It should be routinely drilled into the minds of fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers that they should be fortunate not to have a front office that is enamored with the idea of building a roster through free agency, because there are far too many example of it simply failing for numerous reasons.
From the sounds of it, one of the people most recently learning that lesson, though it took him a while, is Philadelphia Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, who architected the ‘dream team’ of 2011 that saw the team bring in the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, and Ronnie Brown—not to mention Ryan Harris, whom the Steelers recently signed, though an injury resulted in him being waived with an injury settlement.
Most recently, the Eagles have found themselves in the process of cleansing themselves from the great Chip Kelly experiment, which saw him virtually gut the roster with trades and releases. Roseman’s fingerprints have been all over the mop up efforts since the Eagles relieved themselves of his coaching and management services.
He recently spoke to 95 WIP about Philadelphia’s offseason, during which he noted the contrast from years past, specifically, how they focused on keeping their own core group of players together, signing some of them before they hit free agency, rather than looking to add outside talent, and for a very good and underrepresented reason: you know your own players. You don’t know as much as you think you do about the guys you bring in from the outside.
“When you look at it”, he said, “some of the mistakes we’ve made have been going out and spending a lot of money”, before being more specific in saying that “a lot of those mistakes were on guys that aren’t our own”.
Obvious fingerpointing candidates would be the likes of Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray, who were near the height of the league in 2014 only to see themselves pointed toward as symptomatic of everything that was wrong with not just Chip Kelly’s strategy, but, in a way, free agency as a whole.
“They were guys we’ve brought in from another organization”, Roseman said, “and we thought we knew”. It’s hard to know a lot about a player before you have him in your locker room, which is why the Steelers have focused their spending on their own players and only added incrementally with the likes of Mike Mitchell and Ladarius Green.
In 2013, the Steelers brought in two free agent wide receivers after losing two in the offseason. Lance Moore was the veteran expected to take over in the slot. Darrius Heyward-Bey was almost laughed at and not really expected to make the roster by many.
Moore signed a two-year deal and was released after the first deal, asking for his release. Heyward-Bey signed another one-year deal, earned playing time, and recently re-signed to a three-year deal. Arthur Moats was another free agent who came in on a one-year deal only to sign a three-year deal once the team got to know him and understood what he brought to the organization.
When it comes to giving out the big contracts, Pittsburgh likes to reserve those for the likes of Maurkice Pouncey and Cameron Heyward, and not people who haven’t been through the battles with his teammates yet, who don’t understand the Steelers locker room. Roseman understands the wisdom of that now, which is why he vowed during the interview to keep around the likes of Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, and Zach Ertz, rather than throwing that money away on the next Asomugha.