For a late-season pickup, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Stevan Ridley certainly didn’t look like a dollar bin addition during the team’s season finale. While quality blocking from the offensive line, fullback, and tight ends did much to help make his day easier, the veteran back also ran with explosiveness and decisiveness, and nary a sign of rust for coming off the street.
Ridley, a third-round pick of the New England Patriots, had a nice little career going for himself before the Belichick machine spit him out following a knee injury when his rookie contract was up. Bill Belichick clearly doesn’t think much of the idea of bell cow backs, believing in the fungibility of the position.
He put up good numbers for New England, but he tore his ACL and the Patriots moved on. He signed with the Jets the next year. The Steelers were interested in signing him then, but he wanted to wait to sign in order to give himself more time to recover from the knee injury to maximize his value.
He waited, but Pittsburgh could not afford to. They signed DeAngelo Williams instead, as Bob Labriola talked about a couple of days ago. Mike Tomlin said that the team was interested in working with him then, but the circumstances for both parties were not right.
The circumstances to finally make that happen only developed this season, and it was unfortunate, because it came about as a result of a knee injury suffered by rookie running back James Conner, who ran well in his rare carries.
With Conner on injured reserve, and the Steelers needing somebody more reliable to back up Le’Veon Bell, suddenly Ridley made sense, and he was brought in and signed. And he has seemed to adapt quickly to being in the locker room and on the field with the team.
Almost as though he plans on being here for a while.
He was only signed to a one-year, qualifying contract, of course, which effectively works out to two weeks of pay, plus the postseason, based on when he signed. But one could easily see him returning in 2018, re-signing early in the offseason.
After all, that was roughly the plan in 2017. They drafted Conner and they signed Knile Davis in the offseason, but Davis didn’t even make the team. Terrell Watson earned that third back role, and then was replaced by the more veteran Fitzgerald Toussaint.
A backfield next year of Bell, Conner, and Ridley sounds much better than any of the other combinations one can configure from the names above, to my mind. That assumes Bell will be retained, which will likely require another franchise tag, something that is not a guarantee without some heavy restructures or a Ben Roethlisberger retirement.