By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers counted heavily on two things going into the 2010 NFL Draft.
First, that the Arizona Cardinals were so disillusioned with cornerback Bryant McFadden that it wouldn’t take much to swing a trade. And second, McFadden would gladly return to the club that drafted him and he helped win two Super Bowls in the previous four years.
The Steelers were correct on both occasions.
“I think that they felt that they have some younger guys that they are willing to go with,” Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. “They initiated the call. It was actually a couple of days ago. We kept in contact. We weren’t going to give up a draft pick.
“Bryant only had one year left on his contract. So we knew the possibility of him coming to us was real. They gave us permission to talk to the agent as far as negotiating a longer term deal, which we did. He’s agreed to a three-year deal.
“So, in order for us to give up a pick, we wanted to make sure that we had more than one season, which we got,” Colbert added. “So it was fine to bring Bryant back in. He’s 30 years old. As Coach said, he’s started on two Super Bowl teams, and he comes right back into the locker room.”
The Steelers wanted to draft a cornerback, but weren’t likely to get one early enough to make an early contribution.
“In one instance, you are projecting what people are capable of on NFL stages or fields, if you will,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “And in another instance, which is the case with Bryant McFadden, you know what you’re getting. You know what you are getting in September through December football.
“But you also know that this is a guy that can stand up and play winning football for you in January, which he’s done for us in the past. (So), we know the player. We know the person. He’s well respected by his teammates. He’s capable of playing winning football for us at a high level.
“We were presented with an opportunity to bring him back into the fold,” Tomlin added. “And, really, we jumped at it. He’s a quality person and a good football player, one that we know and have a history with. As you can see, we followed that theme or plan here in several instances in the offseason.”
McFadden joins former teammates Larry Foote and Antwaan Randle El by returning to the team that drafted them. McFadden clearly was happy to be back, but still stunned a bit by the entire situation.
“It was kind of unexpected,” McFadden said. “I got a couple of phone calls yesterday, but it wasn’t anything definite. It was just a couple of talks. And that’s when my eyes kind of got open to the situation after that. My agent called me – he was texting me today – giving me the situation about, that if nothing drastic happens throughout the course of the draft.
“Neither team selected a corner. So, with that being said, I thought that maybe nothing was going to transpire. Then, he hit me with a ‘it looks like you might be going back to where you started.’ It was kind of like wow, a situation of transition and moving, and family getting settled, and now you have to up and move.”
The key for McFadden, like when he initially signed with the Cardinals, he knows plenty of the players on the team and has maintained their friendship. McFadden was among the handful of players Ken Whisenhunt signed from the Steelers once he took over in Arizona. But he also knows that football is a business.
“It wasn’t a feeling of, ‘OK, we don’t believe in him,” McFadden said, “and we don’t think he’s the type of guy that he’s shown to be.’ It was just more of the numbers situation, the financial part. And that’s always a part of this business. It opened my eyes a lot, understanding that you never know, but just the nature of the business sometimes, it wasn’t expected in certain situations.
“Being in the system for four years, the same system for four years, of course the comfort level is going to be there for me. I was so accustomed to doing things a certain way, learning things a certain way, speak the terminology a certain way.
“So coming over to a new program and a new coordinator, it kind of hindered me at times because I always went back to the way that I was used to doing things before. So at certain times, that hindered me a little bit because I was so adjusted and accustomed to playing a certain way and a certain style.”
While some believe McFadden being torched by Green Bay and New Orleans last year damaged his standing in Arizona, but he believed those were isolated incidents fueled by a serious sternum injury that he played with after some help from cortisone.
“Then, I didn’t perform the way I’m accustomed to performing,” McFadden said, “and everybody was kind of down and I was down. I was trying to be a competitor and compete, and playing in that type of condition I was in, wasn’t healthy at all, physically or mentally. Thinking back on it, when I told Coach Whisenhunt when we were talking, I was trying to be a competitor.
“And I was trying to be a reliable guy, fighting for the type of energy during the injury, and it was hurting me. It is what it is. In this game you have to play with injuries and you have to fight through it, and I was trying to do that but it was like trying to ride a bike with a broken foot. You’re not going to ride it if you’re not 100 percent healthy, it is what it is.
“You know how I feel, it’s part of the business, and you have to grow and mature from, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” McFadden added. “But, if I had to do it all over it again, I might have just sat down and tried to get myself 100 percent healthy before I go out there because I kind of got the heat for trying to be a dependable guy.”
McFadden was well aware that the Steelers were looking for help at cornerback, and he was well-prepared to throw his helmet back into the ring, so to speak.
“When I was there, I was playing quality football,” McFadden said. “Coming in there with a lot of energy and being physical and being consistent. So, I’m looking forward to going out and doing just that. (And) When you’re dealing with outstanding defensive coordinators in the league – guys like Coach LeBeau, the Rex Ryan’s and guys like that – the numbers always speak for themselves.
“They always have a sense, and with that sense putting their players in a position to be successful. And that always comes about. So it was a big difference. Coach LeBeau is a veteran guy who has done a lot in this league. And that’s one guy that I wouldn’t mind playing for and giving my all for.
“Not to take anything away from the coordinators out there in Arizona,” McFadden added, “but it’s different. It’s a big difference. It’s like comparing Michael Jordan to Scottie Pippen or something like that. One guy is at the top, and that’s how I feel about Coach LeBeau and what he brings to the table.”
And now, McFadden gets to work with Coach LeBeau all over again.