Labriola on Ladarius, picking AB for DWTS

Posted Mar 10, 2016

Actually, the signing of Ladarius Green fits a recent Steelers pattern.

Ready or not, here it comes:

* As you’ve read many times, and as I’ve written just as many times, the Steelers are not a team that gets involved in the first wave of free agency. That they typically are more reactive than active. And all of that is true.

* Except when it’s not.

* It wasn’t true during the 2014 offseason when the Steelers were looking for someone to replace Ryan Clark at free safety. Back then, the Steelers acted quickly once free agency began and signed Mike Mitchell away from the Carolina Panthers. He has started every game at the position for them since.

* It might seem as though the Mitchell signing was a departure from a long-standing philosophy, but actually it’s more of an update. Nowadays, the Steelers are willing to look at free agency for what it is, which is a tool that if used properly can be an asset during the roster-building phase of the calendar. It’s still not a path to a championship, it still must be managed properly, both in terms of the financial impact on the salary cap and in the potential impact within the existing hierarchy of the locker room. Use it properly, and it can advance the process. Misuse it, and it will set you back.

* Two years in, the Mitchell signing is an example of a good use of free agency. It brought a good player at a position of need, and it brought a good player still young enough to improve at a position of need. The player has been worthy of his impact on the salary cap, and by all accounts the added player is a diligent worker and good teammate. He fits in.

* Change out some of the particulars, and this particular foray into free agency looks like a repeat of 2014. Instead of Ryan Clark, it’s Heath Miller. Instead of free safety, it’s tight end. It’s Ladarius Green instead of Mike Mitchell.

* Green is 6-foot-6 and in the 250-pound range. He’ll be 26 in May, and since his contract with the Steelers spans four years, the team is getting him for what figure to be the best seasons of his NFL career. And as a bonus, he arrived in Pittsburgh yesterday coming off career-highs in receptions with 37, receiving yards with 429, and touchdowns with four.

* There are videos out there of Green’s touchdown catches, and in a couple of them he looks like a bigger Martavis Bryant because of the way he was able to track balls over his head and then extend and catch the ball with his hands. Green has the capability of becoming a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, because he’s too big for a safety to handle and too nifty in open spaces for a linebacker to cover.

* Here’s how the Free Agent Tracker on described Green: “He never quite broke out behind Antonio Gates, but Green put together some terrific tape in 2015. He has excellent hands, incredible speed for a tight end, and is a solid blocker … Green should make an impact with the Steelers, with whom he agreed to a four-year deal.”

* As stated in the preceding item, Green is a solid blocker. Once upon a time, that would describe a guy able to line up next to the offensive tackle with his hand in the dirt and come off the ball to drive a defensive lineman or an outside linebacker off the line of scrimmage. In today’s NFL, a tight end described as a solid blocker is picking off and/or screening defensive backs and/or linebackers on the perimeter. Green can do that, and what’s a bonus with him is that his abilities as a receiver will force the defense into personnel groupings heavy on defensive backs, which would give him a size advantage every time.

* Didja hear Antonio Brown was picked for Season 22 of “Dancing With The Stars?” I’m guessing you have, and make no mistake, that is exactly why ABC picked AB. All due respect to Brown’s swivel hips and willingness to attempt to impale himself on a goalpost for mere entertainment value, it’s because the Pittsburgh Steelers and their players move the needle.

* That’s why the Steelers usually are scheduled with the full complement of prime-time games, why each of the NFL’s network partners covet the team’s games, why there was a celebration in the executive offices of KDKA-TV when Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate learned the Steelers’ Wild Card Round game in Cincinnati had been awarded to CBS.

* This is what it means to move the needle: The last time the premier episode of a season of “Dancing With The Stars” was viewed by 20-plus million people, Hines Ward was a contestant. The last time a final episode of a season of “Dancing With The Stars” was viewed by 20-plus million people, Hines Ward was a contestant. The last time a full season of “Dancing With The Stars” finished among the top-three shows in the Nielsen ratings, Hines Ward was a contestant.

* Hines Ward was a contestant in 2011, and “Dancing With The Stars” has two seasons every calendar year. So after going through 10 tries at matching those big-time ratings, the show’s producers decided to go back to the Steelers roster.

* Standard procedure has the lineup of contestants for each season of “Dancing With The Stars” announced live on “Good Morning America,” ABC’s national infotainment morning show. On the same day as the announcement, the contestants did a TV tour that included a stop at “LIVE with Kelly and Michael” where the pairs were announced and brought onto the stage one at a time. Polite applause greeted each pair, until Brown and partner Sharna Burgess were announced. The response to them had co-host Kelly Ripa respond, “What are we in Pittsburgh?”

* Not Pittsburgh. Steelers Nation.

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