Pittsburgh Steelers: Maurice Jones-Drew

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers are meeting Friday with LeGarrette Blount and they have added incentive to sign the former Patriots running back before he leaves.

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There is finally movement when it comes to running backs, one of the few positions that didn't cash in during the first frenzied wave of free agency. As a result, the Steelers don't have as many options when it comes to signing a proven veteran running back to provide depth behind Le'Veon Bell.

Maurice Jones-Drew, who visited the Steelers last week, is visiting Oakland on Friday and the two sides are closing in on a contract, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Jones-Drew is expected to have a new deal a day after the Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno to a one-year, $3 million contract, per Schefter.

Those two developments may not lead to the Steelers putting an all-out blitz on Blount today but they should have more of a sense of urgency when it comes to signing him. Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week at the NFL owners meetings that the Steelers intend to sign a proven veteran to back up Bell and there aren't a lot of options if they don't sign Blount.

Whether the two sides can find common ground on money as well as Blount's role with Bell entrenched as the starter remains to be seen.

The Steelers would have to clear salary-cap room to sign Blount but that could be done easily by restructuring linebacker Lawrence Timmons' contract.

Given a back the caliber of Moreno fetched just a one-year deal with decent but not great money bodes well for Blount falling into the range of what the Steelers are willing to pay him.
Here is the latest Steelers mailbag with another one to follow on Saturday. The questions have been great so please keep them coming by sending to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail.

And away we go…

 
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers raised eyebrows when they hosted Maurice Jones-Drew for an extended visit last week.

Jones-Drew, after all, seemed about as good a fit in Pittsburgh as palm trees.

But Mike Tomlin made it clear Tuesday morning that while the Steelers are committed to Le'Veon Bell they will also cover themselves at running back.

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"We're looking to add depth at that position and a guy of that caliber, a 'been there, done that' type of veteran will be an asset for us," Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Having legitimate interest in Jones-Drew, who has over 8,000 career rushing yards, and landing the former Jaguars running back are two different things.

Jones-Drew is probably looking to sign with a team that will at least give him an opportunity to start as well as provide the eight-year veteran with a significant pay day.

The Steelers aren't in a position to do either.

Bell is entrenched as the starter after an impressive rookie season, and the Steelers are just $1.52 million under the salary cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

That doesn't mean the Steelers aren't well-positioned to sign a proven veteran to back up Bell.

The market is not a good one for running backs, even accomplished ones such as Jones-Drew and Knowshon Moreno, who had over 1,500 combined rushing and receiving yards and 13 touchdowns last season but remains unsigned.

Unlike other positions, running backs haven't cashed in while teams are throwing around money as if it were confetti.

A buyer's market bodes well for the Steelers adding a quality veteran to their backfield even if it isn't Jones Drew, whose base salary was $4.95 million last season.

The Steelers are scheduled to meet with LeGarrette Blount on Friday, and he is another running back looking for work despite emerging as the Patriots' best back in the second half of last season.

The Steelers are serious enough about Blount that they pushed his visit back -- he was initially slated to be in Pittsburgh on Monday -- so Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert could meet with the four-year veteran.

It is possible that the Steelers make enough of a push -- and free up the necessary cash -- that they sign Blount before he leaves Pittsburgh.

Or they will continue to be patient, knowing the market is such that a proven veteran will eventually fall into the range of what they can offer -- both in dollars and in playing time.
The NFL owners meetings take center stage this week but the Steelers are keeping their eye on free agency even though the general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin are among those from the organization in Orlando, Fla.

Colbert and Tomlin met with a small group of Pittsburgh reporters on Sunday, and each said they are confident the Steelers will be able to holes on the roster via free agency.

Colbert, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount will visit the Steelers on Friday so he can meet with Tomlin.

Blount had initially been scheduled to visit the Steeelers on Monday.

Tomlin, meanwhile, said the Steelers are “open” to signing former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who visited Pittsburgh last week.

“We need to add quality depth to that position,” Tomlin said, according to the Post-Gazette. “Le’Veon Bell is a talented player but also a young player.”

Running back is among the positions in which the Steelers are thin. They also have openings at linebacker and they will host former Bills linebacker Arthur Moats on Monday, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

They are also keeping their options open when it comes to bringing back outside linebacker James Harrison, per both Pittsburgh newspapers.

But it doesn’t sound like the Steelers are in any hurry to get something done with Harrison, who was recently released by the Bengals after one season in Cincinnati.

“We’re right on schedule,” Colbert said in regard to free agency, according to the Tribune-Review.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will host former New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount for a visit on Monday, a source confirmed to ESPN.com.

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The National Football Post first reported the visit that will take place while a contingent of Steelers that includes president Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin is in Orlando, Fla., for the NFL owners meetings.

Blount is one of the top free-agent running backs as he rushed for 772 yards and seven touchdowns last season while averaging 5.0 yards per carry. But the fourth-year veteran is probably also looking for a significant pay day and may be out of the Steelers' price range.

Blount made $680,000 last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and he turned out to be a real bargain for the Patriots, emerging as arguably their best running back.

This visit could be similar to the one that the Steelers had with former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew earlier this week.

It is probably for both sides to get to know more about one another with the Steelers likely telling Blount to keep them in mind if he doesn't fetch the kind of offer he is seeking on the open market.

The Steelers, on the other hand, need a backup for Le'Veon Bell and their interest in the 6-foot, 250-pound Blount dates back to 2010 when they hosted him for a pre-draft visit.

Blount went undrafted and played three seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before signing with the Patriots.

Blount has started 28 of 56 games and rushed for 2,711 yards and 20 touchdowns while averging 4.7 yards per carry.
They are two veterans at two positions of need.

One seemed like almost a sure thing to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers just a couple of weeks ago. The other became a surprising target of a team that has a starting running back, but needs depth at the position.

Here is my take on Jerricho Cotchery and Maurice Jones-Drew:

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Cotchery: I still like the chances of the veteran wide receiver returning to the Steelers even though he visited the Panthers this week. If the money offered by the teams is anywhere close, it wouldn’t make much sense for Cotchery to sign with the Panthers.

He wouldn’t get a chance to work with a new quarterback until training camp because of the ankle surgery that will sideline Carolina's Cam Newton for the next four months. Cotchery would also be joining a group of wide receivers that has been stripped of almost all of its parts. Toney Clemons, a former seventh-round pick by the Steelers, has the most catches of any wide receiver on Carolina’s roster, and he has a grand total of three receptions.

Cotchery is more of a complementary receiver at this stage of his career, and he excelled as a No. 3 wideout last season when he caught a career-high 10 touchdown passes. Why not reprise that role given his comfort with it, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense?

The wild-card here is money -- and whether the Panthers are so desperate for wide receivers they are willing to overpay for a player who has logged 10 NFL seasons and turns 32 in June.

The Steelers want to bring back Cotchery, but it has to be at the right price.

Jones-Drew
Jones-Drew: The Steelers created a buzz by hosting a player who has rushed for more than 8,000 yards for an extended visit. If Jones-Drew is looking for significant money or a starting job following eight seasons with the Jaguars, he won’t find it in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are committed to Le'Veon Bell, and they don’t have enough salary-cap room to offer anywhere close to the $4.95 million Jones-Drew made in his final season in Jacksonville.

Also, they simply have too many other holes to fill to spend a sizable chunk of money on a player who won’t start for them.

One thing, however, intrigues me about the possibility of adding Jones-Drew to the Steelers’ offense. He and Bell and have good hands, and the latter is adept at running actual pass patterns and not just catching dump-off or screen passes.

Given their skill sets, the Steelers could try to create mismatches by designing packages in which both are on the field at the same time. Such creativity could help offset the inexperience the Steelers have at wide receiver, especially if Cotchery signs with the elsewhere.

Jones-Drew’s presence would also allow the Steelers to limit the amount of pounding Bell absorbs as their No. 1 back and provide injury insurance.

While the Steelers aren’t in a position to offer Jones-Drew the kind of money he will likely command elsewhere, the market isn’t a good one for running backs, and there are ways for them to create more cap room.

It’s probably a long shot that Jones-Drew is wearing black and gold in the fall, but there is a scenario in which the Steelers could make it work.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers’ search for running back depth has them meeting with a seemingly unlikely candidate for help in that area.

Three-time Pro Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew is visiting the Steelers today, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and Pittsburgh is among the teams that are interested in the eight-year veteran.

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Le'Veon Bell is entrenched as Pittsburgh’s featured back but the Steelers have no proven backups behind him. They were scheduled to meet with James Starks on Tuesday but Starks re-signed with Green Bay before visiting the Steelers.

That a player the caliber of Jones-Drew is willing to visit a team that doesn’t need a starter at his position may be a sign of how depressed the market is for running backs.

Jones-Drew has more than 8,000 career rushing yards and is just two seasons removed from a 1,600-yard campaign. Squat and powerfully built, the player who is aptly nicknamed “Pinball” has been a workhorse in Jacksonville, which makes it curious that he would return the Steelers’ interest in him.

Jones-Drew's base salary last season was $4.95 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

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 seeking unless they restructure contracts or sign players to new long-term deals to lower their cap hit for 2014.

Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is an obvious candidate for a contract restructure.

His base salary is $6.75 million this year and the Steelers could turn a significant chunk of that into signing bonus and spread the money over the final three years of his contract to reduce his 2014 cap hit.

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