Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Even as they entertained Dont’a Hightower for nearly seven hours during a free-agent recruiting trip to the South Side, the Steelers never lost sight of who they are or what they’re all about.


After further review, the Steelers are still the Steelers.

After uncharacteristically flirting with Dont’a Hightower, the type of big-money, big-name free agent they normally don’t consider let alone court, the Steelers are back to going about their free-agent business the way they seemingly always have.

You can tell because they landed a wide receiver who won’t go over the middle, a running back who fumbles, a cornerback who was cut four games into a three-year contract worth $14-plus million, and a defensive lineman who never lived up to entering the NFL as a 10th overall draft pick.

And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Because while Justin Hunter, Knile Davis, Coty Sensabaugh and Tyson Alualu are all flawed, they also all have something significant to bring to the table.

Hightower had much more in terms of pedigree, production and potential impact.

The Steelers would have been foolish not to at least investigate his availability.

But even as they entertained Hightower for nearly seven hours during a free-agent recruiting trip to the South Side, the Steelers never lost sight of who they are or what they’re all about.

The Jets reportedly did the “wine-and-dine thing” when they hosted Hightower. They also reportedly posted a “Happy Birthday” greeting on video screens around their facility and gave him cupcakes.

When he was in Pittsburgh, Hightower broke bread in the cafeteria of the UMPC Rooney Sports Complex (quite possibly the best value for a $6 lunch in town even though cupcakes are rarely available).

And what the Steelers were mostly interested in finding out was whether Hightower thought he could help them win two more games.

In the end, neither approach proved successful.

Hightower returned to the Patriots.

But the Steelers’ Plan B in response has been intriguing.

And it won’t affect what it will take to extend the contracts of Stephon Tuitt and Ryan Shazier when the time comes.

Hunter won’t go over the middle, but he’ll provide an attractive target in the red zone and has a track record for scoring touchdowns.

Davis’ fumble issues while running the ball remain a concern, but he’s the type of legitimate, impactful kickoff returner the Steelers have lacked.

Sensabaugh was a profound flop with the Rams, but he had been a solid, NFL-caliber corner before that with the Titans, and was again after that with the New York Football Giants, and the Steelers needed another one of those.

And Alualu doesn’t have to worry about having been selected 10th overall in 2010 by Jacksonville any longer.

He just has to worry about being a complementary contributor in Pittsburgh.

All of them just have to concern themselves with doing what they can, as opposed to making a free-agent splash.

The specifics of roles and how that’ll translate have yet to be determined.

The transitions for Hunter, Davis, Sensabaugh and Alualu won’t be as simple as Hightower’s would have been (give him Lawrence Timmons’ old spot at inside linebacker and get out of the way).

But such details need not be ironed out just yet, particularly given that the upcoming draft is destined to further alter the equation as it relates to personnel.

For now, “They want me to come in here and compete and help them get two wins better,” Sensabaugh said.

He might as well have been speaking for all four of the Steelers’ free-agent additions.

For now, that’s enough for a team that’s had a habit of figuring such things out eventually.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section