The Pittsburgh Steelers were very interested in free agent RB James Starks but he decided to sign a two-year contract to stay in Green Bay before his visit to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Now they turn their attention and interest to RB Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Steelers continued search for a running back to adequately backup Le’Veon Bell and provide depth has them meeting with a three-time Pro Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew and eight-year vet on Wednesday. The Steelers don’t have much of note in the backfield other than Le’Veon Bell (see previous post) and Jones-Drew would give them a solid stable of backs.
The question is what compels a player the caliber of Jones-Drew to visit a team that doesn’t need a starter at his position? The answer is that this year’s free agent market for running backs is severely tenuous. It’s not a good time to be a free agent running back, even an accomplished one like MJD. Believe me, this will not be Maurice Jones-Drew last time on the free agent trail. The Steelers historically host players, but rarely ever sign them on the day of their visit. Jones-Drew's base salary last season was $4.95 million. He’s probably looking for a multiyear deal which may not be available. The Steelers are only $2.31 million under the salary cap, and they don’t have the flexibility to pay what Jones-Drew is likely asking for unless they restructure contracts or sign players to new long-term deals to lower their cap for 2014.
He is 29 years old and has a lot of tread on those tires. It seems like he has been in the league forever. I wonder how much he has left in the tank after being heavily used in Jacksonville. Jones-Drew has more than 8,000 career rushing yards and is just two seasons removed from a 1,600-yard campaign. Short and powerfully built, the player who is aptly nicknamed “Pinball” has been a workhorse in Jacksonville. The Jaguars haven’t shown much interest in keeping Jones-Drew, who has been the face of the franchise since his arrival from UCLA. The thought was that the Jaguars were willing to retain his services, but that hasn’t materialized.
He would be a good pickup for the Steelers, but at a reasonable price as a number two to LeVeon Bell. He would likely still be an upgrade over Jonathan Dwyer, LaRod Stephens-Howling or Felix Jones. I was hoping that James Starks would pan out. Steelers desperately need another back, but at a vet minimum. If MJD is healthy and he would agree to that, then he would get my vote. I always felt that he was under-appreciated in Jacksonville and in the NFL. I doubt that he will get the dough he’s looking for from the Steelers or really any other suitor. At this point of his career, this makes a lot of sense, but because so many players are more concerned about dollar figures and their ego than prolonging their career and doing what is best for them. Again, I wouldn’t be opposed to bringing him in provided the price was reasonable.
Other News/Free Agent Updates:Jerricho Cotchery catches one of his 10 touchdowns against Denver in 2013.
Jerricho Cotchery, 31, a 10-year veteran who played at N.C. State, after visiting the Carolina Panther will choose between the Panthers and Steelers. A decision is expected Wednesday or Thursday.
Cotchery, who caught a career-high 10 touchdown passes in 2013 for the Steelers and had 46 catches for 602 yards overall. Those numbers were huge to his previous two seasons with the Steelers, who have already lost Emmanuel Sanders to the Denver Broncos and Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins last year. Pittsburgh is expected to meet with free agent wide receiver Lance Moore of the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday. They are very similar possession-type receivers, although Moore is considerably younger.
With his age, Cotchery’s decision will most likely come down to money. The Panthers may have a slight edge in one tangible area – Jerricho Cotchery is from the North Carolina area (a homecoming of sorts to finish out his career). Let the bidding wars begin.
The Steelers must be confident in Mike Munchak’s ability to fix their offensive line because the Steelers have re-signed veteran offensive guard Guy Whimper to a one-year deal. He played in 11 games with them last year, with a start at either guard spot. He is projected to be a backup. The former fourth-rounder has also played for the Giants and Jaguars.
Other than losing OT Levi Brown, the Steelers haven’t made any major changes to their offensive line, which was anemic the last three seasons. They also brought back center Cody Wallace on a three-year deal. Wallace is serviceable as a backup center and guard.
Former Steeler LB James Harrison was released by the Cincinnati Bengals this week and rumor has it that he is interested in returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have indicated that they would like to go ‘young’ on defense and rebuild based on moves made so far this offseason. Don’t think they will pull the string on this one unless Harrison plays for the minimum.
Stay tuned! Next up - Steelers current depth chart
UPDATED 3/20 - MJD staying overnight in Pittsburgh and will meet with Steelers brass again on Thurs. Discussions must be heating up. It's very rare that the Steelers keep players in town this long unless negotiations are becoming serious.
MJD leaves town without a contract. My guess is that he wanted a multi-year deal and more than the minumum. Steelers couldn't afford to pay more.