Friday, March 24, 2017

Best leader in hockey? It's no myth: Sidney Crosby


By Mark Madden
March 24, 2017

Image result for sidney crosby 2017
(Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

The Chicago Blackhawks have won 17 of 21, so ESPN’s Sarah Spain tweeted thusly about ‘Hawks captain Jonathan Toews: “Name a person you’d rather have leading your team than Toews - taking into account talent, leadership, quality of person. Is there anyone?”
My initial response: Is this a joke?
My subsequent response: Sidney Crosby, obviously.
Spain is a Chicago fangirl. It you want to call me a Penguins fanboy, I’ve certainly been called worse.
But Spain’s tweet is further proliferation of the myth of leadership. Intangibles are the great equalizer when what’s tangible doesn’t add up the way you want.
The myth of leadership helps further the myth of Toews, a real good hockey player but not remotely comparable to Crosby. Heck, Toews isn’t even the best player on his team. Patrick Kane is.
But leadership, though...
The myth of leadership often gets used in haphazard fashion.
In 1987, Mario Lemieux scored the winning goal for Canada in the Canada (now World) Cup final against the Soviet Union. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier also played for Canada, and had won three Stanley Cups with Edmonton.
In that tournament, the story goes, Gretzky and Messier showed Lemieux how to win. A book got written on the topic. Credit for Lemieux’s subsequent accomplishments is thus visited, to some degree, upon Gretzky and Messier.
But Gretzky left Edmonton following another Cup win in 1988, and never won another. Messier won two more, another with the Oilers and one with the New York Rangers. So maybe Messier showed Gretzky how to win. Then Gretzky joined Messier on the Rangers, and Messier stopped winning. Messier, for whom the NHL’s leadership award is named, didn’t even make the playoffs in any of his last seven seasons. Did Gretzky show Messier how to lose?
Few players have tangibles on their side like Gretzky and Messier. They don’t need propped up artificially.
But the Penguins didn’t start winning because Lemieux was anointed by Gretzky and Messier. The Penguins won because Lemieux matured still further as a player, and because he got a better supporting cast. Kevin Stevens > Terry Ruskowski.
But leadership, though...
On his career, Crosby is averaging 1.32 points per game, Toews (coincidentally) .87. This season, Crosby has 41 goals and 40 assists in 66 games. Toews has 20 goals and 34 assists in 64 games.
Fantasy-league culture has overwhelmed sports. Numbers uber alles. Except when it doesn’t fit your argument.
Crosby is a captain of some repute, too. Crosby and Toews both played on Canada’s championship teams in the 2014 Olympics and 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Crosby wore Canada’s “C,” not Toews.
Crosby would be considered the NHL’s best player no matter what team he played for. If Toews played for Arizona, he’d be in witness protection. He’d be Shane Doan Jr.
Of the NHL’s 30 GMs and 30 coaches, 90 percent (maybe more) would choose Crosby over Toews, intangibles duly noted. That’s no knock on Toews. He’s great, and proven.
But I’d rather have Crosby. Hope that answers your question, Ms. Spain.
Part of this column is a direct lift from a column I wrote in 2007. You can’t plagiarize yourself. John Fogerty proved that in court.
Crosby > Toews. Kane > Toews. Connor McDavid > Toews. Evgeni Malkin > Toews. Conor Sheary isn’t as good as Toews, but he’s scored one more goal than Toews, and in 12 less games.
When it comes to hockey’s true elite, Toews isn’t even really in the conversation. He’s tied for 36th in the NHL in scoring, 23 points behind Crosby.
But leadership, though...
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

New Steelers DL Tyson Alualu brings pedigree, flexibility


By Chris Bradford
March 21, 2017
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PITTSBURGH – In a bit of a recurring theme, the Steelers signed a player in free agency on Tuesday who will add depth to their roster. The biggest difference between Tyson Alualu and the three other outside free agents the Steelers have signed to date is that the former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman brings considerable pedigree.
If Alualu’s name is vaguely familiar it’s because he is the former 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Propelled by a strong combine showing, the former Cal star was the third D-linemen selected, after Ndamukong Suh (second overall) and Gerald McCoy (third). While Suh and McCoy have combined for nine Pro Bowl selections, Alualu has been a bit of a disappointment in his seven seasons with the Jaguars given his draft stock.
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Alualu has 17.5 sacks and 177 solo tackles in 110 career games (88 starts). Signed to a two-year, $6-million contract prior to the 2015 season, Alualu was hardly a lock to make the Jaguars’ 53-man roster last season. Still, Alualu is a solid, durable player who should fit the Steelers’ need for him as a backup to Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargave.
In addition to his pedigree and experience, Alualu provides position flexibility. He played both on the end and in the interior with Jacksonville.
If nothing else, Alualu, signed to a two-year deal, is an upgrade for the Steelers who were in desperate need of D-line depth last season. With free agent Ricardo Mathews now unlikely to be re-signed, Alualu should be in the mix with fellow reserves Dan McCullers, L.T. Walton and Johnny Maxey for playing time.

Penguins sink Sabres to earn 11th straight playoff berth


By John Wawrow, Associated Press
March 22, 2017
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Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores with one hand on a breakaway as Zach Bogosian #47 of the Buffalo Sabres tries to defend during the first period at the KeyBank Center on March 21, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After losing a pair of front teeth, Sidney Crosby wasn't available to discuss the highlight-reel, one-handed goal he scored in helping the Pittsburgh Penguins clinch their 11th consecutive playoff berth.
Crosby's teammates had plenty to say about it following the defending Stanley Cup champions' 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
Starting from inside his blue line, Crosby picked up a head of steam through the neutral zone and weaved past all four Sabres defenders before lifting a one-handed backhander into the top right corner to open the scoring with nine seconds remaining in the first period.
"The play that everyone screws around doing in practice, and he does it in games," Nick Bonino said.
"The sea parted for him there, only 15 seconds left, and he turned it on," Bonino added. "I mean, there's nothing I can really say that nobody has. He does some pretty amazing things."
Even Sabres goalie Robin Lehner was left impressed.
"I think most goalies in the league are going to read he's going to pull that back to his forehand," said Lehner, who stopped 31 shots. "Probably one or maybe two guys in the league who can score a goal like that."
Crosby was not in a position to speak after being high-sticked in the face by Evander Kane with 1:25 remaining while attempting to score into an empty net. Crosby went down in the corner clutching his face before eventually getting up and leaving the ice.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan would only say Crosby lost a couple of teeth. Kane was issued a double-minor for high-sticking.
Early in the first period, Crosby got away with a slash from behind in which he struck Buffalo forward Ryan O'Reilly between the legs.
Bonino scored the go-ahead goal on a broken play with 5:29 remaining, andConor Sheary scored 1:58 later. Matt Murray stopped 29 shots, and the Penguins (46-17-9) improved to 8-1-1 in their past 10 games.
With 101 points, Pittsburgh vaulted ahead of Columbus into second place in the Metropolitan Division and remained a point behind the NHL-leading Washington Capitals, who defeated Calgary 4-2.
Injuries continued to mount for the Penguins, who are already playing without seven regulars, including four defensemen and center Evgeni Malkin, who missed his third game with an upper-body injury.
Forward Jake Guentzel sustained a concussion about nine minutes in when he was blindsided by defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who was issued a five-minute major and ejected for interference. Guentzel was crossing his own blue line when he lost the puck and turned his head just as Ristolainen hit him.
"I don't like the fact that he got ejected," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said of losing his top defenseman. "It's an unfortunate hit."
Sam Reinhart scored for a Sabres team that is sputtering on offense. Coming off a 2-1 win at Detroit on Monday, Buffalo has just five goals in regulation in its past five games.
The score would've been more lopsided if not for Lehner, who foiled Tom Kuhnhackl and Chris Kunitz on a pair of breakaways in the opening three minutes of the second period.
Bonino's go-ahead goal came after Penguins defenseman Ian Cole had the puck poked off his stick while driving into the left circle. Bonino followed up and snapped a shot through a crowd to beat Lehner just inside the left post.
Sheary scored 1:58 later on another fortuitous bounce. Breaking in on the left side, Sheary took an initial shot that was stopped by Lehner. The rebound caromed into the slot and went in off the skate of Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons.
Pittsburgh improved to 11-0-1 over Buffalo in a string dating to April 23, 2013.
The players were still buzzing about Crosby's goal, his sixth in three games. He leads the NHL with 40.
"He's always been lethal with two hands on his stick, but now with one hand over the goalie works too," Kunitz said. "It's pretty special to see."
Crosby also continued his dominance over Buffalo, upping his total to 16 goals, 35 assists for 51 points in 34 career games.
Game notes
Bylsma said forwards Kyle Okposo(ribs) and William Carrier (knee) have resumed skating and have an opportunity to return within the next week. ... Malkin skated at Pittsburgh earlier in the day but missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Frank Corrado became the 14th defenseman to suit up for the Penguins this season. Called up from the minors Monday, Corrado made his Penguins debut after being acquired in a trade with Toronto on March 1.
UP NEXT
Penguins: At Ottawa on Thursday.
Sabres: Host Toronto on Saturday.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Evgeni Malkin should protect himself, leave blocking shots to others


By Mark Madden
March 20, 2017
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LAS VEGAS -- I wish there was some way to write a classic Chuck Berry intro to these refreshing sports notes. Dancing and humming a rock 'n' roll melody...
*Matt Murray has allowed 15 goals in his last five games. Marc-Andre Fleury has conceded eight times in his last five games. Just sayin'...
*Phil Kessel never goes down to block a shot. Kessel has played 599 consecutive games. Evgeni Malkin hurt his shoulder blocking a shot at Calgary last Monday. Malkin has missed the Penguins' last two games. Kessel has got it right. Memo to Malkin: Let your goalie make the save, or somebody else block the shot. Don't put premium talent at risk doing generic work.
*Coach Mike Sullivan is experimenting with Kessel at left wing. Perhaps that finally makes room for Jarome Iginla at right wing. Some wingers can switch easily from side to side. Kessel isn't likely one of those, if only because he's so rarely tried.
*The Sidney Crosby-Conor Sheary-Jake Guentzel line clicks on so many levels. But most amazing is its ability to control play down low despite nobody being taller than 5-foot-11. Kenny the Kangaroo must be smiling. Sheary and Guentzel have high hockey IQs, allowing them to think the game at Crosby's level. Close enough, anyway.
*Nobody has ever played better below the hash marks than Crosby. Nobody has ever played better on his backhand than Crosby. Sunday's hat trick serves notice to the other participants in the NHL points, goals and MVP races.
*Friday's Penguins-New Jersey game provided a microcosm of the inconsistency so consistently displayed by NHL referees: Kessel and the Devils' Taylor Hall were fouled in almost identical fashion on second-period breakaways. Kessel got a penalty shot. Hall did not; a minor penalty was awarded instead. Watch the replays. It's inconceivable that differing calls were made. But they did.
*I'm sorry I missed the Jaromir Jagr tribute video and subsequent standing ovation at yesterday's game. All-time great player. Good man. But I know, in my heart, that Jagr would want me to be in Las Vegas.
*GM Jim Rutherford made deals for two legit NHL defensemen before the trade deadline, yet the Penguins' tidal wave of injuries had Derrick Pouliot and Chad Ruhwedel in yesterday's lineup. "Spumoni! Spumoni! How many times do I gotta say spumoni?"
*Watching NCAA men's tournament games in Las Vegas is unique. Eighty percent of those watching react to the spread, not the actual score. That produces unique reactions that would be non sequiturs anywhere else.
*Northwestern University making the NCAA men's tournament for the first time was a great story. We know that because the plentiful amount of Northwestern grads working in sports media reminded us over and over. It was the most sustained instance ever of rooting in the press box. Northwestern lost in the second round, and thank God.
*In 2012, Duquesne University fired men's basketball coach Ron Everhart, who went 99-89 in six seasons (89-70 over his last five). His replacement, Jim Ferry, went 60-97 in five years before getting sacked. It's a prime example of not understanding your program's ceiling, and sabotaging it via indulging pie-in-the-sky optimism. Duquesne won't get a better coach than Everhart, and can't do appreciably better than he did. (Pitt athletics didn't invent this scenario, but have certainly perfected it.)
*Such is the state of college basketball in Western Pennsylvania that the Pittsburgh region is rallying around West Virginia University.
*UConn won, 116-55, in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament. That is a grotesque parody of competition, and has zero entertainment value. You'd have to be a moron to watch that for more than 10 seconds. At least the Harlem Globetrotters toss a bucket of confetti once in a while.
*The Baylor women won, 119-30. From bad to worse.
*NBA fans and media are outraged because Cleveland and Golden State aren't using their stars for select road games by way of resting them for the playoff grind. But there's absolutely no way to legislate against that. League administration can't dictate lineups. If the NBA doesn't want LeBron James, Steph Curry, etc. disappointing some kid in wherever and/or ruining a nationally-televised game by sitting out, make the schedule less debilitating. Perhaps 72 games, not 82. But no sports league will ever protect the players at expense of revenue.
*The Penguins would be wise to follow that lead, but won't. Hockey players and coaches aren't wired that way. Also, NBA stats are compiled on a per-game basis, while hockey uses the raw numbers. Missed games equal lower digits.
*Linebacker Dont'a Hightower used the Steelers and New York Jets to up the ante at New England. He never intended to leave the Patriots. It was a dog-and-pony show. Vintage NFL free agency. The Steelers have zero to be embarrassed about, though cornerback Davon House re-signing with Green Bay in the middle of his visit with the Steelers certainly made eyes roll.
*Those criticizing the Steelers for re-upping backup quarterback Landry Jones have no grip on the dire nature of the QB position in the NFL. Who should the Steelers have replaced Jones with? As backups go, Jones is OK, and he knows the Steelers' system. Most NFL teams don't have quality starters, let alone good backups. Life without Ben Roethlisberger looms in the not-too-distant future, and it will be a cold, hard slap to the face of Pittsburgh football fans.
*How could the New York Giants give defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul a deal worth $62 million? After blowing off part of his right hand via fireworks idiocy in 2015, Pierre-Paul has missed 14 of 33 games. He had seven sacks in 11 games last year, but 5 1/2 of those came in two games against jabronis Cleveland and Chicago. It's insane to believe somebody with 7 1/2 fingers can maintain any level of excellence when his job is tackling, let alone $62 million worth.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Crosby's hat trick leads Penguins by Panthers 4-0


By Will Graves, Associated Press
March 19, 2017
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Florida Panthers' Jaromir Jagr (68) and Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) skate during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH -- A moment of reconciliation more than 15 years in the making allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins to pay tribute to an important part of their past.
Then Sidney Crosby and the precocious kids who play alongside him provided a thrilling reminder of just how good the defending Stanley Cup champions have it in the present. And most likely the future.
The captain poured in a natural hat trick during a 10:45 span between the second and third periods -- all three assists coming from linemates Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel -- as the Penguins pulled away for a 4-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on Sunday.
The Penguins aired a video in the first period to salute Florida star Jaromir Jagr on the day he became the fourth player in NHL history to skate in 1,700 games. Jagr even received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd, a rarity in a place where he spent the first 806 games of his career while helping the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 as a free-wheeling, fabulously mulleted 20-something who remains the second-leading scorer in franchise history behind mentor Mario Lemieux.
At least for now. Crosby inched closer after his 10th career hat trick gave him 1,018 points in his career. He almost certainly won't pass Jagr's 1,079 with the Penguins until next season, though it's hardly something Crosby is keeping tabs on. Keeping the Metropolitan Division lead within arm's reach is more than enough for now, particularly with Evgeni Malkin out while dealing with an upper-body injury.
Malkin missed his second straight game on Sunday. The Penguins haven't missed a beat thanks in part to the game's best player. Crosby has poured in five goals during Malkin's absence to move into the NHL lead with 40. His 80 points are tied with Edmonton's Connor McDavid for tops in the league.
"He knows he's got a little more weight on his shoulders and he takes care of that," Sheary said of Crosby.
Patric Hornqvist added his 18th for Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 21 shots for his 44th career shutout as the Penguins inched closer to an 11th straight playoff berth and is one point behind division co-leaders Columbus and Washington with three weeks to go in the regular season.
"We know the situation we're in," Crosby said. "We know there's a few teams fighting for that No. 1 spot. We'll see what happens but I think we're trying to give ourselves a chance down the stretch with the situation we're in."
Jagr joined Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Ron Francis as the only players in NHL history to play in 1,700 games, but the Panthers saw their fading playoff hopes take another hit. James Reimer finished with 24 saves but received little help from those in front of him. Needing a spark to salvage his team's dwindling prospects of making the playoffs, Jagr instead had to settle for a long overdue token of appreciation from a fan base that's taken great pride in lustily booing him ever since he forced a trade to Washington in July 2001.
"It was pretty nice, but I would've rather won the hockey game," Jagr said. "That's the only thing I was concentrating on."
It never materialized as Pittsburgh held the Panthers to 11 shots below their season average then let Crosby, the 24-year-old Sheary and the 22-year-old Guentzel do the rest.
The line contributed three goals -- two by Crosby, one by Guentzel -- in 6-4 victory over New Jersey on Friday. They kept at it against the Panthers, though the two-time MVP doesn't get credit for the most inventive goal of the day. That came in the first period when Phil Kessel found himself behind the Florida net and flipped a pass in the air over the net to the front of the crease that Hornqvist knocked out of the air and by Reimer like something out of batting practice.
Fleury kept the lead intact long enough for Crosby to take over. His first came on a wrist shot from the left circle 14:15 into the second. His second came less than two minutes later when he pirouetted in traffic and flipped a backhander past Reimer. When the Panthers left Crosby alone just outside the crease five minutes into the third, he fired it by Reimer to send a torrent of hats onto the ice.
Game notes
This is the second time in Crosby's career he's reached 40 goals. He posted a career-high 51 in 2009-10. ... Linesman David Briesbois left in the first period after getting accidentally run over by Hornqvist after dropping a face off but returned. ... Both teams went 0 for 4 on the power play.
UP NEXT
Panthers: host Carolina Tuesday.
Penguins: Visit Buffalo on Tuesday.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Crosby leads injury-ravaged Penguins to 4-3 win over Devils


By Will Graves, Associated Press
March 17, 2017
Pittsburgh Penguins' Jake Guentzel
Pittsburgh Penguins' Jake Guentzel (59) celebrates his goal in the first period with Brian Dumoulin (8), Sidney Crosby (87) and Justin Schultz (4) during an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils in Pittsburgh, Friday, March 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)  (The Associated Press)
PITTSBURGH -- Their MVP candidate center, the one that's not Sidney Crosby, is hurting. Four of their top seven defensemen are in street clothes dealing with a variety of injuries.
And yet the Pittsburgh Penguins keep rolling anyway.
Their 6-4 victory over New Jersey on Friday night included the usual dash of brilliance from Crosby but also plenty of help from those who normally find themselves watching Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- out with an upper body injury -- do their thing.
All four lines contributed at least one goal as the Penguins moved within a point of first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division. Crosby picked up two to move into a tie with Brad Marchand for the NHL lead with 37. Phil Kessel picked up his first in a month, Nick Bonino collected his fifth in his last six games and 27-year-old rookie Carter Rowney added the first of his career.
"There's a time for all four lines to start scoring, it's March and April and then into the playoffs," Bonino said. "Obviously we're happy with that."
Crosby added an assist to give him 640 in his career and move him into a tie with Jaromir Jagr for the second-most in franchise history. Matt Murray stopped 32 shots for Pittsburgh as the Penguins improved to 4-0 this season against the Devils, outscoring New Jersey 19-10 in the process, though this one was a little more wide-open than most.
Kyle Palmieri matched Crosby with two goals for New Jersey. Stefan Noesen and Beau Bennett also scored for the Devils. Keith Kinkaid finished with 37 saves but New Jersey couldn't keep up with the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"They're play makers over there," Kinkaid said. "A few of the goals just ended up in the open nets. I felt great out there. I thought the guys battled all the way until the end. It's good to score goals, but maybe stay out of the box a little bit too and minimize their chances."
The Penguins have hung around in the heated race for the top spot in the NHL's toughest division despite a series of injuries that only seems to be picking up speed as the end of the regular season draws near.
Ron Hainsey, acquired from Carolina just before the trade deadline last month to provide needed depth and a healthy body along the blue line instead joined sidelined defensemen Olli MaattaTrevor Daley and Kris Letang after suffering an upper body injury in a loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday and is "week to week" according to coach Mike Sullivan.
While all four are expected back by the time the playoffs begin, for now the Penguins are being forced to get by with a makeshift bunch that includes talented but flawed youngster Derrick Pouliot and Chad Ruhwedel.
Of course, having Crosby helps.
The captain always tends to raise his level of play when Malkin is sidelined and when Crosby slammed home a one-timer off a pretty pass from Mark Streit that gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead late in the first period, it gave him 43 goals in 101 career games with Malkin's familiar No. 71 out of the lineup.
Bonino pushed Pittsburgh's advantage to 4-2 late in the second period before Bennett, a longtime Penguin who joined New Jersey after a handful of star-crossed years in Pittsburgh, put home a rebound with 51 seconds left in the second and the Devils were again within one.
Enter Rowney, who has slowly worked his way from undrafted free agent in 2013 all the way to the NHL. He took a feed from Tom Kuhnhackl and skated in front for the crease, patiently waiting for Kinkaid to commit before flipping it into the open net 5:27 into the third.
"I was just trying to wait him out kind of," Rowney said. "I saw he went down early, I just tried to wait him out and was lucky enough to finish."
Palmieri's 10th goal in his last 12 games trimmed the deficit to 5-4 with less than 4 minutes left but Crosby's empty netter sealed it.
Game notes
Kessel's goal was his first since Feb. 16. He missed a chance at adding to that total when Kinkaid stopped him on a penalty shot in the second period. ... Pittsburgh's 28 home wins are tied with Washington for most in the NHL. ... Both teams went 1 for 4 on the power play. ... Mario Lemieux is Pittsburgh's all-time leader in career assists with 1,033.
UP NEXT
Devils: Host Columbus on Sunday. The Blue Jackets have taken two of the three meetings this season.
Penguins: Host Florida on Sunday. Pittsburgh is 2-0 against the Panthers this season.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Options running low as Steelers show free agency restraint


Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writerhttp://www.espn.com/blog/pittsburgh-steelers/March 15, 2017

Image result for landry jones steelers
Landry Jones (Getty Images)
A breakdown of the first full week of free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Most significant signing: Backup quarterback Landry Jones. Considering the Steelers' saunter through the free-agency gate, it's fitting that their biggest signing got a modest $4.4 million over two years. The team re-signed Jones and tight end David Johnson at the start of free agency and haven't done much since. But the Jones signing is important because it's a reminder that the team views him more favorably than fans clamoring for a splashy name to back up Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers see Jones as a quality No. 2. And though they could add another quarterback through free agency and the draft, Jones' presence at least fills a need so they don't have to press for help.
Most significant loss: Linebacker Lawrence Timmons. The first draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era was a productive Steeler for 10 seasons and had a chance to return. But the Steelers weren't going to overpay for a linebacker turning 31 in May and braced for a divorce. Miami then swooped in with $11 million guaranteed over two seasons. The Steelers are betting on youth at the position with 27-year-old Vince Williams and others, but they will miss Timmons' experience and versatility. Though not the quickest linebacker in pass coverage, Timmons is a run-stopping thumper and effective blitzer who can make a few plays in zone coverage when needed.
Player they should have signed: Colts outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard or John Simon. Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who visited the Steelers on Tuesday, was a fantastic fit for this defense and a worthy replacement for Timmons. He might have been the edge this defense needed to vault from good to great. But the Steelers were never comfortable paying $10-plus million per year -- Hightower's price point for his extension with New England -- for an inside linebacker. Prices for the good cornerbacks were that steep, too. If money was the issue, why not beef up the pass rush with a more affordable option? Simon, a solid all-around player who fights through injury, will get between $5 and $6 million per year. Sheard, whose $25.5 million over three years comes with $12.75 million in guarantees, can line up at defensive end or outside linebacker in a 3-4.
What’s next: The Steelers will continue working the phones for supplemental help. Good second-tier linebackers Kevin Minter and Perry Riley are still available. Viable cornerback options are scarce, though perhaps players such as Morris Claiborne and Sterling Moore offer length and experience the Steelers covet. The signing of wide receiver Justin Hunter signing is intriguing because though he hasn't validated his billing as a former second-round pick, his speed would be a good fit for Roethlisberger in the vertical passing game and he won't cost much on a one-year deal. The Steelers have eight selections in a loaded draft, so the team will prioritize pro days from here on out.
Overall gradeC-plus. There's not much here to grade. There's still time to find help in several areas, and showing restraint this time of year isn't a bad thing. Let's not act like the Steelers have glaring needs at several positions. This roster is pretty good overall. But in the bloated salary-cap era, even teams like Pittsburgh have to spend some. Getting a solid press-man cornerback would have helped this team. Most of the good ones are signed already. Can't have enough pass-rushers and corners, as teams often say. Depth is required at these two spots.