. I’m not so sure. Look at the long-term deals given to Mike Mitchell, Cortez Allen and Marcus Gilbert this past offseason. “Overpaying” by $3-4 million for another season of Worilds might actually be the best course of action. Remember, there is no such thing as a bad 1-year deal.
5.) Ben and a Hometown Discount
My view is an athlete has the right to make whatever the market will bear and if he wants to squeeze out ever penny I’ve got no issue with it. Ben Roethlisberger is likely to sign a 5-year deal worth $105-120 million this offseason. But remember, the cap has moved up significantly the past couple years, if Ben signs a deal similar to the deals the top QBs have signed the past few years, that’s effectively a hometown discount.
6.) Mike Mitchell was Injured
Mike Mitchell mentioned after the Baltimore loss that he had been playing the entire season with a groin “tear.” I honestly don’t think Mitchell was making an excuse as much as answering a question, but his answer wasn’t received well by many fans. In talking with some inside the organization, they admit that Mitchell didn’t perform as they or he hoped, but at the same time they stressed Mitchell was incredibly tough. He received a series of Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections during the season. He also gutted through another injury in the Baltimore game. There is a real expectation that Mitchell will be much-improved next season.
The obvious follow-up question is whether a banged-up Mitchell was a better alternative than Will Allen or Robert Golden? (Shamarko Thomas was never an option. The staff wanted him to focus exclusively on strong safety this season so he would be ready to step in for Troy Polamalu next year.) I guess we’ll never know.
7.) Injuries to Gilbert and Miller in Baltimore Game
Marcus Gilbert got rolled up on (by Ramon Foster possibly), left the Ravens game and did not return. The injury isn’t series but Gilbert has now suffered a number of lower leg injuries the past few years.
Many were concerned about the helmet-to-helmet hit Heath Miller took late in the game and whether the proper concussion protocol was followed for both he and Roethlisberger. I’ve been told by multiple sources it was and, like Tomlin, people in the organization were insulted that their professionalism and concern for player safety was questioned. It did turn out that Miller broke ribs in the game, but is expected to recover fully.
8.) Practice squad guys
I asked Mike Tomlin to comment about the development of three practice squad players who signed futures contracts—LB Howard Jones, OT Alejandro Villanueva and TE Rob Blanchflower. “They did enough to proceed,” was his curt response. I’ve heard little about Jones’ development, but the 6’9” Villanueva, the former Army Ranger, is apparently up to 340 lbs and Blanchflower impressed some people over his last six weeks on the practice squad.