The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Cam Thomas
Position: Defensive Lineman
Experience: 6 Years
Cam Thomas, everybody’s favorite defensive lineman, signed with the Steelers on a two-year $4 million deal during the 2014 offseason and started the first quarter of that season as the primary left defensive end before then-rookie second-round pick Stephon Tuitt emerged into the starting lineup during the final stretch of the year.
It goes without saying that the veteran’s role diminished dramatically from that point on, but the reality always was that Thomas was a stop-gap sort of player and not a long-term solution. The Steelers had just lost two defensive ends in free agency and did not want to expose Brett Keisel to starter’s snaps that year, even though he often played more snaps than Thomas subbing in at both end spots before his injury.
Many expected—or moreso hoped—that Thomas would be released prior to the start of the 2015 season, but as with the year before, outside of the drafting of Tuitt, the Steelers didn’t really do much to address the defensive line depth that would result in making the veteran free agent acquisition expendable, even if he was overpaid.
Thomas had a $2.5 million cap hit last year, of which, I believe, $2 million was base salary, with half of a $1 million signing bonus being prorated in from last season, so it stood to reason that his roster spot was in jeopardy given that the Steelers could have saved $2 million prior to displacement.
Of course, that is not how the offseason played out. The Steelers merely re-signed a defensive end who was Keisel’s injury replacement and subsequently went on injured reserve before making it to the preseason. They also drafted a defensive end in the sixth round and claimed one off waivers, sending him to the practice squad after two games.
So in hindsight it’s no surprise that Thomas ended up making the 53-man roster, although admittedly, he did make some progress from last season. He worked during the offseason with Tuitt and the linemen on improving their pass rush, and it showed during the preseason, though did not really carry over to the regular season against stronger competition.
In spite of the Steelers’ desire to spell their two starting linemen, they did not have enough faith in Thomas’ abilities to give him all that many snaps, logging under 200 snaps. He did recover a fumble and prevent a touchdown on a scramble, and the run defense statistically was fine with him on the field. But he certainly will not be back with the team in 2016.