Article

2017 Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mock Offseason

I’m not one for sports radio. Too many commercials, too many hot takes, not enough substance. But the one radio show that will always have a special place in my heart is the Tony Bruno Show. Not the actual, Philadelphia one. The Madden franchise one. That was my life in high school. No parties. No crazy, run-away-from-the-cops adventures. No girls (oddly, they didn’t share my love of the Madden franchise).

It was me controlling, and often, running into the ground financially, the storied Pittsburgh Steelers’ franchise. And after every week, listening to the pre-made Tony Bruno soundbites of my team and what was going on around the league. I was the GM. I was in charge, for better or worse.

For the third year, we’re conducting our mock offseason. We’ll run through free agency, the draft, and take a step back to look at the mess I’ve made of things. As always, we’ll be using the awesome features over at Fanspeak.com, which I highly encourage you to check out and kill a couple minutes – or if you’re at work, hours – testing out. It’s loads of fun. We’ll use their Manage The Cap feature to juggle free agency and their mock draft simulator for, obviously, the 2017 draft.

Couple of caveats before we dive in.

1. This is all done in one try. There’s no going back, starting over if I ruin things. I’m writing this before I’ve begun anything and have legitimately no idea how it will turn out. I dabbled with the mock drafts just to get a feel for who had the best board (we’re using Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller’s) but I’ve never done the exercise full-on for this go around. If I mess up, I gotta own it. Unlike the actual NFL, these contracts are worth something.

2. The free agency/cap manager is hard for me to get my head around. To sign players, you’re only given three parameters: years, salary per year, and percent guaranteed.

I assume that last one is a signing bonus but it’s never directly specified. The trouble is figuring out what your cap charge will be until after the player accepts it. I’ve tried to run the numbers and it never breaks with what I expect or the way it should be, coming up with its own number seemingly out of thin air.

Much like the fuel gauge on my McLumina, I have a general idea of what’s going to happen but zero idea what the exact amount is in there.

Having said that, it’s going to be better for me to be more conservative than aggressive. Can’t run into the red or the Rooney’s will have to fire me, a disgrace to the city. If I do well, I’ll never have to pay for my Primanti’s sandwich ever again. Lot on the line.

I threw on the Madden 07 soundtrack, my personal favorite, and jumped into creating the Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 offseason. Wish me luck. I have a sinking feeling I’m going to need it.

PRE-FREE AGENCY

Before we sign a contract or hand a player their pink slip, we gotta crunch the numbers. Fanspeak is giving the Steelers $15.248 million in free cap space, five million already set aside for draft picks. I know that number doesn’t align with what Dave Bryan came up with, or maybe figures elsewhere, but hey, that just means I’m getting more money.

That’s the number we can’t go below or I’m going to have to bust open my piggy bank.

The first thing we’re prompted to do is make cuts or restructure players. Tired of playing the waiting game with Ladarius Green? We could cut him. Want to re-do Cam Heyward’s contract? It’s an option.

For this, I’m mostly only going to do are procedural matters. Because as cool as these exercises are, and the only thing I know about programming is the HTML course I took in 10th grade (if you need something bolded, I’m your guy), Fanspeak has some, uh…quirks.

Players still on the books include: Ryan Harris, Daryl Richardson, and Cole Manhart. Harris’ retirement is recent so we can give the sim a pass but I have no idea what the others are still doing here. I cut them all.

Sorry, Cole. We’ll always have St. Vincent.

I’m also going to cut Fitzgerald Toussaint to free up another 600K in space. I know he won’t make the team as a third running back again and allow him to test the waters elsewhere. I’m sure you’re heartbroken.

In all, these four moves save me $3.79 million, upping our cap space to $19.038. At $88.25 for a box of 200 Bagel Bites, that 19 million of cap space means I could be the proud owner of 4.3 million individual mini-pizzas. I consider taking the money and bolting.

Convincing myself to see it through, I get back to business.

There will be no restructures, no kicking the can down the road, and the sim won’t let us extend Le’Veon Bell’s contract so we’re stuck with his monstrous franchise tag.

Before we go any further, we have to map out the locks for the 53 man roster, giving us a sense of where the team needs the most help. Let’s break it down. This is, by the way, before we’ve re-signed any of our own, none of whom will be included in this initial projection.

QB: Ben Roethlisberger
RB: Le’Veon Bell
FB: Roosevelt Nix
WR: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey
TE: Ladarius Green, Jesse James
OT: Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert, Jerald Hawkins, Chris Hubbard
OG/C: Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, B.J. Finney
DE: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, L.T. Walton
NT: Javon Hargrave
OLB: James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo
ILB: Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich
CB: Artie Burns, Ross Cockrell, William Gay
S: Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Robert Golden, Jordan Dangerfield
K: Chris Boswell
P: Jordan Berry
LS: Greg Warren

ROSTER NUMBER: 38

BUBBLE PLAYERS: OLB Arthur Moats, CB Senquez Golson, ILB Steven Johnson, QB Zach Mettenberger, NT Daniel McCullers, ILB LJ Fort, WR Cobi Hamilton, WR Demarcus Ayers, TE Xavier Grimble, OT Brian Mihalik

FREE AGENT TARGETS: QB, RB, CB, OLB?

That’s just a general breakdown. Now it’s time to dive in and start building up the roster.

We’re given a list of players restructured and cut around the league. Of course, we care only about the latter, and here’s a look at what the rest of the bot-league did.

Even the sim has little faith in Jay Cutler. Ouch.

Re-signings 

I put on my negotiator hat and get to work. We’ve got a long road ahead of us.

Here’s our re-sign list.

Ah yes, Donald Washington, the man you couldn’t live without.

I’m a fan of veteran backup QBs and Toy Story, making Landry Jones my number one priority. I start off with a modest 3 year, $9 million deal with $2.25 million of it guaranteed.

And he accepts! I’m pleasantly surprised. Off to a good start.

Frankly, looking over the rest of my list, there isn’t anyone I’m itching to bring back. Lawrence Timmons is a tough decision but I’m of the mindset of letting a player go a year early than having him a year late and have confidence in Vince Williams to slide into his spot. I also can’t help myself from thinking about signing a hybrid safety to have a third down role.

Ricardo Mathews was underwhelming last year and Jarvis Jones…yeah, no thanks. I do decide to throw a minor, 2 year, $2.2 million deal to tight end David Johnson to be the potential #3 tight end. Nothing guaranteed. He accepts as well and I’m content with wading into the deep end – free agency.

My cap number drops to $15.908, nearly what I began with.

If you’re interested in who else was re-signed around the league, or to prevent you from being that “Why didn’t you sign X?” guy, here’s the full list that popped up.

Ozzie Newsome makes power moves that puts me to shame. Brandon Williams inks a 5 year, $55 million deal and Ricky Wagner comes back for 4 years/$38.8 million. I was just excited to sign my third string tight end. I’m at the garage sale; Newsome is maxing out his credit card.

The Buffalo Bills’ also gave Robert Woods over $32 million in his new deal. I, uh, feel like I’m going to get outbid in this process. That piggy bank might have to get smashed after all.

Free Agency – Day One

Guys, this is nerve-wracking. The Steelers are on the edge of a Super Bowl and I’m the closer? It’s a lot of pressure.

If you remember, one of the quirks of the sim is that you can’t hear back from players on an individual basis. You submit the offers for a day, get the responses en masse, and move on to the next day. So if I offer five players and they all accept, I could run out of money. Sorry to break the fourth wall there but it’s important information.

I start out small. I have my vision for the third running back. A capable kick returner. I’m not of the belief that you have to have the most dynamic guy in the world, don’t overlook ball security and decision-making, but it would be nice to have a guy capable of running at a speed faster than my Grandma. I set my sights on the Los Angeles Rams’ Benny Cunnigham. He’s averaged over 27 yards per return in his career.

My offer? 2 years, $4 million, $400K guaranteed. Remember, we’ll have to wait until the end of the day for a response from his agent.

Passing up my old flames of Cedric Peerman and Leger Douzable who were available, I set sail on the one big-money free agent I’d love to acquire: CB Morris Claiborne.

Yes, he’s been injury-plagued but has played well when healthy. He’ll support the run, played in a man-heavier scheme in Dallas, and saw reps inside and out. Just turning 27, he’s in prime position for that one decent contract.

The initial offer? Four years, $20.8 million with $7.28 guaranteed. It’s enough money to get my anxiety going and worrying about cap space. We’ll need to wait a bit to see if we earned our rose or are heading home.

Before tapping out for the day, I make one low-tier offer. It goes to DE Jason Jones, cut by the Miami Dolphins right before the playoff game against Pittsburgh. He is above the 30 year old threshold but I like his versatility. He’s someone who is going to play more three tech than end, which is exactly the type of defensive linemen I’m aiming for. Need another guy to get after the QB and Jones has consistently done that in his career.

The contract offer: 2 years, $4.5 million, $675K guaranteed.

I scroll down to hit that big green button in the sky, advancing to Day Two and telling me the results of my offers. Deep breaths.

*drum roll*

1 out of 3. If this was baseball, I’d be in the Hall of Fame. The good news is that Cunningham and Claiborne didn’t turn around and sign elsewhere. We still have a puncher’s chance.

Notable contracts signed on the first day include:

Cody Wallace to Jacksonville: 1 year/$3.6 million
Larry Warford to Minnesota: 4 years/$30.8
Brandon Flowers to New England: 3 years/$19.2
Logan Ryan to Oakland: 3 years/$27.3
Adrian Peterson to Washington: 2 years/$13.6

The cornerback market is looking pretty strong. That’s bad news for me.

Day Two

My cap space, by the way, is at $14.8 million.

I increase Cunningham’s offer: 3 years, $6.6 million, $1.32 guaranteed. For a dude who is going to return kicks all day, that’s good money. I’m hopeful.

I throw RB Knile Davis’ hat into the ring, too. Qualifying offer of 900K/90K. Maybe that puts a little bit of pressure on Cunningham’s team to get this deal done. And if Davis signs, he offers a similar skillset at a much cheaper price tag.

Back to Claiborne. I up the total and guaranteed money, giving him an annual value of just over $6 million with a decent chunk of it guaranteed.

4 years/$24.1 – $8.44M guaranteed. That’s what is on the table.

I start to explore some near-minimum offers, too. Kayvon Webster is a backup slot CB and core special teamer who might come to Pittsburgh on the cheap since he’s friends with Antonio Brown.

Nose tackle Brandon Thompson, the man they call Yams, gets the same deal. Backup nose tackle coming off injury but a quality run stuffer who will push Daniel McCullers and maybe – hopefully? – off the roster.

Webster and Thompson are each offered one year, $1.1 million with just $110K guaranteed.


Knowing I’m flirting with someone else, Cunningham quickly accepts the offer. The others decline but honestly, none of that surprises me.

Day Three

Available cap space post Cunningham signing: $12.46 million.

My cap space has fallen to $12.46 million, still a healthy sum of cash a couple days in. I tweak Claiborne’s offer just a tad, increasing the guaranteed by about a million, to see if I can get any closer to a deal getting done. Maybe I’m just a tiny bit off. We’ll see.

Thompson gets a sizeable raise as well and I’m thinking it should be enough to have him emerge through the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

The offers I placed on the table.

Claiborne: 4 years/24.8/9.92 gtd

Thompson: 2/2.6/390K


Sigh, no dice on either.

Day Four

I say to myself this is my last try for Claiborne, even knowing that’s probably not true. We’ve been done that road in past editions of this. I can’t go up much higher in money, especially knowing I might make some other moves later in free agency. The guarantees go up a bit as does the overall deal. 4 years, $26 million, with nearly $10.5 guaranteed.

I do the same with Wesbter’s deal I did with Thompson, giving Yams a day to cool off before I try again. Two years, $3.5 million with a cool $350K guaranteed offered up for Webster.

One last try…

 

Nope and nope. It’s starting to get frustrating….

Day Five

Ok, new tactic. New name. Dre Kirkpatrick, a person the Steelers might actually be interested in though in reality, are unlikely to actually sign. He’s physical, still young, and plays the ball in the air well. I start off on the low-end of things, seeing if I can get a cheap deal and walk away a happy man.

He gets an initial offer of three years for $16.5 million and $5.78 guaranteed.

I couple it with my guy, Captain Munnerlyn. He isn’t an impactful tackler but he plays big in coverage, showing the ability to jam receivers at the line and disrupt timing routes. I figure Kirkpatrick can start outside, Munnerlyn in the slot. Total facelift.

Three years, $6.9 million, a modest $1.38M guaranteed is what I’m aiming for.

Another college try on Thompson, again, getting a sizeable increase in cashflow: two years, $4 million, 800K.

Three strikes. I’m out.

Day Six

I keep switching tactics, hoping for a Cunningham/Davis mind game to get one of the cornerbacks to sign. I go back to Claiborne, keeping the overall money about the same but bumping up the guaranteed an additional $2 million. It’s an olive branch, a fair offer, and the agent has to now I’m trying, right? Right?

In total, a four year deal worth $27 million with $12.15M guaranteed.

Trying to get a hotstreak going, I go back to Webster, hoping to sign both. An Arthur Moats-type deal: three years, $6.9 million, $1.73 guaranteed. I’ll be pumped if both sign.

Finish things off with Brandon Thompson getting a slight increase and in my mind, is my final stab at it. His offer comes in at two years, $4.2 million and $1.68 guaranteed. I hope you’re as excited about minute financial increases as I am.

Someone accepts! It’s the guy I cared about the least but it’s the first announcement we’ve made in a business week. Pop the champagne.

Day Seven

My cap now sits at 10.78 million so still plenty left in the tank. I go back to my Kirkpatrick/Munnerlyn duo, going way up on Kirkpatrick’s overall contract. Four years, $24 million, $8.4 guaranteed.

I bump up Munnerlyn’s too, a cool three million per year and nearly that much guaranteed too.

The verdict?

 

Day Eight

Fanspeak’s “negotiating tips” button at the top left of the page openly mocks me. Hey Alex, you suck at this, click here.

I’m having the worst luck, the most difficulty, much tougher than it’s been the previous two years doing this. The corners keep declining but no one is signing either. Top corner A.J. Bouye is still on the market, apparently still weighing options. And both Claiborne and Kirkpatrick just fold everytime I think I’m going all in.

I go back to Claiborne with another increase to the deal to levels I’m starting to get uncomfortable with. I’m paying Ross Cockrell $1.78 million. How can Claiborne justify more than triple that? Five years, $31 million, $14 million guaranteed.

Sign. The. Contract.

AHHHHHHHH

Day Nine

Another try. I don’t even care if I’m spending too much. I’ll get the giant scoreboard from Dallas’ stadium and ship it to Pittsburgh. Whatever it takes.

I’m looking at the rest of the free agency class and truthfully, there’s really no one else who interests me. Especially with the knowledge of how deep the draft is. If I can only get that elusive cornerback, my white whale.

The offer increases to five years, $33 million, $15M guaranteed.

Day Ten

Guys…I’m so sorry. I have turned this into an article about nothing. The Seinfeld of Depot articles. I can’t wrap my head around it. Free agency has dried up, no one is signing players anymore and yet here these guys sit, rejecting $6 million+ contracts.

It’s day ten of ten, the last the simulator allows me to conduct. Moving on from Claibrone, I simply can’t justify anything higher than what I’ve already tried to shell out, I go back to Kirkpatrick and Webster, the best buddy cop movie you’ve never heard of. Kirkpatrick gets another increase in his deal, four years, $27 million, with $10.8 guaranteed.

And Webster gets a nice deal for backup money: 3 years, $7.8 million, $2.34 guaranteed. I hit the green button, my last chance, and hope.

Welp, this is awkward. Remember when I said the CB market was bringing me bad news? Yeah, that turned out to be one heck of an omen. It’s a punch to the gut.

Free agency is “over,” and I’m left with little gained. My signings.

I entered an optimistic, bright-eyed kid. I left hardened, mad at the world. Welcome to the NFL.

NFL Draft 

We move on to the draft. Unfortunately, we have several more needs than I, uh, anticipated. I’ll go at it one round at a time to keep the suspense going. Something interesting has to happen in this offseason.

Round One (30th Overall): Derek Rivers/OLB Youngstown State – 6’4/1 248

Analysis: I had a lot of options here. Charles Harris, Carl Lawson, and Obi Melifonwu were all on the board. But after his strong Combine, I mixed it up and went with Rivers. He has the size, the length, ability to set the edge against the run, and potential to be a premier pass rusher. Showing well at the Combine and Senior Bowl offers confidence as to him making the jump in competition.

Round Two (62nd Overall): Kevin King/CB Washington – 6’3/2 200

Analysis: I’m not positive he’s going to last this long but I’ll take any sort of luck I can get in the draft I certainly didn’t get in free agency. King is Artie Burns on steroids. He’s big, long, and had one heck of a Combine. Some of the best times in virtually every category.

He might not be *the* answer to the sub-package player but I can definitely envision using him on some big tight ends in certain situations/matchups. And corner depth does always need to be strong.

Round Three (94th Overall): Gerald Everett/TE South Alabama – 6’2/6 239

Analysis: His name has popped up a lot lately in my articles in mocks so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see him go here. If Ladarius Green isn’t available, or misses time during the season – an assessment that seems likely – Everett will step into his shoes as the move tight end.

If Green stays healthy, that in itself is a win because hey, the dude is healthy and undoubtedly productive. It’s a win-win. The Steelers used some 13 personnel and spread the field last year to below average success because David Johnson would become the third guy. Everett is a much better option.

Round Three (105th Overall) – Trey Hendrickson/OLB Florida Atlantic – 6’3/7 266

Analysis: Doubling up on the edge rushers. Hendrickson impressed at the Combine with great numbers across the board and his profile suggests someone the Steelers will be interested in. He has 29.5 career sacks and 7 FFs.

Round Four (135th Overall) – Damontae Kazee/CB San Diego State – 5’10/2 184

Analysis: Because of our utter failure in free agency, we have to be aggressive with the secondary in the draft. Kazee is my intended slot corner for 2018 and maybe, if need be, can work his way on the field in the second half of 2017. I like his short area quickness, ball skills, and willingess to thump in the run game.

Round Five (173rd Overall) – Corey Clement/RB Wisconsin – 5’10/2 220

Analysis: I wasn’t totally intending on taking Clement here but there was a major run on running backs before my pick. Kareem Hunt, Jamaal Wiliams, and even James Conner went in the 15 picks before mine. Clement has the size the Steelers look for in a workhorse-potential back and I like his feet. He isn’t an explosive guy however, and that may limit his potential.

Round Six (213th Overall) – Nate Gerry/LB-S Nebraska – 6’1/7 218

Analysis: Here’s my hybrid guy. It’s a sixth rounder so sure, the odds of him making an immediate impact isn’t great, but at 218 pounds who can run and hit, there may be some long-term potential with him. He’s already confirmed teams are looking at him in that way. And you’re going to get a rock solid special teamer.

Round Seven (248th Overall) – Greg Ward/WR Houston – 5’10/6 186 

Analysis: A fun selection to finish things out. Ward was a quarterback in college making him a gadget guy at the next level. Stick him on the practice squad for a year and figure out what you have in him as he learns the position. Wouldn’t be the first quarterback named Ward the Steelers found success with at receiver.

Your final look at the Steelers’ draft class.

And if you’re curious, the top ten of the overall draft.

Now that our roster is set, my projected 53 man roster for the start of the 2017 season.

QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Zach Mettenberger
RB: Le’Veon Bell, Corey Clement, Bennie Cunningham
FB: Roosevelt Nix
TE: Ladarius Green, Jesse James, Gerald Everett, David Johnson
WR: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Demarcus Ayers
OT: Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert, Chris Hubbard, Jerald Hawkins
OG/C: Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, B.J. Finney
DE: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, L.T. Walton, Jason Jones
NT: Javon Hargrave, Brandon Thompson
OLB: James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Derek Rivers, Trey Hendrickson, Anthony Chickillo
ILB: Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich, Steven Johnson
CB: Artie Burns, Ross Cockrell, William Gay, Kevin King, Damontae Kazee
S: Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Robert Golden, Jordan Dangerfield, Nate Gerry
K: Chris Boswell
P: Jordan Berry
LS: Greg Warren

And a projected ten man practice squad with a couple potential UDFAs thrown in.

RB: Leshun Daniels Jr (UDFA)
WR: Greg Ward
OL: Brian Mihalik, Clint Van Horn (UDFA)
DL: Lavon Hooks, Johnny Maxey
ILB: Akil Blount
OLB: Al-Quadin Muhhammad (UDFA)
CB: Al-Hajj Shabazz
S: Jacob Hagen

Those on the bubble coming into camp and obviously, cut. Arthur Moats, Xavier Grimble. L.J. Fort

So there you go. It obviously didn’t go as planned but hey, like I said, this is done in one swoop. This offseason has created some more confidence in the tight end position with the addition of Everett and we’ve made two moves to bolster the defensive line depth, making this a really strong group.

Edge rusher has been given a facelift and the secondary has seen a heavy investment for the second year in a row. The slot position is a little less stable than what I’d like it to be but it’s manageable and if Kazee pans out, it should work out.

Let me know your thoughts and feedback in the comments section. And if you’re like to try your own offseason, the links will be posted right below.

I’d love to hear your mock offseason. I’m betting it’s better than mine. Happy free agency eve, everyone.

Manage The Cap (offseason sim)

On The Clock (draft sim)

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