Only one week ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced they had renegotiated Ben Roethlisberger‘s contract in order to lower their cap hit by $8 million. That money, in addition to what was saved in several other reworked deals, put the Steelers in line with 2012’s projected salary cap. Many members of Steeler Nation thought the team would sit back, take a breather and spend some time figuring how they wanted to configure their roster for the upcoming campaign. Well, as the old fish story goes, just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…
Instead of relaxing, the Steelers have embarked on an unprecedented roster overhaul which has seen them ruthlessly cut ties with several veteran mainstays over the past 48 hours. All day yesterday, Pittsburgh talk radio was dominated by news of Hines Ward’s release. Some people were angry and a few were even happy but most were genuinely sad to see a legendary career end. Before the day was out, word had spread that two more players were set to join Hines as ex-Steelers. Although neither name was much of a surprise.
Aaron Smith has finally run out of time. The Steelers held a roster spot open for him in 2010, hoping he’d pull a Woodson and return from major injury in time to play in the Super Bowl but it wasn’t to be. They did bring him back last season despite injury concerns and having two first round draft picks eager to take the field. About a month ago, Smith attended the retirement press conference for fellow defensive lineman Chris Hoke and was asked about his plans for this season. He clearly indicated a desire to suit up for one last go-round despite playing only a handful of games in each of the previous three seasons. It’s hard to find fault with the Steelers’ handling of the situation as they obviously hoped he’d retire gracefully rather than force their hand. When Smith suffered his latest season-ending injury shortly into the 2011 campaign, it seemed his career was over. Since we now know that Smith will only leave the game kicking and screaming, the Steelers really had no choice but to cut him.
If losing a man of impeccable character like Aaron Smith is bad news, there is some good news. Chris Kemoeatu has also been released. I know what you’re thinking. Who’ll take drive-killing holding penalties and commit asinine personal fouls now that Big Juicy is gone? To that I say, remember, we still have Willie Colon.
At least the Steelers admitted they goofed in signing Kemoeatu to a big money free agent contract several years back. I was flummoxed at the time that the Steelers and Jets were even in a bidding war over a one-dimensional fatass whose only discernible skill was plowing straight ahead (often well after a play was over) but I was even more bummed when the Steelers eventually “won” Kemo’s services. As recently as this off-season, the Steelers laughably floated the idea to their acolytes in the media that Kemo was one of the best guards in football. Yes, even Mark Madden repeated this bullshit, although I’m sure he wouldn’t recall or acknowledge shouting down callers who pointed out Kemo was a big part of a thoroughly mediocre line in 2010. Guess the morbidly obese have their own private bro code. Anyway, by mid-season, even the Steeler coaches couldn’t continue the charade and mercifully removed Kemo from the starting line-up in favor of Doug Legursky.
And just like that three long-time members of the Steelers have vanished from the roster along with the roughly $9.5 million in salary they were due to make. Now, if you read the comment section at ProFootballTalk, you’ll notice a number of Ratbird fans gloating about the Black and Gold entering “rebuilding” mode. What those mouth-breathers have failed to realize is while these players may have been big contributors in the past, they were not an important part of the Steelers in 2012. I’m not trying to minimize the guts and leadership Smith and Hines brought to the table but looking at it objectively, one guy only played a handful of games while the other was an insignificant part of our offense. And the third lost his starting job due to massive suckitude only to play even worse when pressed into action as a back-up. It’s not like we cut two or three Pro Bowl calibers starters.
Although we did lose a great deal of our heart and soul. With rumors swirling that James Farrior is the next veteran on the chopping block, the Steelers could very well head into 2012 a much younger team. However, without the presence of respected veterans such as Smith, Ward and Farrior, the Steelers will also head into 2012 a much less honorable team. Players like Smith, Ward and Farrior set the standard for what it means to be a Steeler and for what is expected of you when you wear the Black and Gold. Let’s hope a few members of the next generation will carry on their legacy now that the veterans are no longer here to guide them.