There are about two weeks remaining before teams can officially sign unrestricted free agents. It will be at that point that we will start to learn whether or not any of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ‘drama’ over the course of the past year—or few years—will have any impact on their ability to do business on the open market.
This isn’t ordinarily much of a concern for the simple fact that the Steelers are rarely active players in outside free agency, but with big needs and some salary cap space to spend, it wouldn’t at all be surprising if they take a more aggressive approach.
Remember, Pittsburgh did sign Joe Haden to a three-year, $27 million contract in 2017. Even though they came in August, they also tried to sign Dont’e Hightower back in the early portions of free agency, even pushing hard for him. That was the only season in recent memory that they had the cap space to spend, and they did their best to spend it.
But between Le’Veon Bell’s no-show, Antonio Brown going AWOL, Ben Roethlisberger’s leadership being questioned, and Kevin Colbert calling everybody on the team outside of the quarterback ‘kids’, the Steelers have been giving people fodder to use for criticism of how they run things in Pittsburgh these days, something they haven’t had to worry about in a while.
Personally, I don’t think it will be much of an issue, and neither do those at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Maybe the likes of Louis Riddick and Shannon Sharpe had fainting spells over Colbert’s comment, but as Ray Fittipaldo said recently, if high-profile free agents “want to get to know Kevin Colbert for who he really is then the answer is yes”, they will sign here.
After all, do you really think players’ agents will tell them not to sign with the Steelers if they offer their client the best contract and the best environment? Even if one is unable to parse the context of Colbert’s ‘kids’ remember and was somehow actually offended by it, as they say, football is a business. Just ask Bell. I’m sure he’ll let anybody call him ‘kid’ for $50 million guaranteed.
In his own chat, Ed Bouchette said that the ‘circus’ of last season “will have no bearing on anything” in free agency, and added that “those causing the silliness will be gone”.
Look, let’s be honest. Teams have signed with the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills for years and years. Why? Not because they’re great locales run by great organizations with great rosters, but because they were offering the best contracts. This is how it works the vast majority of the time.
Every NFL player is also a businessman, and almost all of them employ an agent to handle their business in an objective manner. When it comes to money, they’ll be talking business, not football (or at least relatively little), and doing so from a logical rather than emotional perspective.
And if anything, Bell and Brown moving on will be of benefit to the Steelers’ reputation in free agents’ eyes, sensing a change to the silly circus.