For as much as Pittsburgh Steelers fans complain that their team is not willing to spend money in free agency, that is not technically true if you want to get semantic about it. The thing is that they prefer to spend their money on their own free agents, largely because they already know and have worked with them, making it the safer bet.
And they once again showed just how willing they are to make ‘splashes’ in free agency on in-house signings when, for the second time in his career, the Steelers made center Maurkice Pouncey the highest-paid player at his position based on the new-money portion of his contract.
The team announced yesterday that, in addition to giving left guard Ramon Foster a new two-year deal worth $8.25 million, they had also extended Pouncey’s contract two more years with a total new money value of $22 million, averaging $11 million per season. He is now under contract through 2021.
The Steelers originally signed Pouncey to a five-year contract extension in 2014 that was worth over $44 million, averaging nearly $9 million per season. Seven centers had subsequently signed new deals or extensions whose new money values exceeded that number (though only four were actually north of $9 million).
Now he leapfrogs last year’s big center signing, former Baltimore Ravens center Ryan Jensen having signed a four-year, $42 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018, which pays out to an average of $10.5 million per season. Just off the top of my head, David DeCastro’s extension also made him the highest-paid player at his position at the time that he signed it. And of course there was Antonio Brown’s most recent extension—and the one Le’Veon Bell as offered.
In other words, the Steelers have never been shy about backing the truck up to ‘pay da man’. It’s just that those men are the ones with whom they have worked for some time and who they know is a smart-money bet.
The harsh reality is that they have gambled and lost when they have tried to spend in free agency lately. While Mike Mitchell got through at least four of his five years of his deal, at least two of those seasons were sub-par in performance. Ladarius Green and Morgan Burnett both figure to be one-and-one after signing deals of four and three years in length, respectively.
Would it kill them to make one minor splash every few years—and in their defense, they did manage to add Joe Haden, who has been critical in their secondary over the course of the past two years? Probably not, but they understand that bringing in somebody else’s player introduces a lot of unknowns that make it a bigger gamble than paying your own.
And when you pay your own, it’s also good for the in-house morale, knowing that if you do your job, you will be rewarded. You won’t be sent packing and replaced in free agency. There is a value to that, and makes players want to play for you—or even take less to stick around.
Does it work every single time? I’ll let Chris Boswell or LaMarr Woodley answer that question.