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Season Of Change: Righting Free Agency Wrongs

Over the course of the past couple of years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have undergone an uncommon amount of change, which could have been largely correlated with the fact that the team had finished 8-8 in consecutive seasons while failing to advance to the postseason.

In deference to general manager Kevin Colbert, the attitude used to approach the offseason in those years was that this was an 8-8 team and these were 8-8 players. It’s little surprise that a lot of things changed during those years.

But the Steelers are now coming off a season in which they finished with a record of 11-5, going 8-2 down the stretch and winning their last four games to claim their first AFC North title since the 2010 season. Correspondingly, we’ve seen a great deal less change.

Among those changes was a recognition of free agency failure on the part of the front office pertaining to a pair of notable free agent signings who were inked to multi-year contract during the previous offseason—veteran players who were supposed to help nurture a young offense.

Seeking a veteran running back to help carry the load for their young starter, the Steelers signed LeGarrette Blount to a two-year, $4 million contract, believing that the productivity evident in his resume would translate well behind the team’s improved offensive line and help take some of the pressure off of Le’Veon Bell.

In an uncommon misstep, however, the front office failed to predict how Blount’s off-field presence would translate, which, as we know, later resulted in the unceremonious end to his time in Pittsburgh—even if he later went on to win the Super Bowl last season.

In addition to being an accomplice in Bell’s DUI arrest, being charged with possession of marijuana, there were growing issues in the locker room, which culminated following Bell’s 200-yard rushing performance when he left the field.

The act, and subsequent behavior of leaving the locker room, was seen as insubordination, and his contract was quickly terminated. His teammates, some of whom were not aware of the news when questioned, unanimously understood why the move was made, one of them even likening his presence to a cancer that needed to be removed.

Not quite so melodramatic, the signing of veteran wide receiver Lance Moore also never developed as it was intended, starting with an early injury that kept him off the field when his experience would have been most valuable. By the end of the year he was a healthy scratch in the playoffs, and both sides mutually reached the conclusion that it was time to move on after the season.

While these were not franchise-transforming free agent signings, they were pretty notable in the context of Pittsburgh, which rarely splurges in the market and favors one-year veteran-minimum additions, which proved a successful strategy last year as well.

Both Blount and Moore, at least during the offseason, were seen as veterans who would help nurture the growth of a young offense while also contributing at a high level on a rotational basis. Neither part of that equation ever developed. The front office identified this and corrected the error by releasing them.

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