One of the areas of scouting and personnel development in which the Pittsburgh Steelers have struggled recently has been managing to find talent that they are able to keep around among the college free agents that they have signed immediately following the NFL Draft.
While it goes without saying that any specific player that you sign after the draft is going to have a below average chance of making it, ordinarily teams will sign at least as many college free agents as draft picks simply because they have a 90-man roster to fill out.
The Steelers’ rookie free agent class of 2018 looked better on paper than the ones they have brought in in recent years, and to be fair, the results do speak to that. They actually had two make the 53-man roster, those being Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, who is still under his rookie contract, and Matthew Thomas.
As I’ve already written about, Thomas is now a member of the Baltimore Ravens, who were able to offer him a Reserve/Future contract prior to their season being over because the league officially changed the restriction on teams being forced to wait to do so until after their season was over.
Many have wondered why he would not have re-signed with the Steelers. While he was released from the 53-man roster following the Denver Broncos game, for which he was inactive, he did re-sign to the practice squad and finished the year there.
According to Bob Labriola, the Steelers did not offer the Florida State product a Reserve/Future contract, so he did not make a choice not to re-sign with Pittsburgh if that information is to be trusted—and there is no reason to believe that it shouldn’t be.
It’s interesting, though not wholly surprising, because there were some obvious indications that the team was not satisfied with his development. He even mentioned that himself when he spoke to reporters after he was released and then re-signed to the practice squad.
Evidently, Jerry Olsavsky, Mike Tomlin, and the rest of the team got a long enough look at him this offseason to make the decision that he was going to be a problem to develop as they would like from a mental and effort standpoint. Perhaps there may have also been disciplinary concerns.
While Thomas made some noteworthy plays for the Steelers during the preseason, there were also the same sorts of things on his tape that you saw in college that helped explain why no team used a draft pick on him (outside of the off-the-field issues).
Now the Ravens will try their hand at turning him into a football player. Admittedly, Baltimore has had better success converting undrafted linebackers into contributors. See Patrick Onwuasor for the latest example, as well as Albert McClellan, Zachary Orr, Dannell Ellerbe, Jameel McClain, and I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting yet another recent name.