Player Poaching Still The Exception, Not The Rule

You know you’re getting to the heart of the preseason when the dialogue begins over which players the Pittsburgh Steelers absolutely must keep on the 53-man roster or else they are certain to be claimed off waivers by any number of teams.

This season, there seems to be a healthy number of these must-keep players when there is realistically perhaps one spot for all of them combined. The two names leading that pack are certainly Ian Wild and, as generated plenty of discussion yesterday, Anthony Chickillo.

While I do maintain my belief that Chickillo is more likely, currently, to make the roster than not, based on my own evaluation of the roster and the team’s usual inclinations, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if the Steelers stick with convention, carrying nine linebackers with Chickillo the odd man out.

And it certainly wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if he clears waivers and lands safely on the practice squad. It simply is something that doesn’t happen nearly as often as one would think, given the standard reactions.

The last player to be claimed off waivers during final roster cuts was former fifth-round cornerback Crezdon Butler in 2011. While he remains in the league, he is on his eighth different team, and has 22 tackles to his name.

Third-round guard Kraig Urbik, who lost out to Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky in his second season as the two interior reserve linemen on the 53-man roster, was a waiver claim in 2010. Although I’m uncertain whether or not the Steelers had intentions of placing him on the practice squad, given that he was a third-round pick, it would not have been surprising. But the Buffalo Bills claimed him, and he has been with them since 2010, eventually earning a starting spot, with 53 starts to his name.

The year prior, in 2009, rookie defensive end Ra’Shon Harris, a sixth-round draft pick, was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers during the final roster cuts. The Panthers placed him on the practice squad a few weeks into the season, where the Steelers signed him back. He was brought back only to replace Aaron Smith after the veteran was placed on injured reserve.

Other than that, it’s hard to find many recent examples of former Steelers players being poached off the waiver wire; certainly not many significant players. Harris has not been on a 53-man roster since 2010, for example.

An equally great fear is losing players off the practice squad, which in spite of losing two defensive ends in that capacity last season, also remains rare, and both of those signings came due to injury.

There is no shortage of names that people have feared would be lost if the Steelers tried to “sneak” him on to the practice squad, such as Isaac Redman back during his rookie season. Brian Arnfelt was another name in 2013, but he failed to even make the practice squad last year.

From Chris Scott to Corbin Bryant, from Mario Harvey to Ryan Lee and Alan Baxter, it’s worth keeping into perspective that the fear of losing a player in this way is much greater than the reality. 32 teams will be releasing 37 players in a few weeks, hoping to sign 10 back. That’s a lot of players to sort through for any team.

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