Thursday, March 1, 2012

Out With The Old, In With The New

To borrow from and the movie Cooley High, it's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. But, that's what Steeler Nation is having to do again today.
The Real Man of Steel yesterday and The Unsung Hero today, including Juicy and, soon to come, Potsie. Yes, Hines Ward and Aaron Smith have been released in successive days as the Steelers remind fans that this is a business. Chris Kemoeatu has been cut also, and very possibly, James Farrior is soon to come. (Am I able to lobby for Jonathan Scott also being cut? Please?)

This blog has spoken at length about the respect for Hines Ward. There are several posts on how strongly he's regarded. He is, quite frankly, loved. Still, this is a business. For details on him and his situation, refer to one of several previous blogs.

Regarding Smith, his release was expected and also predicted by this blog as far back as January. He’s been injured in four of the past five years and himself had pondered retirement, yet had to be cut nonetheless. His missing 33 of the Steelers' last 48 regular-season games should've been enough of a wake-up call to simply take his shoes off on the mat.

I say that with the utmost respect as I have referred to him as "The Unsung Hero" for many years. Because, as a fourth-round pick out of Division II Northern Colorado in the 1999 NFL Draft, Smith only played in one Pro Bowl, but the Steelers always considered him one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league. He finally did get recognition outside of Pittsburgh and Steeler Nation when Peter King named him to his All-Decade Team.

I only want him remembered for his play and his being a gentleman off the field and a gentle giant on the field. Known for being unmovable against the run, Smith is also 10th on the Steelers' all-time sacks list with 46. He's simply a great presence in the locker room and on the field. But, few see that. Unsung Hero.

Peter Schaffer, Aaron Smith's agent said regarding his release, ″No one ever wants to see this day come but we're not focused on that. We're focusing on the last 14 years. Aaron's got nothing but the highest respect for (the Steelers). He bleeds black and gold.″ Gentleman to the end.

On the business side of it, though, by cutting Smith, who's now 35, the Steelers will save around $2.1 million off of the salary cap. He was set to make around $2.9 in actual salary. The Steelers saved around $3 million Wednesday when they released Hines Ward.

That brings us to Chris Kemoeatu and his release. I can't see how this wasn't expected. I don't mean that from a talent standpoint, because he might just be the most talented lineman the Steelers have behind Maurkice Pouncey. But, if that's the case, he may also be, as David Todd said, the dumbest.

As I've stated in previous blogs, WHEN HIS HEAD IS IN THE GAME, Kemoeatu might just be the best pulling guard in the league. The problem is that it seems his head was seemingly rarely in the game. Pre-snap penalties and post-snap penalties and holding calls...oh, my! Tell me if this sounds familiar: "Dammit, Kemo!"

I still think Kemoeatu can be a solid player when not battling injuries. He just, thus far, has never was able to get mental part of it all down well enough. At least at his current price, which is over $4 million and about $3.6 against the cap, less his replacement on top 51 salaries. That, coupled with his playing, as Mike Tomlin once put it, "illegally", made this a somewhat easy decision for the Steelers.

David Todd may have said it perfectly when he said via his Twitter account, @hammerspeaks, "I'll be interested to see what kind of interest Kemo generates in free agent market. Much more likely than Hines to get signed IMO #Steelers." Exactly, "talented, but a head case" still gets looks.

James Farrior's situation differs a little in that he hasn't officially been released yet, though, it's expected that he will be.

Farrior's loss coupled with Smith's affects the Steelers in more ways than just bodies. There is a maturity and leadership loss also. The play calling and experience that they bring to the table is irreplaceable. Farrior is the unquestioned leader of the defense in the locker room and in the huddle. No matter how softly he speaks, his voice speaks volumes. He may be a victim of the money issues surrounding the salary cap, but you can't put a price on what he brings overall.

Would it be jumping the shark to make a Happy Days joke regarding Potsie and...meh, never mind. (I actually had time to erase this, but left it in anyway...sad...please don't stop reading.)

At this point, if they do release Farrior and don't then bring him back at the veteran minimum or at a substantially lower rate, they definitely keep Foote one more year keep and start him. That gives Sylvester the opportunity to see much needed field time on defense. Still, expect to see the Steelers address all of these needs in the draft.

Counting all the numbers mentioned regarding the players mentioned above, the Steelers purged about $41 million in salaries and cleared about $34.1 million in cap space, if my numbers are correct.

It's not a rebuild, either. They're reloading and retooling. This is a business. It's also a youth movement with the Steelers.

Speaking of youth, or draft, considerations, the Steelers have certain basic needs that can be handled in late April. The most glaring needs are nose tackle, offensive line, inside linebacker, safety, wide receiver, and maybe running back. So, I'll discuss a few potential members of a Steelers youth movement, focusing on what I feel are the three most important needs: nose tackle, offensive guard and inside linebacker.

DONTARI POE: Despite being just under 350 lbs, defensive tackle/nose tackle Dontari Poe ran a 4.98 in the 40 time. That was nearly a full second faster than Terrance Cody’s 5.71 two years ago, and just a touch quicker than the 5.03 run by Ndamukong Suh, who worked out at 307 lbs and was drafted No. 2 overall that same year.

To the very fast 40, Poe added a 1.70 in his 10-yard split, showing the short-distance explosion more common to a linebacker than to a nose tackle. But Poe did more: he also pumped off a Combine-best 44 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press, leaped an eye-popping 29.5-inch vertical leap and broad jumped an 8’9”. *whew* I can bench 225 lbs too, it'll just be four reps, not 44, so he is officially Mr. Poe. And I want him in Black and Gold...though, I don't think he'll last to the 24th pick.

DAVID DECASTRO: Offensive guard David DeCastro is 6'4 7/8" and 315 lbs, but with a relatively short wing-span. He is definitely a guard at the NFL level, but could be a very good one. He ran unofficial 40 times of 5.34 and 5.47 and broad jumped 8'2". He started 39 games and was a 1st-Team All-American last year.

Mike Mayock of NFL Network said of him, "Stanford guard David DeCastro isn't particularly long or fast from a Combine measurable perspective, but word out of Indianapolis is that he turned heads when performing more football-related activities on the field. From what I was told, he was highly impressive in on-field drills." I liked the "when performing more football-related activities" part. That's of greater import, especially as his Combine numbers actually somewhat adversely affected his draft status. He could slide to the Steelers.

DONT'A HIGHTOWER: Hightower, 6'2" 265 lbs, didn’t do all the athletic tests at the Combine, but he did run the 40 and clocked an official 4.68. He also clocked an unofficial 4.62, which is impressive at 265 lbs. The 40 time and the reported 1.65 10-yard split are indicators that he has the quick twitch burst necessary to allow him to play inside or outside in a 3-4 defense. Does Hightower have the coverage ability necessary to be a long-term 3 down inside linebacker in a 3-4? That is a question to be considered, but based on the Alabama games I saw and what I hear, I lean toward a yes as an answer. He certainly had impeccable leadership ability enough to be the captain of the defense, and was trusted by Saban to be the playcaller of his defense as well. The same might eventually happen under Tomlin.

We in Steeler Nation tend to hold on exceptionally strong to our favorite players, even regard them almost like family at times. But, much like the circle of life, we must accept that we eventually have to part with those advanced in years and welcome in those young ones who will bring us joy in years to come. Still, it still is hard to say goodbye to yesterday.