Earlier this month, the Cleveland Browns made a trade to acquire punter Andy Lee, among the best in the game, for a seventh-round draft pick. The Pittsburgh Steelers once attempted to acquire Lee when he was a restricted free agent several years ago, but their offer was matched, and the Steelers went on to draft Daniel Sepulveda.
Pittsburgh gave up a sixth-round draft pick to move up several spots in the fourth round to draft Sepulveda after the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Adam Podlesh earlier in the round. Fearing that they would miss out on their punter, their hands were a bit forced.
It would have worked out well, I think, had Sepulveda been able to stay healthy, but we all know how that ended up. The Steelers have faced the seemingly impossible task of finding stability at the position since then, including signing Podlesh last year, but he was never able to report.
Currently, the Steelers have incumbent Brad Wing, a second-year former undrafted free agent who had an inconsistent first year in the league, with a below par average and a middling net average, thanks in large part to the work of the team’s gunners.
In a concurrent move with the acquisition of Lee, meanwhile, the Browns released punter Spencer Lanning, who last year posted an average of 44.3 and a net of 39.2. Neither approach Pro Bowl-level numbers, but they were better than Wing’s and that included a long return in the season opener thanks to Antonio Brown.
Brown inadvertently booted Lanning in the face at the end of that return as he attempted to hurdle the punter’s hesitation tackle attempt. Now that he is unemployed, perhaps the Steelers could repay him by bringing him into camp to compete with Wing.
Pittsburgh has already sought competition for Wing this offseason, bringing in two first-year punters who competed in rookie minicamp for the right to head to training camp, presumably, with Jordan Berry being the victor.
But Berry certainly has no greater assurance of succeeding than does Wing. Lanning has two seasons under his belt, and showed improvement from year one to year two. It could be worth bringing him in to compete with Wing rather than hoping that a player who is in Wing’s situation a year ago could supplant him.
For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus rates both Wing and Lanning poorly, and in fact Wing was rated slightly better, but I would credit much of that to the Steelers’ overall punt coverage unit.
For his part, Lanning punted 93 times last year, one of only three punters to attempt more than 90. His coverage units only manage to down or induce a fair catch on 35 occasions, allowing 42 to be returned for 295 yards. Wing punted 61 times, having 27 fair caught or downed, with 27 returned for 221 yards.
Bringing in Lanning would be a virtually no-risk move that would provide just a bit of veteran competition at an underrated position that could use a legitimate challenger after the incumbent won by default last year, so it’s at least worth considering, unless you’re really in love with Berry’s upside.