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Offseason Primers: Pittsburgh Steelers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Despite having one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the league and one of the most revered defenses in the league, the Steelers appear to be on the brink of a rebuilding year.

After going 6-3 to begin last season, the Steelers hit a rough patch in their schedule while losing Ben Roethlisberger to rib and shoulder injuries for three weeks. It sent the season into a tailspin and an 8-8 finish. That was followed by some salary cap-induced roster purges, leaving the team unable and/or unwilling to retain veterans like James Harrison, Willie Colon, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall and most notably Mike Wallace. Another key player -- tight end Heath Miller -- is questionable for the start of the season after tearing his knee up in Week 16 last year.

For the first time in a while it looks like the Steelers will have low expectations.

2012 Touches Leaders
766 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Jonathan Dwyer 174 (156 car., 18 rec.) 22.7%
Isaac Redman 129 (110 car., 19 rec.) 16.8%
Antonio Brown 73 (66 rec., 7 car.) 9.5%
Heath Miller 71 rec. 9.3%
Mike Wallace 69 (64 rec., 5 car.) 9.0%
Rashard Mendenhall 60 (51 car., 9 rec.) 7.8%
Emmanuel Sanders 45 (44 rec., 1 car.) 5.9%
All Others 145 19.0%

Perhaps this all started when the offense changed course before last season by replacing Bruce Arians with Todd Haley. Under Haley the offense averaged a clean 21.0 points per week but recorded over 24 points just three times. The run game, hindered by Mendenhall's recovery from a torn ACL suffered the January prior, recorded the second-fewest rush yards by a team since the NFL expanded to a 16-game season in 1978 with 1,537. A rookie in Washington had more rushing yards by himself.

While the team can find some help at running back, losing Wallace could prove to be a killer. Though many consider him to be less than a complete receiver, his game-breaking ability gave the Steelers an edge. Replacing someone as fast and as threatening as him will be tough. He had at least eight receiving touchdowns each of the last three years and over 1,100 receiving yards in two of those three seasons.

So far this offseason the team has done little to find help for its offense. As for the guy who Haley replaced, he helped lead the Colts to an improbable playoff run last year while earning Coach of the Year honors and has since moved on to run the Arizona Cardinals' ship. The Steelers have their work cut out for them if they want to be as successful as the guy they canned in 2011.

Ben Roethlisberger -- Bust

2012 Target Leaders
574 pass attempts
Mike Wallace 119 20.7%
Antonio Brown 105 18.3%
Heath Miller 101 17.6%
Emmanuel Sanders 74 12.9%
All Others 175 30.5%

Take away a quarterback's best threat and he becomes less potent. Take away his best threat and force another weapon to rehab an injury and possibly never be the same and he becomes likely to struggle. Roethlisberger was one of just seven quarterbacks to average 20-plus Fantasy points per game in 2012, proving that he's got the ability to throw the football and pile up stats. But for the fourth straight year he's failed to start 16 games; last season he suffered nasty rib and shoulder injuries that kept him out for three weeks. The potential for Roethlisberger to miss a game or three automatically takes him out of the elite Fantasy category regardless of what his receiving corps looks like. It just so happens that his receiving corps features one nice young player in Antonio Brown and another decent youngster in Emmanuel Sanders. After that it's like he's renting receivers from the mid 2000s as Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress are his next best options. Tight end Heath Miller's status is up in the air, the offensive line isn't promised to be fixed after two starters were given the heave-ho and the run game is among the least established in the league. With so many young quarterbacks breaking through last season now is not the time to trust Roethlisberger any more than you have to. In fact, even if you can get him with a late-round pick as a Fantasy backup (!!) you're taking a slight risk considering his situation.

Heath Miller -- Bust

When Adrian Peterson came back strong from a torn ACL and MCL suffered less than nine months prior, most people just chalked it up to Peterson being a freak of nature. There aren't many people who consider Miller a freak of nature. Sure, Miller figures to diligently rehab his knee from a torn ACL, MCL and damaged PCL but the guy was never a great Fantasy option until last year when he admirably posted 7 or more Fantasy points in seven games. Taking him with a low-risk, late-round pick is fine so long as it looks like he has a chance to play in Week 1 -- that won't be known until training camp is in full swing. There could be a chance Miller begins the season on the PUP list, which would mean missing at least the first six games. If that happens then Miller wouldn't be worth drafting at all. Tight ends like Martellus Bennett, Owen Daniels, Jermaine Gresham and even Jared Cook stand to have more upside than Miller, who before last year had just one season with over 650 yards and seven touchdowns (and they weren't in the same season).

Jonathan Dwyer -- Breakout

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Ben Roethlisberger 105-115 overall
Jonathan Dwyer 80-90 overall
Isaac Redman Late-round pick
Antonio Brown 75-85 overall
Heath Miller Late-round pick
Shaun Suisham Undrafted
Steelers DST Final-round pick

In the never-ending quest for capable running backs to draft with good value in Fantasy, Dwyer stands as the best of the Steelers' bunch. With Rashard Mendenhall gone to the desert, the only capable running-downs talent left on the team is Dwyer. Last season he led the team in carries and rush yards, tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns and averaged more yards per carry than any other back on the roster. The problem was, none of those numbers were very good. But Dwyer did something worth noticing this offseason: When the Steelers gave him his restricted free agent tender, he signed it immediately citing a desire to prove he was dedicated to the team. He's since worked on his own to become a better receiver and more importantly improve his conditioning (he admitted to wearing down last season). Obviously the young man has some talent as he had back-to-back games with 100 rushing yards last season, and if he can put it all together he'll be in a position to get paid as an unrestricted free agent in 2014 because he's in a contract year now. So as long as they don't add another back via the NFL Draft, Dwyer will be worth a mid-round investment as a No. 3 Fantasy running back with upside.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Giants' Antrel Rolle says he's hitting free-agent market
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) During an interview with ESPN Radio, Giants safety Antrel Rolle said he is heading toward free agency, reports the New York Daily News.

Negotiations between Rolle and the Giants have not gone well, but Rolle did not rule out re-signing with the Giants. If no deal can be worked out, Rolle will become a free agent March 10.

"This is strictly a business move," Rolle said. "If there's 32 teams interested, I'm going to listen to all 32 teams."


Panthers give TE Greg Olsen a three-year extension
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) The Panthers announced they signed tight end Greg Olsen to a three-year contract extension on Thursday that will keep him in Carolina through the 2018 season, per the team's official website. The extension is worth $22.5 million, with a $12 million signing bonus, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora.

Olsen, 29, is fresh off a career year after setting franchise records for receptions (84) and receiving yards (1,008) by a tight end in a season. He cracked the 1,000-yard threshold for the first time in eight seasons in the NFL. He has 5,188 yards and 52 touchdowns in his career, and is the only tight end to catch at least five touchdown passes every year since 2008.


Broncos re-sign long snapper Aaron Brewer
(3/5/2015) The Broncos have re-signed long snapper Aaron Brewer to a four-yeal deal Thursday, according to the team's official website. The deal will keep him with the team through 2018.

The former undrafted free agent has been with the Broncos for three years.  Since being signed, he's played on every punt, field goal and extra point snap.


49ers sign receiver Jerome Simpson to two-year contract
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) The 49ers announced they've signed veteran receiver Jerome Simpson to a two-year deal on Thursday. 

Simpson, 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, was a former second-round draft selection by the Bengals in 2008. He was last with the Vikings and totaled a single-season best 726 receiving yards in 2013. 

He didn't play in 2014 after the Vikings cut him following a three-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. 


Colts extend qualifying offer to RFA Jerrell Freeman
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(3/5/2015) The Colts gave linebacker Jerrell Freeman, a restricted free agent, a qualifying offer, the organization announced on Thursday. 

The Colts also placed tenders on exclusive-rights free agents OLB Daniel Adongo, RB Dan Herron and OLB Cam Johnson.


Raiders part ways with LaMarr Woodley after one season
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(3/5/2015) As expected, the Raiders have released defensive end LaMarr Woodley on Thursday, per the team's official website.

Woodley, 30, spent his first seven seasons in Pittsburgh before he signed a two-year contract with the Raiders last offseason. He had just five tackles last season with the Raiders, and 304 tackles (57 sacks) through eight seasons in the league. He was scheduled to make $3.85 million with a salary cap hit of $5.1875 million.  


Chiefs release linebacker Joe Mays
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) The Chiefs have decided to part ways with veteran linebacker Joe Mays, the organization announced on Thursday. 

The move, according to the Kansas City Star, will save the club $2.7 million in cap space. He was slated to earn a base salary of $2.35 million, with a roster bonus of $300,000 and a workout bonus of $50,000. 

Mays appeared in eight games in 2014 and totaled 20 tackles and one fumble recovery. 


Maurice Jones-Drew calls it a career after nine seasons
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) After nine seasons in the league, Maurice Jones-Drew announced his retirement from professional football via Twitter on Thursday. The 29-year-old running back released the following statement:

"After much discussion with my family and business team during the offseason, I've decided to retire from the National Football League. The past nine years were absolutely amazing! I'll be forever grateful to the countless people who have assisted me throughout my NFL journey. To my fans, and NFL fans worldwide, you are the absolute greatest! But for you, our league would not exist. Football has been a central part of my life over the past 24 years. But, now I'm excited and looking forward to the next chapter of my life."

Jones-Drew was drafted 60th overall by the Jaguars in 2006, and spent his first eight seasons in Jacksonville before an injury-riddled 2014 campaign with the Raiders.

The three-time Pro Bowler and one-time first team All Pro selection won the rushing titles in 2011 with 1,606 rushing yards. Jones-Drew was never able to play a full season due to several injuries. He combined for 1,313 rushing yards the next three seasons after he was the league's top rusher.


Report: Eagles, Giants to pursue S Devin McCourty
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(3/5/2015) The Eagles and Giants will both pursue soon-to-be free agent safety Devin McCourty when the new league year begins next week, according to a report from NBC Washington. 

McCourty was not franchised by the Patriots on Monday and will therefore hit the market. He acknowledged earlier this week that he may not be back in New England next season. 

The Eagles are reportedly very interested in McCourty and have him high on their free agent board.

After recent roster moves, which included trading running back LeSean McCoy for linebacker Kiko Alonso, the Eagles are expected to have an estimated $50 million in cap space when free agency begins. 


Report: Giants giving tender to cornerback Chandler Fenner
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(3/5/2015) Cornerback Chandler Fenner will be with the Giants in 2015. 

According to the New York Daily News, the Giants are placing a tender on Fenner, who is an exclusive-rights free agent. The tender will be worth $510,000 for the 2015 season.

Fenner appeared in 11 games during the 2014 season.  


 
 
 
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