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Don’t dismiss the ‘Steeler-Way’ when it comes to free agency

I sometimes have to stop myself from being too critical of younger Steelers’ fans these days. After all, they mean well and are easily affected by all the news and social media that’s out there. They see what other teams do in the off-season and they start screaming from the rooftops about why we don’t get better players in free agency.

Too be fair, even old guys like me have been guilty of the same feelings and thoughts at times. It’s just that I’m a little more seasoned in understanding exactly how the Pittsburgh Steelers do things in terms of building their football team each season.

While other teams made big splashes with signings of guys like Vincent Jackson and Mario Williams the Steelers have recently signed…. Leonard Pope (Steelers Nation roars and waves towels). Pope of course is the Pro Bowl, uh no, All-Pro, oops again, Super Bowl winning, dang it! Pope plays H-back or tight end and has done so with little fanfare in Arizona and Kansas City. He has not made the Pro Bowl, nor has he won a Super Bowl. In fact, last season he had a career high 24 receptions and one touchdown (towels wave again)!

We also re-signed some other players this week as well. Household names like Trai Essex, Doug Legursky and David Johnson. Don’t forget also the return of Jerricho Cotchery.

If you’re one of those Steelers’ fans that always says “Why don’t we ever sign the big name guys” let me break it to you this way; this is how we do things and will do things as long as there is someone named Rooney owning this franchise. We develop our own and we bring in guys on a need-by-need basis to fill in positions that are questionable talent-wise or are just plain unfilled. Let me repeat, this is how we do things.

If you are a strong believer that big name free agents bring championships then let me introduce you to Mr. Daniel Snyder and his Washington Redskins. Need I say more?

I wrote earlier this week about the importance of signing Cotchery considering the questionable availability of Mike Wallace and the health issues of Emmanuel Sanders. Signing players like him and the above mentioned players are crucial to our success for a couple of reasons.

First of all, even though they will all be playing for a different coordinator in Todd Haley, they will at least have familiarity with the Steelers organization, coaches, trainers, towel boys, and parking lot attendants. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of familiarity within an organization. For many of these players who are so routine-oriented they’d make a psychologist cry, knowing their surroundings is a big factor in why guys sign elsewhere or stay with the Steelers.

The other key factor in signing these guys is experience. Yes, we’ve all called Essex or Legursky a ‘human turnstyle’ at times, but their effort and hard work is highly respected. Both of these men can play multiple positions which of course line coach Sean Kugler loves.

The jury will be out on Pope’s actual role for some time. Will he be a traditional tight end or more of an H-back? Only Mike Tomlin and Haley know that for sure.

The bottom line is that signing big-time free agents is not how we do things. It never really has been. James Farrior is probably the best free agent signing of the last 10 years and because of his play, many think he was just as good and valuable when he was with the New York Jets. Fact is, he really didn’t fit in the Jets’ system and kind of lost favor among their coaches. Their loss became our gain and the rest is history.

While there is no reason to go on thinking there will be monuments in front of Heinz Field to any of these guys, their importance is no less significant. Our consistency over the years has been fueled in large part by our off-season strategy and will continue to be this way.

If you would prefer to be 8-8 every year even though you’ve signed ‘big-time’ free agents, then by all means go to Washington or Dallas. I’m sure those Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders’ jerseys from their Redskins’ days are still available at low, low prices.

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