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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As of this writing, the match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants is slated to kick-off in MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon as scheduled. Not to get all soap boxy on yinz but that’s kind of insane. While MetLife has a generator, word is the surrounding area is still without public transportation. The New York/New Jersey area is only now beginning to dig their way out of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. To play a football game amongst such chaos is nuts.
To further the craziness, word out of NY is many Giants players have been living at the Giant’s training complex because their homes have been amongst those without power. From our side, the Steelers’ team hotel is also powerless so the team has made the call to forgo flying in the night before and will instead fly in on Sunday morning, go directly to the stadium, play the game and head home. Craziness.
Okay, hopping off the box now. So what might we see when this game kicks off?
STEELERS DEFENSE vs GIANTS OFFENSE
In my piece about Eli Manning this morning, I called him Elite Eli. The joke is in reference to the always obnoxious NY media who asked Eli before last season if he considered himself an elite QB and he said yes. They snickered at the answer but the laughing stopped when he led the team to a second Super Bowl victory with a second epic last second comeback victory of the Patriots. Eli had his ups and downs his first few seasons in the league but he has definitely blossomed in to a truly elite QB.
For proof, you need not look any further than the focus of the Giants offense. Much like here in Pittsburgh, in Eli’s early years the offense relied on a strong running game and a conservative passing game. The past couple years, the running attack has dropped off considerably while the Giants put the game in Eli’s hands. And he’s responded. Last year was Manning’s third straight 4,000+ yard game (in fact, he was less than a 100 yards short of 5,000) season.
Manning is on pace to surpass that mark yet again this year. What’s more, he’s doing it with a constantly rotating cast of receivers. He isn’t much like his brother Peyton except in one regard. They both have the knack of making any receiver look like a superstar. The 2007 Champion Giants featured Plaxico Burress and Amani Toome. The 2011 G-Men starred Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. Manningham is gone but the passing game keeps on rolling with Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Domenik Hixon has more than replaced Manningham while Cowboys castoff TE Martellus Bennent has emerged as a red zone threat.
The Giants are a passing team. As such, they feature a duo of backs toting the rock. Ahmed Bradshaw is the nominal starter but he’s battled injury this season. Back-up Andre Brown has notched a 100 yard game in his absence. David Wilson is the change of pace back. All three are capable of catching balls out of the backfield, as is perhaps the best fullback in the league, former Pitt star Henry Hynoski.
The Steelers must must must control Eli Manning if they have any hopes of winning this game. The good news is Ryan Clark has practiced normally and would seem clear to play on Sunday after leaving the Washington game with a concussion. Clark has been a dominant force for a secondary that is statistically ranked first in the NFL. Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis have quietly strung together a couple strong games and it’ll be imperative they bring their A game to New Jersey.
The Giants boast perhaps the best O line in football. The passing game is so effective because Eli is seldom touched. LaMarr Woodley‘s hammy has been acting up and even if he plays, his effectiveness will be limited. No matter, the Steelers haven’t been getting the to QB much even with him and James Harrison finally on the field together anyway. The team doesn’t need to sack Eli or pick off his passes (although that would be nice) but they can’t let him set up a hammock and take a nap in the pocket either. If they can at least rush him a little, it would go a long way to disrupting their offense.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs GIANTS DEFENSE
This is a bad match-up for the Steelers. Our offensive line struggles against teams with good defensive lines and the Giants have perhaps the best D-line in football. Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul are arguably the most dangerous front four since the glory days of the Steel Curtain. Yes, they’re that good. They’re so good, I didn’t even mention a guy like Linval Joseph, who rotates at DT and has more sacks than anybody on the Steelers.
Our o-line has done fantastic work the past few weeks. Marcus Gilbert is likely out another week which I wouldn’t ordinarily care about because Mike Adams has done a fantastic job in his absence. I would rather have an experienced guy in there against that d-line but it’s not like Gilbert is a 10 year vet. The o-line, who are always a little fired up thanks to hotheads like Willie Colon and Maurkice Pouncey, have extra motivation this week after Justin Tuck told ESPN that they’ve only played well because they’ve gotten away with a ton of holding. Hey, as Jesse Ventura once wisely said, “it’s only cheating if you get caught.”
Ben Roethlisberger may be thanking the stars for the dink and dunk offense come game time. The best way to combat a hellacious pass rush is to get the ball out quick. Todd Haley’s offense is nothing if not quick. Mike Wallace has been chirping to the media about the lack of long bombs but those of us who remember Bruce Arians insanely dialing up deep ball after deep ball while Ben takes hit after hit prefer this method. Besides, the best defense is a ball control offense.
The Giants don’t have a great secondary. Some point to their 11 interceptions but when you play turnover machines like Michael Vick and Tony Romo (who’s gifted them 6 of the 11), the numbers will be skewed. There will be plays to be made against a secondary that’s in the bottom half of the league in yards given up.
Who will run the ball for the Steelers is a little murky. Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall have been limited at practice. I suspect the starter will be a game time decision. Either way, Mike Tomlin will likely deactivate one or the other and then blame their injury. Isaac Redman seems good to go so he’ll likely back-up whomever starts.
This game isn’t a make or break week for the Steelers. At the same time, this team really needs a signature win over a quality opponent. The past couple weeks we’ve seen an upswing in their play as they’ve done a good job against some capable opposition. But this week we face not only a playoff caliber team but a championship level club. A win this week will firmly establish the Steelers belong in that conversation as well.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers won their tenth straight home opener, soundly thrashing the New York Jets 27-10. As LaMarr Woodley promised, yesterday’s win ensured the Steelers would avoid starting the season an always disastrous 0-2. What’s more, the Ravens somehow managed to lose to the Eagles despite Vick and company committing four turnovers. This leaves all three of last year’s playoff teams from the AFC North knotted together at 1-1.
The first quarter of yesterday’s game was a carbon copy of almost every Steelers game you’ve seen the past three years. The offense drives looked unstoppable between the 20s only to stumble around the red zone and have to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense started slow, giving up a long drive and early touchdown on their opponent’s first drive of the game. New year, same old Steelers.
Taken by itself, you would’ve thought we were in for a long afternoon based on that first quarter. Ben Roethlisberger led a nice 53 yard drive off the opening kickoff only for it to come to a screeching halt after Isaac Redman was thrown for a loss followed by a costly sack. Mark Sanchez responded by leading the Jets on a 8 play 95 yard drive where Ike Taylor had two brutal plays (a pass interference and getting caught flatfooted on Santonio Holmes‘ 14 yard TD) and Keenan Lewis got torched for a 45 gain. The Steelers retaliated with another 50 yard drive which fizzled out thanks to two ill-conceived run plays. The drive ended and second quarter began with another Shaun Suisham field goal.
At this point, something strange happened. Almost like a switch was flipped on the Steelers sideline. The final three quarters were about as complete a game as the Black and Gold have played in long time. To borrow a Tomlinism, they dominated in all three phases.
Some are crediting the defense’s change in fortune to Lawrence Timmons. On the Jets next drive, Sanchez scrambled away from damage and Timmons absolutely annihilated him. He was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, which it was but only because that cowardly Sanchez tried to curl up in the fetal position when he saw LT about to lower the boom. Whatever the case, it was 15 yards well spent because Sanchez went 0 for his next 6 to close out the half and was totally discombobulated the rest of the game.
Although blaming the Jets’ surge of ineptitude on Sanchez getting whacked upside his head is selling the Steelers D way short. Many of his passes were right on target, only the tight coverage was too much for the receivers to deal with. Ike Taylor was awesome after his early struggles, shutting ‘Tone out the rest of the afternoon. Ryan Clark, who I’ve mentioned being overrated, made me eat my words by being a force all afternoon. He made a tremendous play in coverage to break up a deep pass to Stephen Hill and was laying guys out all over the field. His presence really does make a huge difference in their secondary.
Then we have LaMarr Woodley. In writing about the Steelers D last week, I repeatedly mentioned that Woodley just hasn’t been getting the job done when James Harrison hasn’t been in the line-up. Well, he definitely brought it yesterday. The stat sheet shows he only recorded one sack but he was all over Sanchez like a Twilight-obsessed teenage girl. His partner on the inside, Timmons, also had a very active game. With the D-line remaining stout at the point of attack, it really freed up the linebackers (and occasionally Clark or Ryan Mundy) to bring heat on Sanchez.
On the other side of the ball, Ben did what Ben does and it was magnificent. The Jets recorded three sacks but would have had about seven against any ordinary quarterback. Time after time they would crash in on Ben and time after time he’d break free of their clutches and make something out of nothing. It was an amazing performance.
Todd Haley took the shackles off a little more this week and the results were promising. I sort of see what Haley is trying to do and it’s really quite brilliant (if it works). I make no secret of the fact I endorse Bruce Arians’ more wide open style of offense although one of the major drawbacks was the team would often score very quickly, giving the D no time to rest and giving the other team too much time with the ball. Haley has every intention of using his talented corps of receivers but at the same time he’s keenly interested in dominating time of possession. The mix skewed too heavily towards ball control last week. This week, it was just right.
The Steelers first TD came on an 11 play 61 yard drive which featured 7 passes, two big ones going to Emmanuel Sanders and the capper going to Heath Miller. The second TD was a 37 yard bomb to Mike Wallace which demonstrated why he’s the best receiver we’ve had in thirty years. Ben underthrew the pass, as usual, but Wallace has finally realized he always does that and slammed on the breaks and came back for it while the DB ran right past him. Even then, Wallace had to make a terrific acrobatic catch along the sideline of the end zone to stay in bounds. The game sealing score came on an epic 14 play drive which consumed 10 minutes, the longest drive by the Steelers in over five years.
Time of possession + Big Play Potential = Offensive Excellence.
That final score was converted by Redzone, who bounced off four Jets en route to the end zone. He and Jon Dwyer split the carries evenly, 12 each, and while neither had an impressive day statistically speaking (28 yards for Dwyer, 25 for Redman) they both got stronger as the game went on. In the first half, the running game was totally ineffective. By the fourth quarter, however, they were bowling over would-be tacklers and coming within one broken tackle of busting one loose. Neither are great backs but as a tandem they get the job done.
And that’s the bottom line on yesterday’s victory. Were there things the Steelers still need to work on? Absolutely. Did they look about a billion times better than last week? Absolutely. But there’s still plenty of time left in the season to iron out the wrinkles. They got the job done yesterday. That’s good enough for now.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Revenge Tour continues this weekend against the New York Jets. Last week, it was a return date with the team that knocked them out of last year’s playoffs. On Sunday, they face the quarterback who engineered what is destined to go down as one of the most shocking losses in Black and Gold history. Let’s hope the second time’s a charm.
It’s a marquee match-up between two marquee franchises who will take the field minus some marquee names. Read on.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs JETS OFFENSE
The QB being referenced in my intro is of course Tim Tebow, who was traded from the Broncos to the Jets over the off-season. And while he’s listed as a QB, Tebow isn’t the Jets current QB. That dubious honor is still held by Mark Sanchez. Thus far in 2012, St. Timmy hasn’t done any actual quarterbacking, instead being used to run the ball out of the option and occasionally lining up at split end.
Sanchez enters his fourth NFL season at a critical point in his career. He led the Jets to the AFC Championship game his first two years before ultimately falling short against the Colts and Steelers. The team regressed last year, falling to 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Despite having his best year so far, statistically speaking, veteran receivers Derrick Mason, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes pointed to his lousy work ethic and penchant for making drive killing mistakes as the reasons the offense struggled.
Jets management evidently disagreed with that assessment, ditching Mason and Plax (and probably would’ve cut ‘Tone as well except they signed him to a lucrative 5 year deal prior to the 2011 season) and giving Sanchez a contract extension. Instead, offensive coordinator Brian Shottenheimer was made the scapegoat for a disappointing season. The team brought in former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, whose experience at calling plays is limited to one year under Bill Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys.
After neither Sanchez or Tebow led a single TD drive during the preseason, the Jets exploded for 48 points last week against the Buffalo Bills. As it’s early in the season, it’s hard to say if the Jets offense is that good or the Bills’ D is just that bad. What we do know is the Jets featured a balanced attack with RB Shonn Greene rushing 27 times for 94 yards while Sanchez threw 27 times, completing 19 for 266. Rookie Stephen Hill, a big (6’4) quick kid out of Georgia Tech caught two of Sanchez’s three TDs.
The good news is it appears the Jets will be without one of Sanchez’s favorite targets, TE Dustin Keller. The bad news is it appears the Steelers will be without two former Defensive Players of the Year. As usual, Mike Tomlin was full of BS on Tuesday when he claimed both Troy Polamalu and James Harrison should be ready on Sunday. Neither practiced on Friday which pretty much guarantees neither will see the field this weekend.
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Last week, I wrote about a bunch of NFL players who were unhappy about being Franchised and threatening to not sign their offer sheets. Well, this was a whole bunch of ado about nothing as 18 of the 21 Franchisees either accepted their tender or inked a new deal. I should’ve realized this when I read the story on ProFootballTalk. PFT is a sports website and just like any other sports website, they take minor stories and blow them all out of proportion in order to generate precious page views.
By the way, have you seen pictures of the hot babe who was one propositioned by a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Anyway, there was not the great labor unrest PFT hinted at in their vaguely worded article(s). Most of the major names signed new deals, including Matt Forte and Drew Brees. While Brees signed what is arguably the most lucrative contract in history, of more direct concern to us is that the Baltimore Ravens reached a deal with Ray Rice. Noted Stiller Killer and Bert Flacco’s favorite target signed a new 5 year deal worth $40 million with $24 million guaranteed. And that’s the important part, the guaranteed money, because as we’ve seen time and time again, you can sign for $300 million but all you ever really make is your guarantee before it’s time to renegotiate.
Mike Wallace isn’t the Steelers’ Franchise player (despite what Wikipedia erroneously claims) so his case isn’t exactly the same as Rice’s. For one, the cost is significantly less as a Franchised tagged WR would count $9 million against the cap while as a Restricted Free Agent, the Steelers only had to offer Wallace $3.5 million. Teams are often eager to negotiate longer deals with Franchise tagged players as a way to lessen the per year cap hit they have to absorb. In Rice’s case, the contract is heavily front-loaded to where the Ratbirds will pay him $17 million this season (most of that as a signing bonus) and only be on the hook for $15 million over the final three years of the deal. This is interesting because going into Monday, the Ravens were $660,000 under the cap.
I repeat, a team $660,000 under the cap agreed to pay a guy $17 million next season. So who says Omar Khan is a friggin’ genius?
The point to be taken here is the Steelers, currently $3.7 under the cap, can sign Mike Wallace any time and to pretty much any amount they want. I see other sites saying stuff like, “The Steelers can’t sign big money deals because they’re right up against the cap” or “The Steelers can’t give MW the moon because they have to worry about re-signing Antonio Brown and Manny Sanders next season.” Clearly, that’s nonsense. There are ways around the cap and smart teams, which the Steelers have shown themselves to be, know how to play those angles.
No, the only reason Wallace has not inked a multi-year contract is because he wants too much. That’s the ONLY explanation at this point. When word initially surfaced that Wallace was looking for Larry Fitzgerald money ($10-12 million/per), many thought it was a negotiating ploy where he’d eventually come down a bit, the Steelers would come up a bit and the two sides would meet in the middle. Well, it would seem it wasn’t a negotiating tactic after all. If the Ravens can pay Ray Rice $25 million over the next two seasons, the Steelers can pay Wallace the same.
Evidently, they simply don’t want to.
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About a month ago, news surfaced that Mike Wallace was not pleased with the Pittsburgh Steelers one year tender offer. Word was he was prepared to sit out “until he has to” come back, whatever that means. Thus far his posturing hasn’t been a big deal because there was no football for him to miss. However, the Steelers have two full-roster OTA sessions scheduled this month and it appears Wallace will not be attendance for either.
Which is logical considering the greedy bastard still hasn’t signed his tender.
I have no idea what Wallace is thinking. Does he think the Steelers have forgotten about him? General Manager Kevin Colbert has said repeatedly he wants to keep him here for a very long time. Does he think sitting out will force the Steelers hand? I guess he’s never heard the saying it’s hard to miss you when you’re not here.
Seriously, what exactly is his play here? He has ZERO leverage. The restricted free agency period has passed so he can’t negotiate with other teams. Not that any teams were interested in his insane Larry Fitz-level asking price. He HAS to play for the Steelers this season for the $3 million they tendered him. This isn’t even up for discussion.
Wallace needs to play at least eight games in order to qualify for unrestricted free agency next season. Even if he does fulfill the obligation, the Steelers can tag him and keep him under a one year contract in perpetuity. This is how the NFL works. This is the deal his union agreed to. I can’t stand when players whine and complain and hold out when they’re tendered and/or tagged. THE NFLPA AGREED TO THESE CONDITIONS. If you don’t like it, take it up with Dee Smith and the other boneheads who run your union. You’re not Curt Flood.
So instead of signing his tender, reporting to OTAs and playing out his contractual obligations to the Steelers, he’s sitting home pouting because they aren’t giving him the long-term deal wants. Oh boo hoo. First off, the Steelers are NEVER going to give you Larry Fitz money because you’re not Larry Fitz. Larry Fitz doesn’t have zero 100 yard receiving games the entire second half of the season then catch 3 balls for 23 pathetic yards in the playoff loss to Denver. The Steelers will give Wallace a fair contract if he comes back to reality but first they have other worries like signing their first round draft pick. The Steelers are still right up against the salary cap so they may not even be able to negotiate a long-term contract extension right now.
Holding out is pretty much the worst option available. By holding out, Wallace only shows he’s self-centered pain in the ass. Putting yourself ahead of the team is only going to piss off Steeler management, who hate dealing with diva receivers as it is. If Wallace takes this to Defcon-4 by refusing to report to training camp, well, I wouldn’t blame the Steelers if they followed the path the Chargers took with Vincent Jackson last season and put him on the roster exempt list thereby suspending him for three games when he finally does sign his tender. I’m not really worried about Wallace picking up Todd Haley’s new offense because it’s not terribly complicated to run in a straight line as fast as you can.
Whatever scenario comes to pass, it’s getting harder and harder to imagine Mike Wallace will still be wearing the Black and Gold in 2013.
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I hate to sound like a broken record but…
With the 2012 NFL Draft three days away, the Pittsburgh Steelers have something else to worry about. Reports have surfaced that restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace has told people within the organization that he doesn’t plan to sign his tender offer “until he has to.” As I predicted last week, it’s looking more and more like Wallace is going to be a major pain in the ass until he gets the big money long term contract he covets.
The Steelers have historically not responded well to threats, however vague. Seriously, could Wallace be any more cryptic with his words? “Until he has to” can mean any one of several different things. Some of them are only slightly more annoying than a child pouting because his mom won’t buy him a brand new toy while others could have significant consequences for both Wallace and the team going forward. Worst case scenario has us facing another Vincent Jackson situation, which all but wrecked the Chargers last year. At first I thought that possibility fairly remote but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Wallace is every bit as selfish and lacking in character as V-Jax.
According to Adam Schefter at the Four Letter, the Steelers believe Wallace’s words mean he will hold out through the off-season and all of training camp. This presents an interesting dynamic for the Steelers. As reader Jeff reminded me in a previous column, the CBA states that if a player doesn’t sign his tender by June 15th, the team can rip it up and offer him 110% of his previous year’s salary instead. Which means if the Steelers truly want to dick over with their disgruntled wide out, they can snatch the $2.67 million offer from Wallace’s greedy little hands and replace it with a contract for a measly $600,000.
Of course, Wallace could then escalate this game of Thermonuclear War by sitting out during the regular season. He only needs half a year of service to qualify for unrestricted free agency. Which means, like Jackson before him, he could sit at home until well into the 2012 campaign. If he does that, however, the Steelers could still Franchise tag him after the season. As you can see, there are nearly infinite number of moves and counter moves, all of which lead to nothing but confusion, chaos, and bad feelings from both sides.
I don’t profess to be able to read the minds of the Steelers’ brain-trust but going by their history, I can’t see them putting up with Wallace if he continues to be a hassle. Nor do I see them being held hostage by a one-trick pony wideout. They’ve cut ties in the past with star receivers (Santonio Holmes) and high draft picks (Plaxico Burress) without a second thought so I can’t imagine them bending over backwards to placate Mike Wallace, no matter how valuable the arrogant jackass thinks he is. The offense could easily go forward with Antonio Brown and Manny Sanders in the starting line-up, both of whom have shown plenty of ability as COMPLETE wide receivers, in addition to veteran Jerricho Cotchery.
If Wallace plans to miss one day of the regular season, I would hope the Steelers have already made phone calls to gauge what kind of draft pick(s) they could get for him. Setting aside whether or not you agree Wallace deserves LarryFitz money, Pittsburgh simply doesn’t need that kind of distraction. If they allow Wallace to hold them hostage, what’s to stop the next player or the next one to employ similar tactics? It’s a slippy slope to anarchy, one the Steelers have traditionally managed to avoid.
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Who didn’t see this coming?
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace is refusing to sign his tender offer. That news broke a few days ago and I didn’t pay it much mind because it’s not totally unexpected. Once Wallace signs his tender, he can’t negotiate with any other team. I didn’t expect him to sign until the restricted free agency period ends on April 20th. However, after that date, I also expected Wallace to man up, respect his team and the rules of the CBA, and carry on like the professional he supposedly is.
Now comes word that Wallace may not sign his tender even after the RFA period ends. In fact, it is being reported he may sit out all of the Steelers off-season mini-camps until he gets a brand new long-term contract. Sorry, Mike, that’s not how things work. If nobody offers you a deal, you sign your tender, show up for practice, and honor your contract.
Word around town is negotiations between Wallace and the Steelers are not going well. The Steelers are trying to lock him in to a multi-year deal but evidently the rumors that he’s looking for Matrix money aren’t just a bargaining tactic. He truly believes he should be paid in the same league as Megatron and LarryFitz. Well, sorry, never in a million years do I see the Steelers giving him $10-12 million per year for multiple years. Ain’t gonna happen.
Everybody knows this isn’t going to happen which is why teams have recently contacted the Steelers about trading for Wallace. Why trade for him when they can simply sign him outright? Well, there may be teams willing to pay him that exorbitant amount. They’re just not willing to surrender a first round pick for the privilege to do so.
Wide receivers have been notorious pains in the ass in recent years. Vincent Jackson was a RFA last off-season, decided he didn’t like the Chargers tender offer, and sat out all of training camp. The Chargers suspended him which resulted in the NFLPA stepping in to try and arrange a trade. No trade was forthcoming so Jackson reluctantly returned although he couldn’t get out of town fast enough once he played out his year. Wes Welker also didn’t like his RFA tender and let it be known he might sit out the year, forcing the Dolphins to trade him to New England for the bargain basement price of a 2nd and 7th round pick.
Of course, the Santonio Holmes situation is also still fresh in teams’ minds. The Steelers gave him away for a 5th round pick because he was an impending free agent whom they had no intention of re-signing. Granted Holmes’ situation was light years different than Wallace’s. ‘Tone was a thug, a malcontent the team wanted rid of for character reasons more than anything. By all accounts Wallace is a perfectly good guy, perhaps a little arrogant, but nothing so bad the team should be willing to give him away.
In fact, the ball is totally in the Steelers’ court. Wallace needs four years of service before he becomes an unrestricted free agent so he’s not going to sit out the year. He can be a pain in the ass and a distraction, which the Steelers have always tried to avoid, but he can’t force them to do anything. After the season, they can still Franchise tag him so he can conceivably be here for two more years without getting his precious guaranteed multi-year deal unless he comes off his ridiculous salary demands. They certainly don’t have to trade him.
Although if Wallace is going to continue to be unreasonable, perhaps a trade will be in order. A team like the Rams could surely use a wideout of Wallace’s caliber but no way would they surrender the sixth overall pick for him. But would they surrender their second rounder? Rumors were New England was interested in Wallace and had they signed him the Steelers would’ve received the 31st overall pick. The Rams second rounder is 38th overall which is basically a wash. As I said, the Steelers don’t HAVE to do anything but I can’t see them dicking around with this guy for multiple off-seasons nor do I think they want to see him go without getting something in return.
Ordinarily I’d dismiss any notion of trading Wallace as idle off-season conjecture. But the recent signing of Jerricho Cotchery to a two year deal makes me wonder. With all three members of Young Money healthy, Cotch would be a fourth option. However, if Wallace were to go, Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown would be your nominal starters with the Cotch Rocket serving as the slot man. Make no mistake, I have no desire to lose Wallace but is he really the kind of game-changer the offense can’t do without?
I guess we’ll find out in the comings weeks if the Steelers think he is.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are nothing if not predictable. Every year, fans of other teams anxiously count down the minutes until the start of the NFL’s free agency period. And for the first week or two, there is frantic activity as those teams battle each other for the right to throw untold millions at players somebody else didn’t want. All the while, the Steelers sit back, relax, maybe take in a hockey game and basically do nothing.
Then, when the smoke has cleared, they make like a grey-haired old lady visiting a yard sale and sift through the leftovers in hopes of finding some bonafide bargains amongst the creepy garden gnomes and tacky Elvis clocks.
Yesterday, the Black and Gold signed tight end Leonard Pope to a one year deal. Today, they locked up wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery with a two year contract. Both signings may have come late but both are quality players. In fact, Cotchery had a number of teams pursuing his services before ultimately deciding to return to Pittsburgh.
Cotchery, a Jets draft pick back in 2004, was a starter for New York the majority of his time there. He posted his first 1,000 yard season in 2007 and just missed another the following year (960 yards). With the arrival of Santonio Homes and Braylon Edwards in 2010, Cotchery saw his playing time drastically reduced. Going into 2011, Cotchery was told his role would continue to diminish so he asked to be released. The Jets granted his request and the Steelers picked him up as a stop-gap while Emmanuel Sanders recovered from a pre-season knee injury.
Jerricho was an afterthought early on but halfway through the season Mike Tomlin finally realized Hines Ward was washed up and moved the Cotch Rocket into his role as the team’s slot receiver. It paid immediate dividends as Cotchery caught three passes for 44 yards against the Ravens, then caught a key touchdown the next week against the Bengals. He should’ve had two TDs that day as one was later wiped off the board thanks to a holding penalty. Cotchery also caught a TD in the season-ending debacle in Denver.
When the Steelers signed Cotch, I described him as a Poor Man’s Hines. That description proved fairly accurate. He doesn’t have blazing speed and he’s not a big play threat but he’s got sure hands and isn’t afraid to catch the ball in traffic. Word was he was looking to sign with a team that would give him more playing time which makes his re-signing with the Steelers curious. I don’t see him playing ahead of Manny Sanders although Sanders hasn’t had much lucky staying healthy. Perhaps they’ll rotate the two in the slot with Cotchery getting more snaps in the red zone, where his catch-and-run ability has proven valuable.
Regardless, I’m glad to see Cotchery return to the Black and Gold next season. Between him and the Young Money crew, not to mention three excellent pass catching tight ends, the Steelers’ aerial attack is loaded with talent. Hopefully somebody in that group will prove adept at finding the end zone in 2012.
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Our long national nightmare is over. Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley have spoken!
One can only speculate what they said. It appears no steel chairs were involved so that’s good. Of course, we’ll see how cordial they remain after Ben holds on to the ball for twenty-five minutes and takes a drive killing sack only to be greeted on the sideline by Haley threatening to turn his boot sideways and stick it straight up his candy-ass. For now, however, all is good in Steeler Nation.
Although it may not be for long. The Pittsburgh Steelers announced yet another deal restructuring, this time with offensive tackle Willie Colon. The overpaid fatass’s new deal reduces his cap hit by roughly half, which brings the Steelers ever so closer to being under the salary cap. As has been discussed, the Steelers went into this off-season roughly $25 million over the cap and had to clear that salary by the start of the 2012 NFL season in early March. With Colon’s reworked contract, the team is now only around $8 million over.
Hines Ward is due $4 million next season. Aaron Smith is $2 million still on the books. Useless Chris Kemoeatu, who must have pictures of Deuce dressed like a sheep at Pittsburgh’s annual Furry Convention to still be on this team, is due a whopping $3.5 million. And then we have aging James Farrior, who is scheduled to make $3 million next season. So there are plenty of cuts left to make to get under the cap.
Cutting all of those players would get the Steelers right under the cap with just about enough room left to sign this year’s crop of draft picks. It doesn’t leave in room to sign any free agents. And, more importantly, it doesn’t take into account any contract extensions they may wish to dole out. And therein lies the problem.