Friday, January 10, 2014
That's exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers did in the 2013 season. When they lost their first four games, they dug themselves too deep of a hole and missed the playoffs by a foot - literally and figuratively.
But it was the surge in the second half of the season that has team president Art Rooney II optimistic.
"I certainly liked the way we finished," said Art II in his season-ending interview. "Unfortunately, we got off to a slow start. I liked the way we finished....You want a team that's playing its best at the end. I think for the most part that's what we did, and that leaves me excited for next season already. We're looking forward to getting started on preparing for next year."
The finish he's referring to is a 6-2 record, a 28 points-per-game average, a +7 in turnover ratio and, maybe most importantly, No. 7 was only sacked seven times in the final seven games.
"There's no question, Ben, like the team, got better as the season went on," said Art II. "You have to like the fact he stayed relatively clean the second half of the season. There's no doubt that's what we'd like to see. We'd like to see him last another five, six or seven years, whatever it is. In order to do that, we have to protect him, and he has to protect himself."
In order for him to "last another five, six or seven years", he has to be under contract also, though. The Steelers generally sign their quarterbacks, as well as other players, with two years remaining on their deal. Well, Ben Roethlisberger has two years remaining on his deal.
However, Art II seemed to indicate that the head brass wouldn't necessarily do that.
Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette Art II said that Big Ben knows “our intention is we want him here beyond this contact.” He even said he would want Big Ben to "retire" a Steeler.
"We've got to have Ben retire as a Steeler," Art II said. "There's no doubt about that."
But Art II added that the team possibly won’t extend the current contract in 2014 or 2015. He said that’s “not set in stone . . . it’s not something that’s automatic.” - http://tinyurl.com/lkeu9tp
That may not be the best choice. There's already enough dead money owed which hurts the Cap, plus Big Ben's Cap restrictions.
As was brought out in an article by Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review brought out, “That kills every team, if they’ve got dead money, the cap is against them — on a very flat cap (a cap that doesn’t go up much from season to season). When you pay your quarterback a lot of money like they pay Big Ben, and you look around the league right now, every team that’s paying a quarterback $20 million or thereabouts, none of their defenses are top 10 defenses." - http://tinyurl.com/l97wt3f
So striking while the iron is hot and freeing up money would seem to be the best bet - for Big Ben and for the Steelers - as Steel City Blitz's Marc Uhlmann also points out.
"My suggestion...get a new deal done for Roethlisberger now rather than later....The longer the two sides sit without a new deal, the worse things will get. Keep in mind both sides had to deal with the report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport that the Steelers and Roethlisberger were ready to part ways at this season’s end." - http://tinyurl.com/ma72wcv
Maybe the Steelers will just ask him to do one more, if you will, "minor" restructure for now. That would convert a portion of his $12.1 million salary to an offseason signing bonus, with half of the amount counting against this year’s Salary Cap and the other half against next year's.
I hope not. Either way, though, something has to be done sooner than later.
TIDBITS: Running Backs - Who will be the backup to Le'Veon Bell next season? As for who the primary backup will be? Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, and LaRod Stephens-Howling are all free agents.
Likely, two of them come back on a veteran minimum or qualifying contract.
Jonathan Dwyer is my choice and the only one I could see making it through Training Camp. Being that he’s still only 24 years old and has had some good games, he unfortunately could get interest elsewhere also.
Felix Jones was the first one off the bench late in the season, so I think Jones probably makes the team in some fashion being that the Steelers do need a regular kick returner. However, OC Todd Haley likes small-ish backs who are elusive and can catch passes out of the backfield. At 5'10 and 215 LBs, Jones doesn't exactly fit that mold. That brings us to...
LASH at least gets a Camp invite. He's still recovering from his knee injury, but if the versatile back is healthy enough to practice he'll be able to compete at and for a couple of different roles.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Wednesday morning, Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II addressed the media regarding several matters associated with his team. Included among were support for head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and various other points.
Art II said that he would expect NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league to notify the team of any additional discipline - the losing of a draft pick - before the Spring owners' meetings, and that they would appeal it.
“(We've) notified the NFL that we would appeal if there is additional discipline," said Rooney II via Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola. "(We'd) disagree strongly if that were to happen.”
As Rooney II stated further, Tomlin has paid the piper. He took full responsibility for his actions and insisted that they were not intentional. He referred to them as "embarrassing" and "inexcusable" in the subsequent Tuesday press conference.
Tomlin paid the price dearly in fact, as he was fined $100,000 by the league for stepping onto the white area of the sidelines and nearly onto the field during the long kickoff return by Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones.
Never mind that similar incidents of coaches actually stepping directly onto the playing field had occurred previously and since, meeting little to no punishment. Now Emperor Goodell wants to take away team draft picks also?
“Mike has paid the price and as far we’re concerned," Rooney II further said. "It should be behind us.”
Yes, it should.
More from Rooney II: Preparing for next year, as he put it in his interview, starts from the top down. That means an evaluation of the head coach. Have no fear (or "eat it" to the haters), Rooney II is completely fine with Mike Tomlin.
"I thought Mike did a very good job in the sense that, even though we created our own situation, our team continued to play hard through adversity," said Rooney II. "That's not always easy to do. They continued to fight, continued to believe in themselves, and most of that is a tribute to Mike and the kind of coaches and players we have here. They fought hard all the way through, and in the end, we came pretty darn close to being in the playoffs. Like I said, I believe we were playing our best football at the end, which is what you want to have happen, and I think that's obviously due to coaching."
So, he's here to stay. Thankfully.
Someone, however, may not be here to stay. The Miami Dolphins have requested permission to interview Steelers Director of Football & Business Administration Omar Khan. Though he is mainly a Salary Cap wiz, don't underestimate the possibility of his leaving. Thus the hiring of Samir Suleiman last year as their Football Administration Coordinator and Khan assistant after the Jets showed interest in Khan. Is he a personnel guy, though? Plus, the Dolphins are a mess at this point. Time will tell, but Behind The Steel Curtain gives a further breakdown here: http://tinyurl.com/l99u4jo
|by Jason and Jayden|
“In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity." - Albert Einstein
In part one of this article series we talked about the crossroads the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves at as they set to enter the 2014 NFL year. There are several players, especially on defense, that, byway of age, performance, contract issues or all of the above, won't be in Black and Gold next season. - http://tinyurl.com/lahvp57
A few of the players involved have built such a résumé that have made them beloved by the fan base. Beloved to the point of making it abundantly clear that the word "fan" does in fact come from the word "fanatic." Those fanatics, as well, don't like seeing their heroes treated as anything but reverentially. There's only one problem with such reverence, though: this is a business and Father Time is undefeated.
Looking at the first part of that, If It Ain't Steel noted in part one that the Steelers are once again facing Salary Cap problems. Early in the season, however, they weren't expected to be in as big of a bind at only approximately $4 million over the Cap.
Well, two in-season restructures and a mid-season signing were chiefly responsible in changing that. So with next year's Cap projected at $126.3 million, the Steelers, with only 43 players under contract for 2014 so far (remembering the Rule of 51), sit at approximately $9.3 million over the Salary Cap. ($4,552,933 in dead money + contracts = $135,572,583). Here's Ian Whetstone's breakdown: https://pitt.box.com/s/q75myyihriwumrcgk5ry
(ASIDE: A late December CBSSports.com article had the number higher at $10,528,419, but cited no hard numbers. Our regular readers know we've always stood behind Whetstone, and we do so here as well.)
Getting back briefly to the Rule of 51, eight players are still needed to round that out. That means more will have to be budgeted for those players, unless you simply take the top 51 from Whetstone's breakdown. Whether that's done or if we assume an approximate number of $4 million for them, either way we arrive at over a $13 million overage.
Monies and players must be cut.
That brings us to Father Time and his spotless record. His victories lately have included certain revered Steelers players, and will again this year. Previously, we said that there was a good chance LaMarr Woodley would not be back, that Ryan Clark certainly wouldn't be back and that Troy Polamalu likely would return.
Now we face the likely departure of another fan favorite in Brett Keisel, who joined the Steelers as a seventh-round draft pick in 2002. He became a full-time starter in 2006 after Kimo Von Oelhoffen left town following the 2005 Super Bowl championship season.
"The Diesel" is now 35 years old and just finished his 12th and what is likely his final season.
"It's possible. I feel like I can still play," Keisel said. "I know it's a business. ... You hate thinking about the end and not being able to do it.” - http://tinyurl.com/nxttsqd
He did make the case that, yes, he can still play. Though he never had huge numbers - part of the job description - Keisel started in 12 games (4 were missed due to plantar fasciitis) this season and recorded four sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one pass defended and several quarterback pressures.
But holding on to his fellow DE Aaron Smith too long hurt the team before, and they can't let the same thing happen again.
Keisel, like Casey Hampton, James Farrior and Hines Ward before him, won't likely be offered a one-year contract to return. While offering a Larry Foote-type deal or a veteran minimum is possible, we believe the Steelers will shave "The Beard."
The Steelers converted the rest of Ike Taylor's base salary into a signing bonus back in October. Doing so allowed the Steelers to spread the Cap hit over 2013 and 2014, Taylor's final contract year. His 2014 Cap hit will now be $11.942 million, or, because of a $7 million base salary, it would cost the Steelers $4.942 million in dead money to release him.
That is relevant because the Steelers over the years have routinely had Taylor to shadow opposing team's best receiver, which has generally been to the Steelers' advantage. However, the 33-year old Taylor has hit the career wall in this his 11th season, grading out 107th among 111 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' cornerback ratings, and dead last purely in pass coverage.
Taylor hasn't been the same since that disastrous 2011 playoff performance in Denver, where he allowed receptions of 51 and 58 yards and then the 80-yard game-winner on the first play in overtime. A big part of playing cornerback is playing with confidence, and it seems like Taylor guessed a lot on the field this season.
Coming out of college, Taylor was clocked at a 4.18/40. At the age of 33, Taylor is having trouble keeping up with wide receivers, as the PFF statistics bear out. As a result, he has either gotten burned (see Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon) or he is putting his hands on receivers more often.
His Cap hit is the third highest on the team next season and he will be 34 in May. That is a lot of money to pay a cornerback with hands of stone. The idea of moving him to safety is a good one, though. - http://tinyurl.com/lxxhzk8
However, the question is at what amount that could be done. Unless Taylor accepts an incentive-laden contract or the vet min, at either CB or FS position, we believe they would release him.
Yes, these are difficult decisions to be made, but the opportunity is there to rebuild a once proud defense through allowing players to move on and let their legacy be cemented, and to get younger at key positions so as to reinvigorate said pride. But it must be done now.
TIDBITS: Steelers add four more to Reserve/Future contracts list: cornerback Devin Smith, linebacker Dan Molls, running back Miguel Maysonet and wide receiver Lanear Sampson.
Monday, January 6, 2014
|by Jason and Jayden|
The Pittsburgh Steelers are at a crossroad. Their future and whether or not they will end up as better than a .500 ball club, largely will be determined by the decisions they make this off season.
Do they extend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this off season or next? For how long and for how much will they extend him? A topic we've discussed already earlier this season. - http://tinyurl.com/mrcyaue
But several others, whether because of age, contract restraints or performance happen to be in similar straits. And all of whom are on defense.
Point blank, it's time to make some hard decisions and maybe even just rip the band aid off. Some difficult choices may have to be made, but, like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette wrote, "the Steelers defense needs a face-lift." - http://tinyurl.com/lv25wvq
The men we're talking about in particular are outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, cornerback Ike Taylor and defensive end Brett Keisel.
All of them beg the question of whether to cross that bridge or to burn it. Of whether to a allow them to add to a legacy or to keep them and risk another defense mired in lethargy. And if it is the latter, they'd assuredly be burned in effigy.
If It Ain't Steel has dealt with the LaMarr Woodley situation already, and how fellow outside linebacker Jason Worilds plays into it. We pointed out that "over the course of the last three years, Woodley has seen his play and time on the field diminish. He has played in only 34 games, has missed 14 games as well as being unable to finish several others due to injury and has recorded just 18 sacks."
But it would be difficult, as well as potentially premature, to summarily dismiss Woodley based on these facts alone. The business side of things says that "Woodley is scheduled to earn $8 million in 2014 and to count $13.59 million against the Salary Cap. If the Steelers release him before June 1st, though, he will be a $14.17 million dead money hit against the 2014 cap...."
"However, if the Steelers designate Woodley a June 1st release, they'd carry his full $13.59 million cap hit until then. That would save them his $8 million base salary, again against the Cap....But, they would still suffer a $8.58 million 2015 dead money hit because of the prorated money from bonuses and restructures still on the books." - http://tinyurl.com/k3jbzol
That could prevent the Steelers from signing Worilds if they wanted to go that route instead. Worilds, who is an unrestricted free agent after the season, has likely played himself into a contract worth tens of millions of dollars.
Though there will be salary/contract cuts (such as those of Plaxico Burress and Levi Brown), the Steelers could find doing such a deal difficult. They could and probably would designate him as their franchise player, at a cost of about $9 million, giving them the time needed to then work out a long-term deal.
However they do it, it won't be easy because of having painted themselves in a proverbial corner. But Worilds is a definite priority and at least the fan base has somewhat soured on Woodley. Not the same can be said about a certain someone else.
Although he is no longer in the discussion as the NFL's best strong safety, Troy Polamalu had a resurgence this season and once again was voted to the Pro Bowl - this time deservedly so.
Polamalu started all 16 games this season and played the highest percentage of snaps run from the box (as a hybrid linebacker) among safeties (79.8%), per Pro Football Focus. He accounted for 50 tackles, 11 passes defended, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, two sacks two interceptions and one touchdown.
The problem, though, is that he will have the NFL's highest cap number among safeties in 2014 at almost $10.9 million. He is in the final year of a three-year, $29.6 million contract extension, and the Steelers would clear up $8.25 million of cap room if he is let go. And for a soon-to-be 33-year old safety who has become a liability in coverage, that might be too much.
Unlike Woodley, however, there is no depth behind Polamalu. So that levels the playing field slightly. Additionally, even in the twilight of his career, Polamalu is still one of the better strong safeties in the league, and could still provide the needed tutelage for young Shamarko Thomas. So, a short-term extension (a la Larry Foote) could reduce his cap number and keep him in a Steelers uniform for another year, two at the most.
Beyond that is the great likelihood that he will be the only one playing the role of Mentor for the aforementioned Thomas as Ryan Clark is unlikely to be re-signed.
“I’m playing,” RC25 said after the Steelers defeated the Browns at Heinz Field to end the season. “Where that’s going to be I’m not sure."
Neither are we.
RC25 is a favorite of ours around here, but we know that nothing lasts forever - like his ability to tackle. Despite registering 104 tackles this season and despite what head coach Mike Tomlin would contend, RC25 was terrible in his tackling all season. Terrible in that his angles were often bad or in his missing ones he should have had.
The only way, in fact, that the Steelers would even consider bringing him back is for the veteran minimum for a player with at least 10 years, which is $955,000. Does that work for him, though?
"I think I’m worth more than that, and if they decide that I’m not, then you have to understand that and you have to move on. I respect the business."
Simply put, the season home finale was likely a homecoming for RC25. A fact of which he is well aware.
"They've got Hall of Famers that have finished in different jerseys," said RC25, "so I know I am going to be no different, and that's ok with me." - http://tinyurl.com/n6cb82m
That's three of the main five in question. Two remain at the crossroad, and we'll discuss which road will be less travelled by in part two.
Sunday, January 5, 2014
We say scapegoat because of the good job he'd done and that 'somebody had to be blamed for the Steelers 8-8 season' mentality among much of the Steelers fan base.
The Steelers lost starting center Maurkice Pouncey and backup Fernando Velasco to season-ending injuries, and because of injury or inept play they had at least six different starting units and between 12-16 different combinations.
Despite those mole hills, they allowed just seven sacks in the final seven weeks. They also ran for 461 yards and a yards-per-carry average of over four (4.01) in the last four games of the season. Within that, featured running back Le'Veon Bell also broke the Steelers 22-game drought of 100-yard rushers, including running for 214 yards in the final two games with a 4.65 YPC average.
So, it's no wonder that players like tackles Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum said they felt they had grown and improved as a unit. - http://tinyurl.com/ksjm8tm
“I have decided to go in a different direction with respect to the coaching of our offensive line,” coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement on Steelers.com. “I want to thank Jack for his contributions during the 2013 season, and I wish him well in the future.”
With no clue or sense of rhyme or reason as to why this would happen, If It Ain't Steel capitulated to a superior intellect and insight in the form of Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Trib Total Media.
"Where Bicknell struggled, I’m...told, is in the area of individual instruction. ... And while Bicknell was loved by the players as a person, there’s also a sense I get that he might have lost them as a coach - fair or not - when times were toughest." - http://tinyurl.com/msh75do
That being the case, the Steelers are now looking for their third OLine coach in as many years. They already seemed to have set their sights one as well.
Brown spent 20 years in the NFL as a player for the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions. He was a part of the Redskins' 1991 Super Bowl winning team, and his best season was 2001 when he went to the Pro Bowl and was named to that year's All-Pro 2nd Team.
He has spent the last seven years working his way up through the coaching ranks. Notably, he was an assistant offensive line coach for the Buffalo Bills starting in 2008, was hired as offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers for the 2010 season, and then was hired as the assistant line coach for the Carolina Panthers in January of 2011.
Considering what Kovacevic wrote and the aforementioned road grading the OLine was finally doing in the final quarter of the season, maybe Tomlin felt that they could be the mauling blockers that Steelers teams in the past had. Possibly he then realized that they didn't need to switch to a zone blocking scheme after all, thus making Bicknell expendable.
Regardless, in a few weeks we'll all see if Brown is the next foreman of this group of hard hat-wearing road pavers.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
|by Jason and Jayden|
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of free agents to consider this offseason in preparation for their 2014 Training Camp and season. There are 21 names that need to be considered as we move toward the new NFL year.
Only a few, however, are going to be brought back because of various reasons. Whether because of Salary Cap restraints, contract demands or simply just a lack need, only a handful of them should be in a Steelers uniform next season.
On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette gave his estimation of who may and may not be returning. - http://tinyurl.com/ke8t5bt
If It Ain't Steel lists our views on who will, who should and who won't, and then will discuss briefly the ones signed to Reserve/Futures contracts. So, without further ado:
WR Emmanuel Sanders - Manny is going to be considered one of the top unrestricted free agent wide receivers this offseason. That being the case, he likely will be playing elsewhere in 2014. Basically, consider him gone and look forward to the 2015 compensatory draft pick the Steelers will get for him.
LB Jason Worilds - This is a must. No matter how the LaMarr Woodley situation unfolds, the Steelers need to work hard at re-signing Worilds. We wrote in a previous piece how he will certainly receive offers from other teams and what the Steelers may need to do. The Steelers are bereft of depth at outside linebacker even with Jarvis Jones, who still needs time to maturate and improve.
WR Jerricho Cotchery - Cotch led the Steelers in 2013 in YAC and was the touchdown receptions leader. If Manny really is gone, re-signing Cotchery is imperative, possibly to a contract similar to his 2012 (2-year) deal. Cotch is money in the red zone and can be a coach on the field for Markus Wheaton and either Justin Brown or another draft pick. Cotch is still a solid No. 3 receiver for at least another year or two.
RB Jonathan Dwyer - All I hear when Dwyer carries the ball is "boom, boom, boom" as he bowls over defenders. Dwyer works hard now. He is always excited to play could likely be gotten for the minimum.
C/G Fernando Velasco - Velasco will be in rehab for his Achilles for a while. Hopefully, he is willing to play for veteran minimum next season, because the Steelers need to bring him back to either serve as backup to center Maurkice Pouncey, or even as starting center with Pouncey moving to guard.
FS Ryan Clark - “I’m playing,” RC25 said Sunday. “Where that’s going to be I’m not sure." Regarding for how much, he said the vet minimum, which will be $955,000 for a player of his 10+ years, isn't what he wants. "I think I’m worth more than that, and if they decide that I’m not then you have to understand that and you have to move on. I respect the business.” Well, the business side dictates that RC25 won't exactly be in high demand during free agency, and likely won't be re-signed until very late in the offseason. Would he be willing to take the vet minimum then? I personally love RC25, but he had the worst tackling season of his career and is likely going to be elsewhere next season. Or on tv. - http://tinyurl.com/n6cb82m
DE Brett Keisel - Because of his age and the miles the Diesel has hauled, Keisel isn't likely to receive attention during free agency. If the Steelers want him back, it will be in more of a mentor role. He would have to be signed for the vet minimum or maybe for a deal similar to what Larry Foote was signed for last year. That is unlikely, though, because we can't have another Aaron Smith problem, either.
DE Ziggy Hood - With Ziggy still being fairly young, and that he is a former first-round draft pick, he could draw attention in free agency. A 4-3 defensive team might consider him at defensive tackle, but we honestly believe the Steelers, because of their lack of depth on the defensive line, will try to bring him back for both defensive end and nose tackle positions. The money would have to work, though.
NT/DE Al Woods - We believe Woods will be back. The Steelers have a lot of time invested in him and, since he won't likely be in high demand in free agency, they should easily be able to get him back under contract for next season.
S Will Allen - We believe Allen should be back. He came back to the Steelers after being released by the Dallas Cowboys. The team has to get younger on defense, but he outplayed Shamarko Thomas and proved his worth. Thomas is the future and will get better, so 2014 might finally be it for one of Mike Tomlin's guys, but he should get that much.
LS Greg Warren - As we've said before, Warren makes more plays than you realize and shows no signs of slowing down. The Steelers should have no problem signing him to another one-year qualifying contract.
T/G Guy Whimper - We killed Whimper at the start of the preseason and season, but he got better. That said, the Steelers will be in no hurry to re-sign Whimper. Another vet minimum deal if that. But likely he'll go out with a...
C/G Cody Wallace - Wallace should get a camp invite and an opportunity to compete for a backup role.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling - With Le'Veo Bell, Dwyer, and Will Johnson, the Steelers do lack some running back depth, but they don't either need to be in a hurry to re-sign LASH who is still rehabbing his knee. Time will tell on this one because he is versatile when healthy.
TE David Johnson - The best DJ can hope for is a training camp invite. Mediocre blocker and pass catcher. We wouldn't miss him.
RB Felix Jones - Thanks, Felix.
WR Plaxico Burress - No.
P Matt McBriar - The Steelers will want a veteran punter in camp, so maybe.
TE Michael Palmer - As The Doctor would say, "Geronimo!"
LB Stevenson Sylvester - Umm...no.
LB Jamaal Westerman - Actually has a chance to be among the outside linebacker bodies in Camp. But it's doubtful he makes it out of it.
C/G Eric Olsen - Who?
The Steelers sign seven players to reserve/futures contracts on Tuesday: RB Alvester Alexander, WR Justin Brown, G Bryant Browning, G Chris Hubbard, WR Kashif Moore, S Ross Ventrone and LB Kion Wilson.
All seven signees to reserve/futures contracts ended the season on Steelers practice squad and at least two - Alexander and Brown - have a chance to be at least there again in 2014.
UPDATE: The Steelers have signed UDFA punter Brad Wing out of LSU. He was an All-American in his freshman year and one of the best in college football three years in a row. He even allowed just 73 yards on punt returns the entire 2011 season. However, he wasn't selected in the 2013 NFL Draft due to off-the-field problems.
Steelers also signed long snapper Bryce Davis out of Central Oklahoma.
As noted above, bot McBriar and Warren are free agents.