Player: Clifton Geathers
Position: Defensive End
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2015 Salary Cap Hit: $665,000
2015 Season Breakdown: When the Steelers signed veteran journeyman defensive end Clifton Geathers to a one-year contract at the start of the 2015 offseason, it raised some eyebrows, even if he had spent some time with the team the year before.
Veteran defensive end Brett Keisel went down with a season-ending—and ultimately career-ending—arm injury 12 games into the 2014 season. When he was placed on injured reserve, the team signed Geathers to take his place on the roster, but he never saw a helmet on game day in the four regular season game plus one postseason game that he spent with the team.
It seemed odd that a mere warm body would be given such priority—even at a one-year veteran-minimum contract—after he failed to even dress in five games the year before, but as it turned out, one man who was excited about him was the right man: his position coach, John Mitchell.
Mitchell talked him up during the draft after they had selected a defensive lineman, highlighting his massive 6’8”, 325-pound frame and the fire with which he practiced, recalling an early skirmish that he incited in practice just days after being signed.
A former sixth-round pick of the Browns in 2010, however, Geathers has never managed to attach himself anywhere, with the Steelers being the eighth team that has employed him already. He spent time with four teams in his rookie year alone.
Geathers was signed to a relatively comfortable contract given his history by the Redskins at the start of the 2014 season, but he played in just six games, registering six tackles, before he was released. This is why he was available and on the open market when the Steelers were in the business of finding a defensive end so late in the season.
In spite of the fact that there was some growing enthusiasm for Geathers’ potential to be a valued rotational player along the defensive line—which the 2015 season showed would have been a tremendous asset, given the time that the starting defensive ends were asked to log—that potential would never come to fruition.
Geathers was placed on injured reserve early on in training camp, a couple of days before the team’s first preseason game. Though the nature of the situation was never lain bare, comments from Bob Labriola suggested that his placement on injured reserve was not due to injury per se, but rather due to a condition.
Free Agency Outlook: Given that the Steelers were interested in Geathers last season and the past season showed no less of a need for the defensive end position, it certainly would not be a surprised to see the team give him another opportunity barring whatever condition he has dealt with is not an issue.
Cam Thomas is a free agent who will in all likelihood not be re-signed, and behind the starters are two young late-round and undrafted players with little to no experience. Geathers, or a player like Geathers, will figure to have a very good shot of making the 2016 roster.