In every day, in every life, we make decisions that set in motion irreversible changes that shape our lives. Sometimes our choices lead to decisions that are made for us that are beyond our control. The same thing applies to entities as well as it does to individuals—say, a sports team.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a vast majority of good decisions over the years, which has allowed them to be the winningest team in the modern era, with the most hardware to show for it.
But some decisions have worked out less well than others, and have helped shape the team as they are today. In the world of alternative facts, we get an opportunity to explore the team as it could have been, if one decision or event had gone differently.
Imagine Kevin Colbert walking up to the podium at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex and announcing that after a day’s worth of intense negotiations, the Steelers were able to work out a long-term contract with free agent inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
Considering that the Patriots linebacker spent the better part of a day at the facility back in March, it was certainly a realistic possibility. If the Steelers were more committed to getting him, offering more money, then it’s reasonable to believe that he would have signed. As it is, he re-upped with New England on an incentive-laden deal that will make him quite wealthy.
And the Steelers are, on the surface, content with how things worked out as well. They may not have landed Hightower, but they also didn’t have to pay his salary, and they believe that Vince Williams can do a solid job of stepping in for Lawrence Timmons.
But what if they did get Hightower? He is a player that defensive coordinator Keith Butler said he pounded the desk for during the draft when he came out, after all. They’ve assuaged him by taking a linebacker pretty much every year since then.
When he was in the building, and especially after it seemed as though it as unlikely that he would sign, there was a lot of negativity about him. His snap counts were a frequent point of reference. He is too slow, as well.
But Pro Football Focus has some interesting things to say about him that many might be surprised by. For one thing, he was pretty solid in coverage. According to their statistics, he finished third among linebackers in terms of yards allowed per target in coverage with 5.47 yards.
He also created the second-highest pressure percentage when rushing the passer in the entire league among players with at least 150 snaps rushing the passer, behind only Khalil Mack. 18.29 percent of his pass-rush attempts resulted in him putting pressure on the quarterback.
I won’t pretend to understand why he only played 68 percent of the Patriots’ snaps last year and 54 percent the year before that, even considering the games missed (he played 77 percent of the snaps in 2014 while missing three games).
Sometimes Bill Belichick just does weird things. But I think it’s safe to say that Hightower would have made the Steelers a better team than they are now, and the Patriots wouldn’t have re-signed him for the coin they did if he were not worth it.