These last 2 weeks have nothing short of glorious if you’re a Steelers fan. Ramon Foster and David Johnson sign their tender offers, Jerricho Cotchery is brought back on a 2 yr. deal and a reserve Tight End Leonard Pope comes over from Kansas City. And now today as was previously reported, Charlie Batch is back for his annual contract to backup Ben Roethlisberger. How can you not love that!
Then, not to be outdone, today the remaining restricted free agents all signed their 1 yr. offers from the team. Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy both will return in 2012 as well as exclusive rights free agents Isaac Redman, Jeremy Kapinos and Steve McLendon also agree to their contracts*. It’s a flurry of activity from the front office to get all those players under contract as the draft gets closer and closer.
Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite on the standards of glorious or even epic but it was good news nonetheless as the roster for the new team begins to take shape. Sprinkle in some draft picks at the end of this month and eventually Mike Wallace, hopefully, and things will really get rolling for training camp this summer.
Let’s dive into a few of these for a bit shall we; Keenan Lewis was restricted so he was destined to be back with the team in the end. He’ll be in the mix with 2nd yr players Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen for the starting job across from Ike Taylor. He definitely has the experience factor on his side but it’s no lock right now for him to get the job. Dick Lebeau was very impressed with his rookies last year who both battled through injuries to make an impact on special teams an in the dime situations on defense especially for Allen. This is a huge year for Lewis who spent the beginning of 2010 in Mike Tomlin’s doghouse and never really got it going. Then in 2011 he was the primary backup to both Ike Taylor and William Gay and saw a lot of playing time on defense. He’ll have a chance to prove he’s starter material this summer.
Isaac Redman was an exclusive rights free agent so he was either going to sign his offer and play with Pittsburgh or leave the NFL. He’s the starter now with Mendenhall likely not ready to go by the start of the season. This is his time now entering his 3rd yr in the league to show everyone what he already believes he can do and that’s start in the NFL. He responded every time his number was called, especially in the final game of the season and then in the playoffs against Denver. My money is on IRED to take ahold of the starting job and never look back. There are many, for some reason I’ll never get, that say he can’t do it. They say he hasn’t proven anything yet. Give the guy a chance to prove himself, which he now has, and I’m confident he’ll shut up the critics.
Jeremy Kapinos, this guy has been there recently for the Steelers when now released Daniel Sepulveda continued to battle knee injuries that cut his seasons short. He punted 34 times last season with a 45 yd average. The main thing about Kapinos is that he stays healthy and is consistent, something the Steelers haven’t had since 2009 when DSep was able to play in all 16 games. The Steelers always bring in extra place kickers and punters to camp but Kapinos will have every opportunity to win the job. He’s earned that chance if you ask me.
Ryan Mundy was an absolute must to return to the team. Behind Tory Polamlu and Ryan Clark the only other experienced Safety is Will Allen. Mundy is the primary backup to both starters and a solid special teamer. He’s not a spectacular, blow your mind type of player but he’s reliable and knows the defense. He’ll make the plays and be able to step in at a moments notice. The team is not in an immediate need of a Safety yet but having Mundy back in the fold definitely adds some security to the secondary and special teams.
Steve McLendon might be the most valuable out of all the free agent signings right now. After all he’s the only healthy NT on the team right now, literally. With Chris Hoke now retired and the big snack Casey Hampton still recouping from his ACL surgery, McLendon will be the opening season starter if the team doesn’t draft a Nose Tackle. Even if they do take someone like Alameda Ta’amu, Josh Chapman, or Nick Jean-Baptiste in the draft; McLendon has the experience factor and he played pretty darn well last year in a reserve role.
All the players brought back or brought in these last 2 weeks for the Steelers were good depth players last season, many of which will find themselves as the starter in 2012 or in the mix for more playing time. The 2012 era of the Steelers is well under way, let’s see what happens next! Bring on the draft!
*Just as a reminder, the exclusive rights free agent: An Exclusive-Rights Free Agent is an NFL player who is not under contract, but has only two years of NFL experience. If his former club makes him an offer at the three year veteran minimum salary, then that’s it, he has to take it or leave the NFL. These guys have no right to negotiate with other teams. They are “free” only in the sense that they’re free to quit.