On Friday, the Pittsburgh Steelers gave former Patriots and Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount a two-year, $3.85M deal, including a $950,000 signing bonus on the same day he visited the team. Steeler fans aren’t accustomed to seeing players signed on their first visit, but this is the ‘new’ NFL and presumably, by all accounts during this free agency period, a transformative Steelers organization. The stable of free agent running backs was scarce and soft so this move was imminent considering the only other real options at the position was Maurice Jones-Drew and Knowshon Moreno, who both signed within a 24-hour period. Obviously, those moves established the market price for LeGarrette Blount and allowed the Steelers to negotiate a price they can live with. Fortunately, no roster move or restructuring of other player contracts was necessary so Blount's deal keeps the Steelers under the salary cap. Also, the guaranteed signing bonus of $950,000 is a relatively low, so if things go south, the Steelers can part ways without incurring any significant financial penalty. Prior to the signing, the Steelers were reportedly around $1 million under the cap and it seemed that the tight-budget Steelers would have difficulty securing Blount’s services or any other running backs until another roster move was made.
Here is a quote from former Steeler safety, now free agent Ryan Clark, on Twitter about the signing and then re-tweeted by RB Le’Veon Bell “Whew, the Steelers will be downhill. Put your big boy pads on people!! --ohh yeahh! Bell goes on to say “welcome to the fam...can't wait to work with you bro bro! Preciate it! Let's do it then lil bruh!!LeGarrette Blount after the signing.
LeGarrette Blount’s quote right after signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers “LET'S GOOOOO!!!! HAPPY TO BE APART OF #SteelerNation displaying his five fingers.
Known as ‘The Winnebago’, LeGarrette Blount comes to the Steel City where ‘The Bus’ made a name for himself. The ‘Le backfield’ (I’m pretty sure it’s the only one in the NFL) will have to come up with a catchy name. Some early forecasters are designating them as ‘Thunder and Lightning’, but I see it playing out as ‘Thunder and Thunder’. Le’Veon Bell was a very successful zone runner in college, combining the look of power with deceptive quickness and agility. LeGarrette Blount has some similar deceptive aspects to his game, but will be more like a wrecking ball running downhill on a slick surface at Heinz Field.
LeGarrette Blount came out of Oregon in 2010 and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 27-year-old rushed for 772 yards and seven TDs on 153 carries in the regular season for the New England Patriots in 2013. In the postseason, Blount piled up 166 yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots demolition of the Colts. The 6-foot, 245-pound Blount is a strong runner and power back who will improve the Steelers desire to play ball control, smash-mouth football, and capitalize on goal line opportunities. Blount would give the Steelers dependable second option behind Bell, which has eluded them in free agency so far. He is a big back with the kind of power that was displayed by former Steeler Jerome Bettis. LeGarrette Blount is a prototypical Steelers back.
With this combination of backs and the addition of offensive line coach Mike Munchak suggests that the Steelers are most likely preparing to run both zone and power concepts as a team that averaged 28 points a game over their last eight games (just over 20 per game in the previous 24). They are evolving. The contrasting style of Bell's quick feet and Blount’s devastating bulldozing mentality will provide the Steelers with expand their running playbook and the flexibility for situational football. The Steelers will be able to change up their rushing attack to fit the need and those contrasting styles from game to game is something offensive coordinator Todd Haley has emphasized over the years, but with mixed results. The implementation of a running game (after taking a few years off with inconsistency and inept offensive line play), should help the offense be more efficient and allow quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to utilize multiple weapons in his arsenal.
While Le'Veon Bell will be the main back, Bell and Blount will be a tough duo to stop. Expect Blount to get touches in short yardage situations and on the goal line. If the Steelers want to give Bell 20 carries a game, then it is crucial to preserve him over a long enduring season by mixing in Blount. They can now brag about having the best backfield in the AFC North where it’s tough sledding in the winter months. The presence of a dynamic running game can only help the Steelers passing attack and will help keep the opponent's defense guessing.
Here is a video of LeGarrette Blount’s performance in the 2013 AFC Divisional Playoff against the Colts: