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Sizing Up The Steelers’ Latest Moves

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It’s been a busy offseason for the NFL’s model championship franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the six-time Super Bowl Champions seem intent on ending it with a flurry of minor moves to gain themselves a small measure of security going into the 2016 season.

APPEASING AB

Among those moves was the decision by Pittsburgh on Wednesday to restructure the contract of star wide receiver Antonio Brown. In a way, the move sort of defied an organizational mindset not to re-negotiate with players before the final year of their contract. Brown isn’t set to be a free agent until after the 2017 season after signing a five-year contract with the Steelers back in 2012. But he’s since established himself as one of, if not the, best receivers in the league today, making him a bargain at his 2012 contract price.

With that and the fact that he’s not far from free agency while still playing in his prime in mind, Pittsburgh decided that while they wouldn’t talk about a new long-term deal until next offseason, to appease and reward Brown, by moving some of the money he is set to earn in 2017 forward to pay him more handsomely for this coming season. He’s now set to make $10.25 million for the 2016 season, still a bargain when you consider Keenan Allen, Vincent Jackson and Doug Baldwin are among the nearly dozen receivers set to make more.

Brown also got a smaller but similar bump in 2015 when the Steelers moved his money around to increase his earning from $6 million to $8 million for that season. It’s a clear sign that while the organization has a set of guidelines they operate under exclusively, they’re willing to bend them to show their appreciation for certain players. Brown has earned that appreciation and then some. Not only has he produced on the field, but while his teammates like Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell have run afoul of the league, Brown has been squeaky clean while establishing himself as an elite talent.

“Defenses do everything they can to take him away. And he’s gotten better,” Ben Roethlisberger said during training camp. “I still have to stay on him, ‘A.B., they have three guys on you, someone else is open.’ And he still can make plays with three guys on him.”

It’s a heck of a story for a guy who was drafted in the sixth round out of Central Michigan in 2010 and it’s likely going to get even better next offseason when Brown can finally cash in on his production. The seven-year, $113 million contract signed by Calvin Johnson in 2012 is going to be a tough bar to clear for any future receiver contract, but should that really count as the high bar for contracts when Johnson called it a career less than halfway through the deal? The star wideout got a shade over $64 million from that deal, leaving nearly $50 million on the table.

The more likely targets are the eight-year, $126 million deal signed by Larry Fitzgerald with the Cardinals in 2013 and the $35.5 million in guaranteed money that Julio Jones got from the Falcons last offseason. Expect Brown’s new deal in the Steel City to clear one if not both of those bars. And based on his production so far, he’ll be worth every penny.

SIGNING METTENBERGER

Pittsburgh’s other move on Wednesday was claiming quarterback Zach Mettenberger off waivers from the San Diego Chargers, a move they hope will never mean anything to the franchise.

The Steelers, like many NFL teams, are in bad shape behind their starting quarterback. If Antonio Brown is the franchise’s best player, Ben Roethlisberger is their most important, because it’s simply a toxic wasteland behind him.

Landry Jones was supposed to fix that problem when the Steelers selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, but it seems the Oklahoma product has made no progress as a passer since entering the league. He saw action in eight games last year, including Pittsburgh’s first round playoff win over the Bengals, and made two starts, over which the Steelers went 1-1.

But even that is misleading as one of those two starts, a 30-9 win over Cleveland, saw Jones get knocked out of the game early and Roethlisberger, who was nursing an injury himself, relieve him and do essentially all of the work in leading Pittsburgh to victory (that game, for which Jones was awarded a “quarterback win,” might be the best argument their is for that being a meaningless stat). Jones threw just nine passes over two other games for the rest of the year. Three of them were intercepted.

The now 27-year-old quarterback has looked just as bad this preseason, including a four-interception performance against the Eagles in Week 2, though his play did tick up last week in a win over the Saints. But the Steelers clearly have no faith in him should Roethlisberger go down.

Enter Mettenberger, the owner of a pristine 0-10 record as a NFL starter over two seasons in Tennessee. The 2014 sixth round pick was terrible with the Titans, cast aside this offseason in favor of Matt Cassel to backup Marcus Mariota. He caught on with the San Diego Chargers and played in the team’s first preseason game, against his former team in Tennessee. But Mettenberger looked so bad, completing just 2-of-8 passes with an interception, that he never played for San Diego again, losing reps to Kellen Clemens and undrafted rookie Mike Bercovici.

The Chargers finally cut him loose this week and now he lands in Pittsburgh, where it’s hard to know what the Steelers expect out of him. The team just placed long time reserve quarterback Bruce Gradkowski on injured reserve, so if they plan to continue rostering three quarterbacks, there is a spot open for Mettenberger or Bryn Renner, a 26-year-old journeyman out of the University of North Carolina. Or they could be just trying to catch lightning in a bottle with Mettenberger in the final preseason game, knowing that at worst he’s a body they can send out on the field and not have to worry about losing.

Either way, Mettenberger isn’t the answer to any real question in Pittsburgh and if the Steelers ever find themselves in a position where he has to take meaningful regular season snaps for them, they’re going to be in a world of trouble.

The Steelers are certainly a team worth watching this year and could be a contender for their seventh championship if everybody can stay healthy for once. But if they lose Roethlisberger, just as we’ve seen with the Cowboys and Vikings this past week, it’ll be all over before it even begins.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys