In a little less than two hours, the NFL free agency period officially begins. If you believe the rumors, sometime shortly thereafter the Pittsburgh Steelers will lose at least two and more likely three starters. Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall are certainly gone. Wallace is reportedly taking his talent to South Beach for somewhere north of $10 million per season. By “talent,” I of course mean his one and only talent of running really fast in a straight line. Mendenhall won’t be overpaid nearly as much although word is he’s being viewed as the best running back available this off-season. Several teams have been tied to him with the Denver Broncos being the early favorites to enjoy his butterfingers and hip-hop stylings behind the line of scrimmage.
The third departure will certainly hurt more than the first two. The Steelers would like to bring CB Keenan Lewis back but in a thin market and with good young secondary talent at a premium, it’s likely they won’t be able to offer him what some other team does. The Steelers have other options at corner as I’ve already written although Lewis is the kind of guy good teams keep around. While I personally think Cortez Allen is too good not to start, it hurts to spend years drafting and developing a guy like Lewis only for him to go elsewhere while we’re stuck bringing back a mediocre retread like William Gay.
The Steelers have deviated from the Steeler Way and are paying for it now and likely in the immediate future. They used to have no qualms about jettisoning expensive veterans in favor of reloading with younger guys. For whatever reason, they held the current team together long past it’s expiration date and those big money veteran contracts have left the team in salary cap hell. While those with tons of money to spend are almost always teams that suck (Miami, Cleveland) or successful teams winning with a lot of guys in their first few years in the league who are still on their relatively cheap rookie contracts (Seattle, San Fransisco), it can’t be argued that the Steelers paid too much money to too many guys who were either past their prime or too injury prone to reach it.
With James Harrison‘s recent release and the earlier contract reworkings, the Steelers managed to get themselves around $10 million or so under the cap. They offered minimum tenders to four restricted free agents (meaning any team that signs them has to surrender a pick equal to the round they were picked in if the Steelers opt not to match) and re-signed G Ramon Foster to a three year/$6 million deal and ILB Larry Foote to a two year/$5 million deal which knocks that number down to around $2.5 million or so.
Manny Sanders, Steve McClendon, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer all received $1.3 million tenders. Dwyer signed his right away which is unusual since players usually wait to see if a better offer is forthcoming. Dwyer clearly wanted to show the Steelers he was serious about wearing the Black and Gold and serious about being the team’s featured back next year. Sanders is probably safe under the minimum tender since he was a third round pick and it’s unlikely a team would want to surrender a premium pick for him. McClendon and Redzone aren’t sure things since they were undrafted and thus teams can sign them without losing a pick. If McClendon goes elsewhere, the Steelers nose tackle options will be limited to squeezing another year out of broken down Casey Hampton or rolling the dice with homicidal maniac Alameda Ta’amu.
The Steelers did manage to reel in one big free agent to off-set the loss of Wallace. “Big” as in literally large, not a big name unless you’ve just stepped out of Delorean that came from 2003. Plaxico Burress re-signed with the team that originally drafted him way back in 2000. He’s being brought back to give Ben Roethlisberger the tall wide receiver he’s wanted for several years now. Plax is old (35) and slow but he’s still 6’5 so he could be a decent red zone threat. Best of all, he’s dirt cheap.
Cheap is where the Steelers are right now. Yeah, winning the off-season is usually zero indication of actually winning when the 2013 season kicks off six months from now. However, the Steelers are an aging group with plenty of holes to fill. It would be nice to have a little money to spend instead of the traditional dumpster diving. Unfortunately, dumpster diving it is.
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And so is Dan Rooney. Less than a month after stepping down as Ambassador to Ireland, the patriarch of the Pittsburgh Steelers has resumed his role as team chairman. Perhaps not coincidentally, the first major incident to occur since his return was met with swift and decisive action. Perhaps the culture of arrogance and assholery which has festered under the reign of his son, Art Rooney II, is finally going to be addressed.
Running back Chris Rainey was arrested yesterday morning after pimp slapping his girlfriend in front of witnesses. Later that very same afternoon, the Steelers announced they cut the promising rookie. I realize no NFL team is going to be made up of 53 choir boys. However, it’s nice to see the Steelers brass paying a little more attention to weeding out the bad apples instead of worrying about firing offensive coordinators.
Rainey f-ing up isn’t exactly shocking. While in college, he was suspended for several games after threatening to kill an ex-girlfriend via text message. Earlier this season, he got into a scuffle at a casino. The only reason the Steelers drafted this headcase was because he lived with the Pouncey family during high school and Maurkice vouched for him. Considering Pouncey is one of the more arrogant and self-absorbed members of the team, it’s not surprising he’s a lousy judge of character.
Some people are crying hypocrisy over the team releasing Rainey after his first offense. Well, I’m sure there was a secret deal between the Steelers and Rainey much like the one they made with Mike Adams on draft day. Adams, you may recall, got popped for drug use at the combine which led to most teams, including the Steelers, taking him off their draft boards. Adams sent a heartfelt letter to the Rooneys apologizing for the mistake and vowing to walk the straight and narrow. After taking him in the second round, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert made it clear that Adams was in a strict one strike and you’re out situation.
Now, it is hard to justify cutting Rainey when the team still has NT Alameda Ta’amu on the roster. Ta’amu went on a drunken rampage through the South Side which resulted in 18 separate charges, several of which are listed as felonies. If you or I did what Ta’amu did, we’d still be sitting in jail or the hospital after the cops went all Rodney King on our ass. Oh the Steelers released the moron after the incident but quietly re-signed him the practice squad a week later then just as quietly re-signed him to the main roster when the season ended.
At the same time, it’s hard to argue Rainey was released because he was less important than Ta’amu. While Ta’amu plays NT, a much harder position to fill than RB, there has been zero evidence that he has any future here. He didn’t play at all last season so penciling him in to replace Casey Hampton is premature at best. Meanwhile, Rainey saw quite a bit of action, returning 39 kickoffs for 1,035 yards while rushing for 102 yards and catching another 60 worth of passes.
What’s more, Rainey was the only running back currently under contract for next season. Issac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall are all free agents. While it was pretty clear that Rainey was way too tiny to be a featured back, he did show promise as a returner and third down threat out of the backfield. Considering the Steelers have had four backs see significant playing time the past couple seasons, it looks like the backfield is in for a pretty big overhaul with at least two new faces added to the mix.
We knew this off-season was going to be one of upheaval. Of course, I didn’t expect it to begin with the elimination of every running back on our roster. Although in this case I have to commend the Steelers for doing the right thing. Let’s hope this zero tolerance policy becomes the norm rather than the exception.