It took them several days to do it, but the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday did finally host a couple of players in free agency that could have, if signed, become starters for their team. This is basically what almost every fan of the team has been waiting for after several days of seeming inactivity.
Nothing came of it—one of them even ended up signing a contract with another team—their original team—while they were still in the building visiting with the Steelers—but at least one of them hasn’t signed yet, that being former first-round inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, a player that the team was high on when he came out of the draft.
The most interesting thing about this visit, however, was the report by Aditi Kinkhabwala that the front office informed Hightower during his visit at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex that their offer, which they pitched over a course of six or so hours, would be rescinded should he ‘get on a plane’—that is, leave the area without signing.
As of the time of this writing, there has been no word that Hightower has done so, which suggests that he is taking their offer seriously. The reported motivation for the Steelers’ tactic here is that they did not want their contract to be used as a negotiating point for him to re-sign with the Patriots.
It is likely that the team then wanted this intentionally leaked so that both the Patriots and the public would be aware of it—of course Hightower would, as he was the one told. This could complicate discussions between the player and his former team both materially and geographically.
It probably doesn’t help that they already had one free agent that day sign with one of his former teams—even requesting to use their fax machine to send his signed contract over—though it is likely the case that this information was communicated to Hightower beforehand.
I saw quite a bit of mixed comments on this tactic on social media, but I have to say that I agree with it, especially in the Steelers’ position and knowing their modus operandi. They know that they don’t have the biggest offer on the table—that would belong to the Jets, reportedly—but they have other resources to offer.
What they are not willing to offer is wasted time. The front office committed significant resources in the form of time to Hightower today, but if he does not sign, then they will have to move forward quickly. I believe that is part of the reasoning behind pulling the offer should he leave.
It’s time to know now, not in a week or two, whether or not Hightower will be in their plans. If he is, then great, sign on the dotted line and line up. If he is not, okay, it’s time to move on and search for the next-best option. No more wasted time.