Labriola on Harris, Beachum, Martavis

Posted Mar 18, 2016

Signing Ryan Harris gives the Steelers a better situation at OT than they had at the end of 2015.

Ready or not, here it comes:

* So far, this has been a predictable free agency period for the Steelers. As usual, most of their signings were their own players – Ramon Foster, Will Gay, Robert Golden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Greg Warren – and their two signings of other teams’ unrestricted free agents fit the pattern of the kind of players they look for in each of the categories they chose to fill.

* The Ladarius Green signing was typical in that it filled a need – Heath Miller’s retirement – and the player they chose was young, at the end of his first NFL contract, and judged to be someone on the rise. They acted quickly there. The Ryan Harris signing was typical in that it was more thoughtful, and it added a proven professional at a price that wasn’t going to make a mockery of the financial pecking order within the unit the new guy was going to join – in this case, the offensive line.

* We won’t know if/how much Green and/or Harris will contribute to the 2016 Steelers, and it’s going to be the sum of their contributions that determine how these signings are judged, but what can be said now is that the additions of Green and Harris fit the pattern. At least, the recent pattern.

* Any report indicating that Kelvin Beachum was driven away from the Steelers by the team’s signing of Harris has things backward. The Steelers’ preference would have been to keep Beachum, and to keep him with a contract extension that would’ve gotten done a year ago, but that wasn’t going to happen because of a basic disagreement on the player’s value, even before the knee injury.

* Since the current system of free agency tied to a salary cap came to the NFL for the 1993 season, the Steelers have been able to navigate those waters fairly smoothly by adhering to some principles. One of those, and maybe it’s the most impactful one, involved the maintaining of a salary scale among the various units on a team. This was designed to limit the chances of jealousy taking root in the locker room and sabotaging a season or poisoning a particular group of Steelers against each other.

* The way it works is something like this: Back when free agency began, the Steelers’ three best players were Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, and Dermontti Dawson. Each was a homegrown All-Pro, and each was the most highly-paid at his position within the Steelers locker room, and so everybody else learned that no defensive player was going to make more than Woodson, no linebacker more than Lloyd, no offensive lineman more than Dawson.

* And so the Steelers weren’t interested in trying to make a big splash in free agency, because the ripples of those splashes could have soaked the relationship with their best players. Championships cannot be won that way, and Dan Rooney was completely uninterested in any personnel moves that didn’t actually get his team closer to a championship. Mollifying the fan base in the offseason with what was, in his view, ultimately going to be proven to be false hope was bad business because he always wanted the Steelers to have credibility with their paying customers.

* So now it’s 2016, and who deserves to be identified as the Steelers’ best offensive lineman? Marcus Gilbert? As a tackle, Gilbert plays the most well-paid position along the offensive line, albeit on the right side. David DeCastro? Not a bad choice, but most football people will tell you Maurkice Pouncey is a generational kind of player at center.

* Pouncey being selected first-team All-Pro twice already shows what football people think of him, because there is only one center on the first-team All-Pro team every year, and that earns him the distinction of being the Steelers’ best offensive lineman. Pouncey’s current contract does not pay him more than $7.5 million in any season covered by the deal. The contract Kelvin Beachum signed with Jacksonville yesterday has been reported as a one-year deal worth $4.5 million that can become a four-year, $40 million deal provided the Jaguars are satisfied with Beachum’s return from a torn ACL.

* Four years for $40 million works out to an average of $10 million per year, an average this is more than $1 million more than Pouncey’s average salary, which has been reported as a five-year, $44.1 million contract. Because Pouncey has been a first-team All-Pro twice already and Beachum hadn’t even made a Pro Bowl, those kind of numbers weren’t going to work for the Steelers.

* Welcome to Pittsburgh, Ryan Harris.

* Getting a veteran offensive tackle with starting NFL experience on both ends of the line of scrimmage – and doing that within their parameters while adding an individual who brings the correct attitude to his new situation – represented a significant accomplishment during this phase of the player acquisition period.

* At the end of the 2015 season, the Steelers successfully danced around a real deficiency on their roster. At left tackle, they had Alejandro Villanueva. Period. Gilbert is a right tackle now. Byron Stingily was a guy picked up off the street, and what had been his best NFL moments came at right tackle. If Villanueva had gone down, Chris Hubbard at left tackle was a real possibility.

* The NFL announced Martavis Bryant’s one-year suspension on Monday, and to provide answers to a bunch of questions that cropped up in relation to that news: Bryant will not be paid his salary for 2016 because these types of disciplinary suspensions always are without pay, nor will his 2016 salary plus the pro-rated portion of his original signing bonus apply to the Steelers’ salary cap this year. Also, 2016 won’t count as an accrued season for Bryant, which means the four-year contract he signed as a rookie in 2014 now would not expire until after the 2018 NFL season.

* With that clarified, the ramifications of Bryant’s suspension can be divided into the on-field category and the real-life category. The on-field ramifications for the football team are not nearly as critical as the real-life implications for a young man who won’t turn 25 until late December.

* It’s certainly disappointing, frustrating, borderline annoying to lose Bryant from an offense that could have been in the conversation about the best units in the league in 2016, in the conversation about the best offenses in franchise history. Maybe there would have been better, more dangerous, groups of eligible receivers in the NFL next season who were contributing to a better, more effective offense in the NFL next season, but that seems hard to believe had Bryant been part of a group that would have included him along with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Le’Veon Bell, and Ladarius Green, with Ben Roethlisberger as the triggerman.

* Even so, deleting Bryant doesn’t impact the last six names listed in the above paragraph, and those six alone should provide the Steelers with all the offensive firepower they will need to have the kind of offense necessary for a team to compete for a championship.

* The other issue has to do with the real-life ramifications for Bryant, who has had to have failed and/or missed a half-dozen or more drug tests in the time between the 2014 Scouting Combine and now. Clearly, Bryant is at a professional crossroads, and getting his own life together is going to have to come first.

* There are reports that Bryant has entered rehab, and it’s a certainty both the NFL and the Steelers will be watching that process closely. The NFL will be watching, because Bryant will have to be reinstated by the Commissioner before he’ll be allowed to resume his pro football career, and the Steelers will be watching because theirs will be a decision of whether to stick with Bryant through this or cut ties with him.

* The guess here is the Steelers don’t give up on Bryant until he gives up on himself, and Bryant failing to change his behavior would constitute him giving up on himself.

Series Archive