Apr 112012
 

The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed their first real free agent of the off-season. And it’s a…

Tight end?

Leonard Pope agreed to a one year deal yesterday, reuniting him with brand new Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Pope is something of a professional stalker, having followed Haley across the country since being drafted in the third round back in 2006. Pope started with the Cardinals (A Pope on the Cardinals? Did Tim Tebow know about this?) when Haley was their OC, then joined him in Kansas City when Haley took over the head coaching job there. He’s been a starter for most of his career, including last season which saw him catch a personal best 24 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown.

Pope won’t displace our current starter, Heath Miller. Heath remains one of the best all-around tight ends in the game. But at 6’8 and 260 pounds, Pope can be useful as a big target in the red zone, something Ben Roethlisberger and the offense has needed for awhile now. At least now the team can bring in a tall receiver without hurting Hines Ward’s feelings.

Pope’s signing calls into question the status of the other tight ends on the roster. Wes Saunders is a youngster with a ton of potential but he’ll have to sit out the first month of the season due to testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Word around town is the drug he got busted for was either Adderall or a similar ADD treatment so the Steelers don’t view the suspension as a cuttable offense. That leaves David Johnson, who has been the team’s fullback/TE hybrid under former OC Bruce Arians. At KC, Haley preferred to use a pure fullback which Johnson clearly is not. Since I doubt the team will carry four active TEs once Saunders serves out his suspension, I imagine DJ will be the odd man out with the team perhaps finding a more traditional FB through the draft or as an undrafted free agent.

No report what kind of money Pope signed for. The fact the Steelers spent any money at all seems to be another signal that they don’t think anybody is going to make a play for restricted free agent Mike Wallace. Since the great Purge early last month, the Steelers have been sitting on a $5-6 million nest egg which I’ve dubbed the “Keep Your Damn Hands Off Wallace” Fund. While I doubt Pope signed for any significant amount, the fact Kevin Colbert and company are confident enough to dip into the cash they held in reserve in case another team made an offer to Wallace seems to indicate their gamble of tendering him instead of applying the Franchise tag paid off.

At least for this year.

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