The Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday agreed to terms with another one of their free agents, this time with defensive lineman Clifton Geathers. Given that the team only signed him with four games left in the regular season as an injury replacement—and the fact that he was available to sign at that time, the move could be regarded as somewhat surprising.
But then again, the man that he replaced on the roster, Brett Keisel, is no longer on the roster for good after the Steelers released him earlier this offseason, so this is actually a move, literally, to hold serve, to use the phrase that general manager Kevin Colbert adopted to characterize the team’s free agency strategy.
After Keisel suffered a torn triceps muscle late in the season, the veteran defensive end was placed on injured reserve, likely spelling the end of his career. Geathers was quickly signed to take his spot on the roster, but spent all of his time with the organization on the inactive list, never seeing the field.
Considering that Ben Tate started for the Steelers just a few days after having been signed, and the fact that the depth chart on the defensive line in front of him included two rookies and a disappointing free agent signing who was demoted in favor of one of those rookies, it may be regarded as slightly surprising that he was never even active for a game, but of course the nature of the position and the game day numbers have to be taken into consideration.
Geathers’ contract is, unsurprisingly, a one-year, veteran minimum deal, but while he is surely far from a roster lock, he should be given his chance. Head coach Mike Tomlin spoke about him after the signing and said that he was a player that the Steelers were interested during that offseason.
The Washington Redskins, however, signed him to a two-year, $3.2 million contract in mid-March, while the Steelers were still settling their defensive end position, having had three as pending free agents.
The Steelers ultimately signed Cam Thomas to a two-year, $4 million contract, but ended up getting Geathers as well after the Redskins released him after six games. Thomas started the majority of the season at defensive end, and also played nose tackle, but his role gradually diminished toward the end of the season.
It was widely suspected that the Steelers would release Thomas this offseason, which would trim his $2 million base salary, but they have yet to do so, nor have they needed the cap space. Whether or not Geathers’ signing has any impact on that, now or in training camp, remains to be seen.
What the signing does accomplish, at least, is add a veteran body along the defensive line, providing some insulation that makes addressing the unit less important in the upcoming draft. At 6’8” and a listed 325 lbs., he should at least be hard to miss on the practice field.