Monday, May 27, 2013

The Money Generation: Turning Steelers Young Money Into "Future Dividends"

"The culture we have now is about money. The Steelers were a team that kept that away from the organization as long as possible....Guys [coming into the NFL now] are seeing it as 'I want to play and make as much money as I possibly can.'" - Ryan Clark (brackets ours)

About three weeks ago, Clark made those comments based on words spoken by the legendary Mean Joe Greene upon his retirement. Between ESPN's First Take and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Clark made several more comments regarding the mindset of today's players and how it has finally crept into the Steelers organization. The latest, though not the first, example was Mike Wallace who took his talents to South Beach. Could the next one be Emmanuel Sanders? Maybe. After all, they were part of the "Young Money" nucleus.

"Also, these kids coming in, even when you see them sign on signing day, what do they say? 'I'm going to go to LSU, I'm going to go to Alabama for three years and then I'm going to leave and go to the NFL.' So the culture we have now is about money. They want to make money, and I will be honest, the Steelers were a team that kept that away from the organization as long as possible.

The notion of putting money first is a real and disturbing trend. But it isn't a new one. Though it is becoming more prevalent, it has actually been happening for years. Because of this and several other reasons, those who look to money first end up going broke first. Reasons delineated in this article in the National Football Post:

Greene told the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette that "the scary thing is that players have a one-upsmanship about money; they sign a contract and they like it until someone signs a bigger one..." This first happened as soon as free agency began.

Back in late September of 1993, Emmitt Smith ended his 64-day holdout and signed a four-year, $13.6 million contract that made him the highest-paid runner in football history to that point. Smith had held out because he felt he was the best running back in the NFL at the time and said he wouldn't sign unless Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones paid him "Thurman Thomas money."

The Buffalo Bills' Thomas had been the NFL's highest-paid running back at $13.5 million over four years.

Fast forward just four months and Detroit Lions star runner Barry Sanders inks a $17.2 million contract. So again, this is nothing new.

Clark is correct in that the "Steelers were a team that kept that away from the organization as long as possible," but not in the way he presented it. Specifically with Alan Faneca.

In March 2006, Steve Hutchinson signed a seven-year, $49 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings. In 2007, a disgruntled Alan Faneca made it known he wasn't happy with his lot. On March 1, 2008, when he became a free agent, the New York Jets signed Faneca to a five-year, $40 million contract. So aside from that, Clark was essentially correct.

Now the Manny Sanders situation is upon us, and no one wants to see a repeat of the Mike Wallace drama. To his credit, Manny is saying the right things. One thing that Wallace didn't do.

"It felt good to be wanted," Manny said. "But at the end of the day, I'm still a Pittsburgh Steeler. I have one more year here, and hopefully, it can continue into a long-term deal because I want to be here."

He has reiterated that by saying: "I love the Pittsburgh Steelers," he said. "I want to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. I'm happy that I'm still a Pittsburgh Steeler. Hopefully we can work out a long-term deal, and I can be a Steeler for my entire career."

However, Manny's agent, Jordan Woy, indicated to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month that the Steelers would have to offer a "very good deal" for Sanders to pass up unrestricted free agency. And as Ray Fittipaldo wrote in Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it seems "unlikely."

"Sanders has said that he wants to remain in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers aren’t likely to pay Sanders for what he might do in an expanded role in the offense now that Mike Wallace is in Miami," Fittipaldo wrote. "Based on what Woy said, Sanders seems equally unlikely to agree to a deal that pays him based on his production to this point in his career, which could set up a situation where a breakout year for Sanders winds up making him less likely to return to Pittsburgh in 2014."

Manny genuinely seems to want to be in Black and Gold. Wallace, on the other hand, didn't. Despite what many want to believe, he simply wanted out. His father even said in an interview with the Miami Herald that the Minnesota Vikings had offered him more money to play there, but that he took less money to play for the Dolphins because "he wanted to get out of that snow and cold weather." -

Not trying to disrespect or cast aspersions, but it is the truth and that much is at least in Manny's favor. If Manny, isn't sincere, it which would make the matching of the offer sheet a short-sighted move, then the question arises of whether or not this will be a trend. Markus Wheaton, because of the new CBA, is going to sign a four-year deal. Is this conversation going to be had again in 2017? Is it going to happen approximately every four years?

The likes of Antonio Brown don't come around as often anymore. Like Clark said, the Steelers in particular "don't have those type of people in the organization anymore because I don't think those kind of people come into the draft." Wheaton was one of many in the Steelers who showed maturity and character. While it isn't a guarantee, it is a reason to maintain faith that Wheaton could step in and help Young Money become "Future Dividends".

Wheaton will be a perfect fit for offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense, with conventional wisdom suggesting he mainly plays the slot behind Manny and AB. And if he impresses, he can take over for Manny who would be allowed to leave as an unrestricted free agent in 2014 if a deal isn't sealed before the season begins.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that, nor that the difference between Manny's staying and leaving is the approximate equivalent of $13.6 million and $13.5 million.