#Steelers sources expect Big Ben to ask them to explore trade options after 2013. They fielded offers for him last offseason. Could again
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 10, 2013
On the NFL’s Sunday morning pre-game show, so-called “insider” Ian Rapoport reported on the above posted tweet. Who is Ian Rapoport? I have no idea. He’s certainly never broken any notable scoops like ESPN or Fox NFL “insiders.” Whoever he is, he certainly did his job by “breaking” a story that even got ongoing updates from the crew covering the Bills-Steelers game.
Before we go into the analysis and denials, we should start with Rapoport’s tweet. He’d later whine he was being misquoted or that the Pittsburgh Steelers were denying things he never said. Rapoport’s scoop actually is two scoops in one. First, he alleges Ben Roethlisberger is going to ask to be traded this off-season. Secondly, he alleges the Steelers already contemplated parting ways with Ben by soliciting trade offers last spring.
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If you listen closely, you can hear Bruce Arians laughing.
Arians’ revenge upon the team that unjustly fired him is now complete in the form of recently acquired left tackle Levi Brown. The Pittsburgh Steelers had high hopes for the former top ten pick, penciling him into their starting line-up before he even stepped foot off the plane from Arizona. So confident were they in their new left tackle that the man he replaced, inept Mike Adams, wasn’t even dressed for Sunday’s game against the Jets.
Naturally, Brown got hurt in pre-game warm-ups and was unable to play.
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When the season ended for the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple months back, I wrote that it appeared we were in for an off-season filled with upheaval. I said that because with something like a dozen unrestricted free agents, a half dozen restricted free agents and a number of overpaid veterans, it seemed a pretty safe bet the roster was going to see significant changes. I never thought those changes would extend to the coaching staff as well. Looking back, change was probably inevitable coming off such a massively disappointing season.
We knew the Steelers were losing offensive line coach Sean Kugler since he announced during the season he was leaving to become head coach at his alma mater (UTEP) at year’s end. Kugler might be the most significant loss as he’s done a tremendous job with the Black and Gold’s offensive line since replacing the awful Larry Zierlein in 2010. Every year we talk about the team’s “new look” line and every year one player goes down almost immediately with several more falling as the campaign marches on. Last year, the team used a different starting O-line combination nearly every week. The line didn’t exactly remain steady no matter who they plugged in – the run blocking, for example, fell apart when Willie Colon was lost – but the fact they could throw an untested undrafted rookie like Kelvin Beachum out there and watch him hold his own speaks well of Kugler’s coaching ability.
Kugler is being replaced by Jack Bicknell Jr. That name probably means more to college football fans than those of us who follow the NFL. Bicknell is the son of longtime Boston College head coach Jack Bicknell. Bicknell Jr. was a starting O-lineman for his dad during the Doug Flutie years before moving into coaching himself. He’s been a career OL coach with the exception of a seven year head coaching stint at Terry Bradshaw‘s alma mater, Louisiana Tech. In recent years, Bicknell Jr. was an assistant OL coach for the Giants for a few seasons before moving on to the Chiefs last season. I don’t pay attention to KC but the G-Men have had some really good lines so let’s hope he was a big part of that.
The Steelers most recent loss was wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery. The official story is Montgomery left to become offensive coordinator at Duke. However, Uncle Eddy Bouchette at the P-G in his role of unofficial PR man has floated the story (no doubt fed to him by team officials) that the team actually booted him out the door. It sounds a lot like the Bruce Arians story where instead of straight out firing BA, they encouraged him to “retire.” And like the Arians situation, word is the reason Montgomery fell out of favor with Steelers brass as they saw him as too buddy-buddy with the Young Money crew. I’m not enamored with Art Rooney II‘s idea that coaches should be hard on their players but those idiots definitely need someone who will put boots to asses.
The new WR coach is Aliquippa native Richard Mann. Mann is a 30 year veteran of the NFL coaching ranks although he has been out of the league the past three years, working as a consultant who prepares college guys for the draft. Mann prior job was as the WR coach/assistant head coach for the Tampa Bay Bucs under Raheem Morris. Mann spent 8 seasons in Tampa, several of which saw him coaching on the same staff as Mike Tomlin. During his tenure, the Bucs won a Super Bowl and had at least one 1,000 yard receiver every year except the last. He’s known as a very detail oriented guy so let’s hope he can bring some discipline to that group of underachievers.
Now, I’ve saved the best for last. The Steelers special teams were an absolute joke last season yet ST coach Amos Jones was inexplicably brought to Arizona by his old buddy Bruce Arians as the ST coordinator down there. I don’t think a single member of Steeler Nation lost sleep over that development. After reaching out to a number of candidates, the Black and Gold finally hired Washington Redskins ST coach Danny Smith. Smith, who started his coaching career at Central Catholic, has bounced around the league since then, coaching ST for the Eagles, Bills and Skins while also enjoying short stints as TE coach for the Lions and DB coach for Philly.
Interestingly, Smith was the team’s first choice back in 2010 but Washington wouldn’t let him go so we ultimately settled on Al Everest. Also, as this comprehensive look at Smith’s eight year stint in Washington mentions, he was the man in charge when Shaun Suisham endured one of his notable meltdowns. Suisham has revitalized his career here in Pittsburgh so it’ll be interesting to see if his resurgence continues under the man who oversaw one of his biggest failures. To be honest, I’d almost be willing to trade a slight drop-off in accuracy if it means a kickoff unit that doesn’t get flagged for holding on every return.
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The ongoing soap opera that is the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers took yet another turn yesterday. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters that he apologized to Mike Tomlin, the Rooneys, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley for seemingly throwing Haley under the bus following the team’s disappointing loss to Dallas. “I came in (Monday), and I apologized to Todd, I apologized to Mike (Tomlin), and I apologized to Mr. (Dan) Rooney because I let my frustrations jump out after a game,” Ben told a group of reporters.
Why was Ben apologizing? I mean, sure, he came across as a whiner for bitching about play calling when his poor execution of said plays was the primary problem but it’s still strange he felt the need for mea culpas. Rashard Mendenhall didn’t apologize to anybody even though he was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.” I suppose creating this semi-controversy on the heels of the most pivotal game of the season wasn’t the best example of leadership from our starting quarterback. At the same time, are Tomlin and Haley so thin-skinned that they can’t stem even the slightest bit of criticism?
What is even odder is he apologized to the Rooneys, specifically Dan Rooney. I’ve heard plenty of players apologize to the Rooney family although it’s almost always following an arrest or some sort legal entanglement. This is the first time I can recall a player apologizing to them for some sort of on-field controversy. It’s also some what interesting that he specifically mentioned Dan, who is reportedly stepping down from his Ambassodorship and coming back to take a more active role with the team. Where this leaves the team president, his meddlesome son Art II, remains to be seen.
As for his relationship with Haley, Ben went on to say of course they don’t always see eye-to-eye. “I‘m sure it‘s that way with every position player and their coach. That doesn‘t mean anything.” Which is exactly what I said yesterday.
It still doesn’t change the fact this bizarre season keeps getting weirder. And it all started when the Steelers experienced a shocking loss to the Denver Broncos followed by the
retirement dismissal of Bruce Arians which led to the hiring of Todd Haley. Hopefully when we close out the year, it won’t be on the heels of another heartbreaking loss and more coordinator controversy.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers officially introduced Todd Haley as their new offensive coordinator this afternoon. It was a brief fifteen minute affair where Haley said all the right things. He smartly emphasized his local connections and his father Dick’s ties to the Black and Gold, saying stuff like, “All of my early memories in life somehow revolved around the Steelers. The Steelers are a big part of who and what I am.” That goes a long way toward winning points with us Yinzers who always tend to cut local guys more slack. See Wannstadt, Dave or Cowher, Bill.
Speaking of Bill Cowher, one interesting bit to come out of Haley’s press conference was his admission that Cowher offered him a job as wide receivers coach back in 2004. He declined, choosing to join Bill Parcells in Dallas instead. Considering he broke into the NFL job working for the Jets when they were being run by Dick Haley, I have a feeling Toddy’s decision was motivated by the desire to establish he belonged in the NFL on his own merits, not because he was being handed jobs by his daddy’s current and former teams. In a weird bit of irony, Cowher hired an ex-Browns offensive coordinator as WR coach instead, a fella by the name of Bruce Arians.
While Haley was busy charming the local dirt sheet writers, the Steelers were already hard at work at trimming the roster in an effort to get under the salary cap. As I’ve written about before (see headlines up top), the Steelers are somewhere between $10-20 million over next year’s cap. They redid LaMarr Woodley‘s contract, which is one of their tricks to convert yearly salary (which all counts against the cap) to bonus money (which is spread out over the length of the contract). That probably bought them $5 million or so in space.
They also released Arnaz Battle and Bryant McFadden. Both are small fish and easy cuts, saving only around $4 million in total salary combined. Battle was signed to replace Antwaan Randle El as a special teams returner and veteran fourth wide receiver. When the Steelers hit the receiver jackpot in the 2010 draft, Battle saw his role shrink to nothing. He exits the Steelers having never caught a regular season pass.
B-Mac’s story is a bit more complex. He was a fifth round Steeler draft pick back in 2005 and the coaches thought he’d break into the starting line-up before long. He spent the majority of his career as the nickelback, never quite being able to beat out ageless wonder Deshea Townshend for the starting job. In 2008, he finally took over halfway through the season and started every playoff game all the way through the Super Bowl. The Cardinals must have been impressed because during the off-season they signed him to a big money free agent contract.
He was a disaster with the Cardinals. Before the year was out, he had lost his starting position. Meanwhile, his replacement on the Steelers, Will.i.am Gay, was also struggling mightily. The Steeler swung a draft day trade with Arizona to bring B-Mac back for the 2010 season. He started opposite Ike Taylor and once again the team made it to the Super Bowl. This season, McFadden was the nominal starter but was injured in the pre-season. Gay played extremely well in his place while another former draft pick with high expectations, Kennan Lewis, finally showed something as the team’s nickelback. By the time he was healthy, B-Mac had fallen completely off the radar and wound up spending most of the year as a special teamer. He was actually really good in the role but he’s probably not quite at the point in his career where he’d accept being a role player.
By the way, for all the people down on Face Me Ike in the wake of his epically bad performance against the Broncos, note this. When B-Mac was down in the desert, Gay was the most picked on corner in the league. Last season, B-Mac was the most picked on. There’s a reason teams stay away from Ike, people.
Anyway, neither of these players are big names. Between them, the retirement of Chris Hoke, and the impending exit of Aaron Smith, the easy decisions are all but done. The Steelers are going to need to make more cuts to get under next year’s cap. Time for the tough decisions to be made.