Grass Ain’t Always Greener: A Historical Overview Of Steelers’ Free Agency Losses

When it comes to free agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers have very rarely dipped more than a toe in the pool, though they have had quite a bit of success with players ranging from Kevin Greene to Mike Mitchell making significant contributions to the team.

But the Steelers have also had their fair share of players move on from the team to join another, and as you might imagine, their range of results is quite expansive. The team has lost some notable players just this past year in Lawrence Timmons, Markus Wheaton, and Jarvis Jones.

Over the course of the summer leading up to training camp, as suggested by one of our readers, I’m going to be taking a look at the post-Steelers careers of some of the team’s notable free agency departures.

As we go through this journey, you will no doubt spot a few patterns that emerge over the course of time. One of them will be that many players who expected to find that the grass is greener on another pasture were wrong. Many such players ended up coming home back to Pittsburgh to resume their careers.

This has become a phenomenon more prevalent since the uncapped year of 2010, which saw the Steelers reunite with several former talents, among them cornerback Bryant McFadden, for whom they traded to reacquire, and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El.

Byron Leftwich is another player of note, as is Will Allen. Both players already had a long career of varying success playing elsewhere, starting with other teams, before they even set foot in Pittsburgh. Both of them somewhat righted the ship while with the Steelers, enough to land starting opportunities elsewhere.

In both cases, those opportunities flamed out, and within the next year, they found themselves hungry to go back to Pittsburgh. William Gay also followed McFadden’s path to Arizona and rerouted back to Pittsburgh, and he has seen a rejuvenation of his career in his second stint with the team.

Other players spent a couple of years elsewhere before heading back, such as Matt Spaeth and David Johnson, a pair of tight ends, the latter of whom is still currently on the roster. Both of them were full of praise for the Steelers upon their return in a manner that rang with sincerity.

Of course, not every player who left Pittsburgh ended up coming back, or flaming out. As we dig deeper, we will get more into the success stories, among the chief of which being Chad Brown, who spent a decade outside of Pittsburgh. And yet even he wound up back with the Steelers for one year late in his playing days.

I find this to be an exciting exercise, and a trip down memory lane that I’m hoping that others will share in and enjoy as well. We are after all in the dead time of the football calendar, so there is no better time to reflect upon the past than now.

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