Not so long ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the most physical offenses in the entire league. Even though the defense knew it was coming, the Steelers could still run the ball with ease. Those days are now long gone.
The Steelers tried to reestablish a strong ground game last season when offensive coordinator Todd Haley put an emphasis on running the football in training camp, but the results did not show during the season.
Without an established running back carrying the load, the Steelers finished 26th in the league with 96.1 rushing yards per game; they averaged only 3.7 yards per carry and scored just eight touchdowns.
A lack of production from the position does not have the Steelers’ brass happy, and they are looking to upgrade the position this season.
With Rashard Mendenhall signing with the Arizona Cardinals, that pool of talent Tomlin is talking about only includes Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Baron Batch.
Dwyer is the most talented of the group and has potential to become a starter after leading the team in rushing with 623 yards, including back-to-back 100 yard rushing games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins.
But Dwyer also did not carry the ball more than 19 times in a game and has a history of conditioning issues.
In order to upgrade, the Steelers are going to have to look to free agency and the draft.
After kicking the tires with Beanie Wells, the Steelers decided not to sign him because of a “bad wheel” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac.
Bradshaw recently confirmed this interest with an interview with ESPN Radio’s The Michael Kay Show (via the Star-Ledger).
There are a lot of teams out there, but there are a couple teams that are interested, so I've heard, Bradshaw said. Pittsburgh, the Jets and the Packers, which are teams that I feel like need a running back, that I could help. Like I said, it’s a process. I just want to take it slow.
By taking it slow, Bradshaw means to fully recover from a foot injury that has given him problems recently.
On the surface, signing the talented, but injury-prone 27-year old running back may not seem like the answer, and it shouldn’t be.
Bringing Bradshaw to Pittsburgh would not be a long-term move for the Steelers, but rather a short-term fix until they can find a running back of the future.
Bradshaw would resemble the type of stopgap solution that the Steelers used to sign until a rookie was ready to contribute. He is a cheap option who is capable of starting, but if a young player wins the job, it is no loss for the team.
Since 2010, when he earned the starting role with the New York Giants, Bradshaw has been productive, but has also missed significant action.
Over the past three seasons, Bradshaw has played in 42 games—starting 32 of them—and has rushed for 2,909 yards on 668 carries and 23 touchdowns.
With Roethlisberger looking more often to the running backs as outlets on passing plays, Bradshaw would provide a nice weapon as he has 104 receptions for 826 yards and two touchdowns over that same time period.
Playing behind a revamped offensive line, Bradshaw is the type of proven veteran that the Steelers could use to improve their ground game—provided he is healthy.
Signing Bradshaw would also take the pressure off of the front office to draft a running back early, and by early I mean the first three rounds.
There are talented backs that could be selected in the second and third rounds, but the Steelers have pressing needs on other areas of the team and in a passing league, they should not put a premium on drafting a running back.
It also does not help that the top running back—Eddie Lacy—is a power back. The Steelers already have two of these types of backs on their roster.
Pittsburgh needs something different, whether it is a strong all-around running back or a speed back that can carry the ball 15-20 times per game.
In a perfect world, the Steelers could sign Bradshaw and then draft Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round.
Having two injured backs on the roster as your go-to guys may not seem wise, but the talent level would be a significant upgrade over what the Steelers currently have.
Bradshaw could share the load with Dwyer, Redman and Batch this year while Lattimore rehabs his injured knee.
After a year of rehab, the Steelers could let Bradshaw walk, or sign him on as a backup as they would now have an elite talent in Lattimore, who would be ready to step in as the feature back.
Even if they wouldn’t draft Lattimore, signing Bradshaw would provide the best option at this point.
Bradshaw is the top available back still on the market that has proven himself to be a quality option when healthy. With a shared workload, he should be able to last a full season and help revitalize a Pittsburgh ground attack that needs a boost.