January 30, 2016
by Chris Adamski
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Post prologue: Just because the Steelers season ended doesn’t mean that TribLive Radio’s Steelers Roundtable did. Ralph Paulk, Mark Kaboly and I tackle the conference championship games and how close the Steelers are/were to being at that level. Click here to listen.
Professional athletes only get so many chances to test their worth on the open market, just a finite number of opportunities to theoretically play wherever they want.
For Mike Adams, that precious occasion was lost – or, at least, delayed for a year.
Our Mark Kaboly was the first to report, back in December, that an obscure stipulation in the collective bargaining agreement meant that Adams would NOT become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Adams wasn’t around much during the designated open locker room sessions for the media this season to get his reaction, but I finally caught up to him the day after the Steelers’ season ended.
If Adams was perturbed by the aforementioned little-known rule (it a states that if a player spends the entire final season of his contract on the physically unable to perform list that his contract will be carried over to the following season), he did a good job of hiding it:
“It’s no secret that I love being here. So to be able to be back for a year and not have this year, in a sense, count against me, was kind of a good thing — not (merely) kind of a good thing; it was a great thing.”
Adams, understandably, took the high road. But it can’t feel good to have your freedom (one that’s earned through surviving four years in the National Football League) away – not that this is the Steelers’ fault. Adams had back surgery not long before training camp opened, leading to his PUP designation.
Coach Mike Tomlin said on Reporting Day at St. Vincent College that Adams would return to practice in “four weeks.” Thirteen weeks later, by the Steelers’ sixth game, Adams was still not cleared to practice. That began a five-week window in which Adams could have began practicing, followed by 21 days in which he HAD to practice for his season not to officially end.
Needless to say, Adams never practiced and never was removed from PUP.
“I was (frequently) here (at the facility) – but it’s just always different when you’re not out there practicing or playing,” Adams said of his lost 2015 season. “For me I have never been out for a year before so it was a new experience. Definitely an experience to grow mentally stronger and to be able to sit and review myself just sit back and look at the things I need to work on in a bigger perspective.
“You reflect and you are here to watch these guys all grow, such as (guard) David DeCastro making All Pro. I’m just proud of my friends, the way they grinded this year, fought through adversity, losing guys. And real proud of (tackle Alejandro Villanueva) the way he stepped up this year. So it was a heck of a year to sit and watch these guys and I’m sure proud of the way they played.”
The Adams situation, in some ways, ended up being a blessing in disguise for the Steelers. Most importantly, Adams’ absence facilitated Villanueva making the 53-man roster when the season began. It also forced the Steelers to play him when left tackle Kelvin Beachum was lost for the season with a knee injury.
If Adams had been able to play, the Steelers might not ever know what they had in Villanueva.
If Adams had been able to play, the Steelers would have faced the prospect of having TWO of the three tackles they dress on gamedays head for unrestricted free agency (Beachum is a UFA) – and they would have encountered that with no evidence Villanueva could handle the job.
As it stands now, the Steelers could stand pat at tackle, if they so choose, with Villanueva the starter on the left side and Adams the “swing” backup to him and right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Adams (about $1.13 million) and Villanueva ($525,000) both are signed on the cheap. There’s much less pressure to draft a tackle, to explore acquiring one in free agency or to go out of their comfort zone (dollars-wise) in what they offer Beachum for an extension.
Adams, in effect, could just slide right into the never-used Byron Stingily’s spot on the 53-man roster. The Steelers can prioritize other positions in the draft and free agency – or, of course, still bring Beachum back.
You never, ever wish anyone to get injured, but… in short, the sequence of events that began with Adams’ back surgery (him having his free agency delayed, the Steelers getting a look at Villanueva, Villanueva doing a no-worse-than-adequate job) worked to the team’s advantage.
Of course, Adams needs to get himself back to full health and back in playing shape.
“I’m feeling good now, doing some stuff, just keep on following the protocol and get ready for next year,” he said.
Adams was drafted with great promise in 2012, falling to the second round in part because of a failed drug test (marijuana) but considered by some a first-round talent. That, of course, didn’t materialize commensurate with his play over his first three seasons: 41 games, 20 starts, at least two benchings – usually because of trouble pass protecting. But Adams has been a good enough run blocker, and he seems like a good fit as a “sixth lineman” as the tackle-eligible formation the Steelers sometimes run.
In short, the Steelers could do a lot worse when it comes to a backup tackle.
Adams, by appearance, lost a not-insignificant amount of weight this season while recovering from his back trouble. He downplayed that as an issue, however (saying he was still “around 300 pounds”), and with good reason considering there are still several months until that will matter.
“You worry about what you can control,” Adams said, “so I’m gonna worry about getting healthy and going out and playing the way I can play. And let the rest carry the rest.”
One more shameless plug for this week’s Steelers Roundtable show.
Have a good weekend.