Most often, a player is waived during the season because he has failed to meet expectations in some way, either on the field or off the field. That was not the case with Thaddeus Gibson.
Gibson, the team's No. 4 draft pick from Ohio State, was waived in the back end of the move that added defensive lineman Steve McLendon to the roster. The Steelers announced the move today so that McLendon will be available for Sunday night's game against the Saints in New Orleans.
Adding McLendon was made necessary by the injury to Aaron Smith, and it became a move that was necessary immediately because Brett Keisel is not yet ready to return to the field after injuring a hamstring against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 17. Smith had surgery on Oct. 25 to repair a partially torn triceps, and while he will be out for what Coach Mike Tomlin called "an extended period of time," he is not being placed on injured reserve at this time.
That meant McLendon had to be added to the 53-man roster this week, and that meant Tomlin had a difficult decision to make.
Tomlin is not a coach prone to lavishing praise on rookies who haven't done anything yet in the NFL, but a hint of what he thought of the team's 2010 draft class was found in how many were kept on the 53-man roster coming out of the preseason.
The Steelers made 10 draft picks last April. Eight were on that initial 53-man roster, and a ninth – Chris Scott – was on the physically unable to perform list after breaking his foot in late June. Doug Worthington, the defensive end from Ohio State picked on the seventh round, was the only draft pick waived.
Of the eight rookies on the roster, only cornerback Crezdon Butler, running back Jonathan Dwyer and Gibson have not been active for a regular season game.
Maurkice Pouncey has started every game at center and should be getting consideration as Offensive Rookie of the Year; Jason Worilds has one sack, four pressure and six tackles on special teams; Emmanuel Sanders is averaging 25.6 yards on eight kickoff returns and has three receptions for 55 yards, all of which converted third downs; Stevenson Sylvester is an important part of the team's kick coverage, and he has six special teams tackles and a forced fumble; and Antonio Brown has two tackles on special teams and an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Butler plays cornerback, and there is no such thing in the NFL as having too many cornerbacks. Dwyer came on late in the preseason and showed himself to be a running back with potential, and the Steelers are a team that believes in running the football.
And finally, at this time in the NFL calendar, every player who is cut – even vested veterans – are subject to the league's waiver system. That means if a player is cut and a team puts in a claim, that player must either go to that team or retire.
Earlier in the season when the Steelers needed a player at a specific position for the upcoming game, they released veteran quarterback Byron Leftwich and then re-signed him the day after the game. This time, Tomlin was not about to risk one of his veteran players by exposing him to the waiver wire.
"Linebacker is our deepest position," said Tomlin, "and (Gibson) is the low man on the totem pole, so we had to make that necessary move. We were thin at defensive line. It's just one of the casualties of this profession. It's very much a reality, and that's why we don't take what we're doing here for granted and we acknowledge that it's precious."