Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Getting Draft Ready -- Compensatory Picks

The National Football League has announced that the Pittsburgh Steelers will receive an extra fourth round pick and an additional fifth round pick as compensation for the loss during the 2006 offseason of free agents Chris Hope and Antwaan Randle-El.

According to a press release from the NFL the "NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement [provides that] a team losing more or better . . . free agents than it acquires in a year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks." Additionally, the "number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents." The release goes on to state that "[c]ompensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors."

For the Steelers the losses of Mr. Hope and Mr. Randle-El is offset by the acquisition of free agent Ryan Clark.

The fourth round choice will be pick number 132 of the draft (and the thirty-third of that round), while the fifth round pick will be choice 170 of the draft (and will also be the thirty-third of that round).

The NFL Draft will be held April 28th and 29th.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Some Games Announced

The New Orleans Saints will visit Indianapolis on Thursday, September 6, 2007 to open the NFL season.

Also, there will be a doubleheader on Monday evening with the Baltimore Ravens visiting the Cincinnati Bengals in the early game (7:00PM EDT), and the Arizona Cardinals will visit the San Francisco 49ers (the same 49ers team who seemingly beat the Steelers on every free agent the Steelers expressed an interest in signing) in the late game (10:15PM EDT).

Additionally, the NFL has announced the three Thanksgiving Day games:

Green Bay v. Detroit (12:30 PM EST)
New York Jets v. Dallas (4:15 PM EST)
Indianapolis v. Atlanta (8:15PM EST).


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Lot Can Change in One Year

In 2006 the Steelers' voluntary workouts (an NFL euphemism for "you need to be here") were marked by Joey Porter's no-show, which followed Duce Staley's strip club troubles and preceded Ben Roethlisberger's header into the windshield of an automobile.

No comes word from USA Today that new head coach Mike Tomlin is talking and working on football:

"PITTSBURGH — A year ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were scattered across the country, still celebrating the Super Bowl they had won only six weeks before. Bill Cowher was contemplating whether he should step away or retire from coaching.

This offseason, there's no rest for a team coming off an 8-8 season that missed the playoffs and changed coaches for the first time since 1992.

The Steelers began voluntary workouts Monday under new coach Mike Tomlin, who was eager to get working with his new team quickly. Last year, the Steelers didn't start those workouts until a few weeks later, and even then some players still hadn't returned to town.

These Steelers don't play a game that counts for another six months, but Tomlin said they need as much time together as they can get.

'We're going to get started about the business of putting together a great football team,' Tomlin said. 'That's just rolling your sleeves up and going to work on a day-to-day basis. That's what they're going to see from me. The things that they see from me on day one are the same things that they're going to see from me next January when we're in the thick of things.'

Of course, the team Tomlin is working with now won't be the one he puts on the field in September.

The Steelers have signed only one new starting player since the season ended, offensive lineman Sean Mahan, but they still need help at several other positions. They would like to add an outside linebacker, now that Joey Porter has signed with the Dolphins, and wide receiver, a position that gave them a minimum of production last season.

Most of that help must come in the April draft, now that the top-level free agents have signed elsewhere. The Steelers don't have enough salary cap room to make major changes, and there aren't the players available on the open market even if they wanted to make them.

One change Tomlin won't make immediately: switching to the 4-3 defense and Tampa 2 coverage scheme he prefers. While he is expected to incorporate some elements of the 4-3 defense he used last season with Minnesota, a total overhaul isn't feasible with the players and the system currently in place.

The Steelers signaled that recently by re-signing defensive end Aaron Smith. He is ideal for the 3-4 scheme they have played since the early 1980s but not so well-suited for the 4-3, especially if he had to move inside and play tackle.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has a number of key players who fit into the 3-4 much better than they would a 4-3 — linebackers Clark Haggans, James Farrior and James Harrison and defensive end Brett Keisel among them. So any changes made now, in the spring minicamps and preseason training camp are likely to be subtle.

'We're going to continue to shape our package to do what our players do and do well,' Tomlin said. 'It'll be a constant evolution, just like the players are constantly evolving.'

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Price That's Paid

"The night that Sylvia Mackey and Eleanor Perfetto first met, back in October at a Baltimore Ravens reception for former National Football League players and their families, their connection was immediate. As she sat on a couch with her husband, Mrs. Mackey watched Dr. Perfetto cradle the hand of her husband as he blankly shuffled across the floor toward the Mackeys.

'Your husband has dementia,' Mrs. Mackey said.

'Yours does, too,' Dr. Perfetto replied.

'We both just knew,' Dr. Perfetto recalled on Friday, when the two visited the assisted-living facility where Dr. Perfetto’s husband, Ralph Wenzel, resides. Mrs. Mackey quickly added, 'You can see it in the wives’ faces just like the husbands’.

So begins a New York Times article that is one of the most poignant that has ever been written on the devasting effects of the concussive brain injuries suffered by our NFL heroes.

How bad is it? Hall of Famer John Mackey and former NFL offensive linemen Ralph Wenzel -- who played with the Steelers from 1966-1970 -- have no recollection of playing together with the San Diego Chargers. Indeed, Mr. Wenzel's dementia is so severe "[h]e can offer no memories of his N.F.L. career."

Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic examined this problem in the aftermath of last season's game versus Atlanta, and sees it as an even more important issue than that of HGH and steroids. Additionally, the NFL must redouble their efforts to ensure both the safety of today's players as well as the long-term well-being and care of those who helped to make the game what it is.


Monday, March 12, 2007

It's All About the O-Line

If it seems that I am obsessive in my consideration of the offensive line it is only because the offensive line is the most important, single unit on a football team. Have quality players along the line then the offense is going to click. Don't have quality people along the line then the offense is going to stink.

With that perspective in mind, I read a very good online posting at DraftHistory.com that -- using a very straightforward methodology -- examines the need for help along the offensive line of each of the NFL teams (it also includes a very colorful chart!).

The fact that DraftHistory.com is the same site that rates the Steelers' 1974 draft as the best in NFL history doesn't hurt their credibility one bit.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Good Free Agent Signing? Well,
He's No Punter

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the Steelers have signed four year veteran offensive lineman Sean Mahan, formerly of Tampa Bay, to a five-year contract. Mr. Mahan will turn 27-years old in May; and while there is a long way to go before he proves himself to be worthy of such a comparison, this signing is reminiscent of the free agent signing of Jeff Hartings (who played for Detroit for five seasons before coming to Pittsburgh in 2001).

Highly regarded coming out of Jenks High School in Oklahoma (he bench pressed 390 pounds, and played offensive tackle, defensive tackle, and defensive end) -- where he won an Oklahoma state football championship his senior season -- Mr. Mahan followed his father (who died when the younger Mahan was a sophomore in high school), sister, and uncle in going to Notre Dame.

During his freshman year, while playing defensive line on the field, Mr. Mahan received some shocking news off the field: "On campus just a couple months, Mahan got a call everyone dreads - - his mother had died. She had underwent minor surgery, complications arose and she did not recover" (South Bend Tribune. October 5, 1999. "His bragging rights Mahan has earned them," pg. B1). With support from his sister, aunts and uncles, Mr. Mahan made the decision to remain at Notre Dame. Evidence that the loss made him mature beyond his year is found in this statement to a reporter in August of 2002:
" 'I really didn't talk a lot about it to the guys on the team,' he said of his parents' passing. 'I'm kind of reserved, and I don't like to share my problems with other people. Sometimes, that's probably a bad thing, but that's the way I am, I guess.

'But you can always look at things another way. What a great thing it is to have a girlfriend like I have, whose parents are great and who have a room for me there. What a great thing it is to have such great family and friends.

'So I look at this year as a wonderful opportunity. I look around and see all the talent we have. I'm not going to bash anyone for what's gone on before. I'm going to think about the possibilities and how blessed I am to have a chance to be a part of it'
(South Bend Tribune. August 19, 2002. "Ready to dish it out: ND line aims to dominate," pg. 1.)

During his Notre Dame career Mr. Mahan eventually moved permanently to the offensive line -- playing guard, tackle, and center -- and played along side Jeff Faine.

After being chosen in the fifth round of the 2003 draft, Mr. Mahan played in nine games his rookie season (mostly on special teams); and in 2004 he became the starting center after the incumbent, John Wade, suffered a knee injury on the first play of a game versus Kansas City (November 7, 2004). Mr. Mahan eventually started eight games at that position. In 2005 he started all of Tamapa Bay's 16 games at right guard, but in 2006 injuries along the Buccaneers offensive line resulted in Mr. Mahan being moved (according to one media account) "around like a ping- pong ball." As a result he started one game at left guard, then three games at right guard, and the final twelve games of the season back at left guard.

Valued for his willingness and ability to play different positions along the offensive front, Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune described Mr. Mahan's value this way (emphasis aded):
"NCREASED INCENTIVE: The need to re-sign G/C Sean Mahan has increased dramatically since the Bucs learned the news about LG Dan Buenning's season-ending knee injury.

Buenning, who went down during the Thanksgiving loss to Dallas, suffered a complete tear of his right anterior cruciate ligament. The injury is one that likely will keep Buenning off the field until at least training camp . . .

Mahan has replaced Buenning as the starter at left guard . . . [b]ut Mahan is slated to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

The Bucs always have viewed Mahan as their center of the future, but with Buenning expected to miss the entire offseason workout program, the best option might be to re-sign Mahan and earmark him for left guard
(Tampa Tribune. December 9, 2006. "Bucs Notebook," pg. 7).

Now Sean Mahan is a Pittsburgh Steeler -- how must Chukky Okobi feel? -- and for him and his new team the future may well be now.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Let's Just Wait for the Draft

As pointed out by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Blog 'N' Gold, a recent assessment of the general managers of professional sports franchises undertaken by Forbes ranked the Steelers' own Kevin Colbert at #24 (out of 98). Despite the assessment's questionable methodology, it certainly speaks well of the job Mr. Colbert has done since coming to Pittsburgh.

However, one has to wonder if this isn't shaping up to be the most frustrating offseason of Mr. Colbert's tenure. While the hated Ravens moved aggressively to solidify their running game, the Steelers saw their plans to entertain former Patriot's linebacker Tully Banta-Cain sabotaged when he signed with San Francisco. Then the Steelers attempted to upgrade the punter position by signing 49er Andy Lee to an offer sheet, only to see San Francisco match that offer (and in a side note, sometimes the best deals are the ones that are not made -- other than Mr. Lee's superior ability to place his kicks inside the opponent's 20-yard line, his numbers are eerily similar to Chris Gardocki's). Beaten by San Francisco? Twice? In the same offseason? That cannot be a good thing. Indeed, in an offseason of unprecedented spending for a less than elite class of free agents, it's beginning to appear that, come the last weekend in April, there will be in even more pressure than usual on the Steelers scouting contingent. That being the case it may be time to begin looking more closely at the positions of greatest need -- cornerback, offensive line, and outside linebacker -- for the Steelers.

But before that let's take one moment to look more closely at a player being mentioned quite often in mock drafts as the probable choice by the Steelers in the first round -- Jarvis Moss. This junior-eligible, defensive end out of Florida is rated no better than the fourth best defensive end in the draft by Scouts Inc., which goes on to warn that Mr. Moss is "undersized and gets rag-dolled by bigger blockers that get into his body." Meanwhile his career at Florida has been anything but smooth sailing. In 2005 Mr. Moss suffered a serious bone infection which left him, temporarily, unable to walk and led to a loss of thirty pounds. This past season Mr. Moss was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Even in the aftermath of a strong performance at the University of Florida's "Pro Day," there is this nugget from Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay: "At 250 pounds, Moss also showed good fluidity during linebacker drills, which bodes well for teams looking at him as a rush-linebacker in a 3-4 scheme." Insomuch as it appears that Mike Tomlin is eventually going to implement a 4-3 defensive scheme the question, vis-a-vis Mr. Moss, is why the team would want to draft a player to play in a scheme that isn't a part of the team's long-term future?

So, if not Jarvis Moss then who should the Steelers consider for their #1 pick? Here's a list:
  • Lawrence Timmons (OLB), Florida State: Faster than the aforementioned Mr. Moss, though somewhat smaller. Fleet enough to help in coverage, and a sideline-to-sideline defender against the run. Played two seasons at FSU. Will turn 21 years of age a couple of weeks after the draft. Penn State's Paul Posluszny is another, slower, option.

  • Ryan Kalil (C), University of Southern California: Though rated a little below this spot (he is rated as the #18 prospect in the draft by Scouts Inc.), the need for an impact center is so acute, and Kalil's play in 2006 (which was augmented by a strong performance at the combine) makes him an intriguing possibility. At 291 pounds he is considered by some to be "undersized." If the Steelers are unwilling to take a "reach" player (however slight a reach it is) at this spot they may look at either Ohio State center Doug Datish or Oregon center Enoka Lucas on the draft's second day.

  • Laron Landry (S), Louisiana State University or Reggie Nelson (S), Florida: While neither of these players is a cornerback, either of them would be a significant addition to the Steelers defense; and whether or not the team would take a player who is at a position the team considers a strength depends upon the draft philosophy -- best available vs. draft for needs -- that is employed. Both of these safeties are top 15 players, while amongst the available cornerbacks only one -- Leon Hall (CB), Michigan -- is similarly perceived. Indeed, the Steelers may find themselves able to select a serviceable cornerback -- e.g. Marcus McCauley (Fresno State) or Chris Houston (Arkansas) -- in the second round. Meanwhile, Troy Polamalu is going to be a free agent at the end of the 2007 season.
With seven weeks to go until draft day there will be plenty of conjecture about who is going where, and just how good this player is compared to how good everyone thought he was; and like any good observer of sports Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic reserves the right to change its mind entirely at any point between now and April 28th.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

The HGH Story: FAQs

This posting was inspired by a comment from an anonymous reader of Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic:

"I hope you have read the front page si.com (Sports Illustrated) article.


This does not look good.

Richard Rydze, a Steeler team doctor, does not sound credible. Why?

1. This HGH doesn't have much medicinal value and he personally bought $150,000
of it on a credit card so he can get it cheap. What?
2. Reportedly 30% of NFL players are using it.
3. It is worth much more on the street than for medical use.
4. His excuse sounds lame. "I treat people early in the morning before my
regular practice." Sure.
5. At a minimum Rydze has shown incredibly bad judgement [sic]. And most likely:
Where there is smoke, there is fire.

The comment touches upon two separate stories -- the use of human growth hormones by athletes, and the recent controversy that has swirled around one of the Steelers' team physicians.

The story to which our friend refers -- a Sports Illustrated look at an ongoing investigation into the use of human growth hormones, HGH; which is the latest chapter in the story of sports and performance enhancing chemistry -- is an important, and frightening, one. Because while other efforts at better performance through chemistry have been counteracted by sophisticated and reliable testing, the use of HGH can only be detected via a blood test, something currently not allowed in any of the major, professional sports.

The following is one effort to bring just a little clarity to a very big story.

Q:What is it that human growth hormones (HGH) do, and what makes them so dangerous?

A:In their 2005 article for the Journal of the American Medical Association (294: 2086-2090) authors Thomas T. Perls, Neal R. Reisman, and S. Jay Olshanksy outline some of the positive effects, such as they are, of HGH therapy:
Growth hormone has been documented to improve some measures of body composition, including increased muscle mass, reduced total body fat, improved skin elasticity, and reduced rate of bone demineralization . . . but without positive effects on strength, functional capacity, or metabolism. . . Furthermore, the positive effects may be short-lived: in a study of 148 patients with adult GHD . . . the modest beneficial effects on body composition (eg, 5% increase in lean body mass) disappeared for most individuals after 24 months of treatment, and 38% of study participants dropped out because of lack of subjective improvement . . In addition, the healthy lifestyle that patients who receive injectible GH are often encouraged to adopt, rather than the GH itself, may contribute to changes in body composition."
But in the same article the authors also point out some of the risks associated with an HGH regimen, which include:
As if all of that wasn't enough Perls, Reisman, and Olshanky report this: "To our knowledge, no studies have assessed long-term efficacy or safety of GH administration as an antiaging intervention in humans."

Q: But Steelers Fanatic, isn't this kind of a new problem? Why all the worry?

A:Well, if by "new" you mean "going on for more than a quarter of a century" then perhaps you're right. But the failure to develop easy (i.e. urine), reliable testing for human growth hormones is especially disturbing when considered in the context of just how long this problem has been a part of the sports landscape. Consider this quote from weightlifter Dave Keaggy: "The real horrors are human growth hormones. This stuff can make your heart grow twice its size, and they haven't even begun to figure out how to test for it." That comment is from a New York Times article published August 25, 1983 ("Sports of the Times: Playing Catch-Up in Testing," pg. B11). The inability of some of the greatest scientific minds imaginable to develop effective urine testing can lead one to believe that the will to excel (even by cheating) far exceeds the collective will of the sports world to expose the cheaters.

Q: Gosh Steelers Fanatic, I had no idea! So, if the HGH problem is so well known then what's up with this Steelers' doctor? Who is he and was he doing something improper?

A: Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic ardently subscribes to the philosophy of "innocent until proven guilty," especially when no crime has (as yet) been alleged. In the interst of fairness, it's critical that everyone remembers that Dr. Richard Rydze has not been accused, much less convicted, of anything.

With that in mind, I looked to see what more we can find out about Dr. Rydze. The Steelers' 2006 media guide isn't much help -- his name is listed on page six of a 464 page book, along with the names of five other members of the team's "Medical Staff." His page at UPMC.edu lists him as an internal medicine specialist, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, and received his medical degree in 1975 from the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to his work at UPMC and with the Steelers, Dr. Rydze is "currently medical director of the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Facility," a 47 bed facility on Benton Avenue in Pittsburgh. As if all that wasn't enough to keep the doctor busy, the Federal Aviation Administration lists him as a certified Aviation Medical Examiner.

What is more of a puzzlement to me is what seemingly cannot be found -- articles written by Dr. Rydze. This may be a product of my vocation (i.e. working at a university), but one of the first things one can do to find out more regarding a physician is to see if he or she has been published, and if so in what journals -- trust me, it's a big deal in academia (i.e. it is a tangible demonstration of one's contining involvement in their field). Considering that Dr. Rydze has been appointed to two hospitals -- UPMC South Side and UPMC Presbyterian -- that are both considered teaching hospitals it is reasonable to expect some literature from the doctor. Additionally, given the doctor's stated interest in supplying HGH to the elderly one would reasonably expect that the doctor would study the effects of such treatments, long-term or otherwise, and report his findings. However using multiple research databases (including Medline -- one of the most comprehensive medical research databases available and SportDiscus), no articles authored by Dr. Rydze could be found.

In the absence of any material written by the doctor himself I used Google to see what it could turn up. One web site that caught my eye was for the Antiaging & Longevity Project, established by "a baby boomer Regsitered Nurse" named "Tim." Scrolling down the screen one eventually sees photographs of Dr. Rydze with a comment that the doctor "reports that he prescribes rHGH & Testosterone HRT for older patients in his private practice." It is unclear if Dr. Rydze endorses the work of the Antiaging & Longevity Project, but the web site includes links to Dr. Rydze's page at the UPMC Corporate Health Program as well as the "Front Office Staff" page of Steelers.com

In the final analysis, the doctor has no apparent record of his own making by which to judge him. He may not be guilty of provding HGH to NFL players, but as our anonymous reader points out, his purchase of $150,000 worth of HGH shows "incredibly bad judgment."

Of possible concern is an apparent relationship between the team's orthopedist and Dr. Rydze. Specifically, in the Sports Illustrated article it is stated that "[a]ccording to Rydze, he dispenses HGH to '35 or 40' patients referred to him by other physicians, including the Steelers' orthopedist. (The orthopedist declined comment.)." Though unnamed in the article, the Steelers' media guide lists Dr. James P. Bradley as "Physician, Orthopedic" for the team (p. 6). Dr. Bradley's page at UPMC.edu indicates that he is the "head team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers . . . past president of National Football League (NFL) Physicians Society and serves on the NFL Injury and Safety Panel." Dr. Bradley graduated from Penn State in 1975, earned his medical degree at Georgetown University, and trained at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Southern California. A search for literature authored by Dr. Bradley turned up fifteen articles -- from "Relieving Winter Skin Discomfort" to "Rotator Cuff Contusions of the Shoulder in Professional Football Players: Epidemiology and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Findings."

Q: So, what's next

A: As the Sports Illustrated observes, it "will take weeks, months perhaps, for authorities to sift through the client lists, hard drives, invoices and trash from Dumpsters that were seized in the raids -- more than a ton of documents was confiscated." However, according to media reports 8 individuals have been arrested, and 24 individuals face felony charges as the result of a year-long investigation into an online outlet for HGH. Meanwhile the Steelers have issued a statement indicating that they will "monitor this situation to make sure that we can continue to feel confident in our medical staff in this area," so it seems foolish to imagine that we have heard the last of this controversy.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Reasonable People Can Disagree

In a recent posting here I argued that Joey Porter could have done better for himself -- on the field that is, he was never going to get more money anywhere else -- if he had signed with a team that would use him as the "featured" linebacker. However, Scout Inc.'s Scott Williamson, writing for ESPNInsider.com, is taking issue with Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic.

Ok, so he's never actually heard of Pittsburgh Steelers Fantic, but it is his opinion that Joey Porter is a good fit for the Dolphins, going so far as to say "Dom Capers knows what he has in Porter and certainly knows that he is an upgrade over last year's starting SLB, Donnie Spragan, in any down-and-distance situation."

But in an apparent nod to the our perspective, and perhaps a salve for fans of the Black & Gold who are outraged at the loss of such a popular player, Mr. Williamson adds this: "In Pittsburgh, Porter was the 'top dog' in terms of pass rushers, and his declining skills were unable to support that distinction."

So, before we all swoon at the thought of seeing Joey Porter wearing a fish on the side of his head next season, consider the alternative: watching his skills degrade over the next few seasons, while wearing Black & Gold.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Comings and Goings - UPDATE

Update -- 3/6/07
So much for that plan.

It is now being reported that Tully Banta-Cain has signed with the San Francisco 49ers.

Original Posting
While the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Steelers will be meeting with linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, recently of New England, in their efforts to replace the recently departed Joey Porter, John Clayton is reporting for ESPNInsider.com that Mr. Porter may be joining a former teammate.

Mr. Bunta-Cain, who will turn 27 years old in August, is a four year veteran at of the University of California. As recently as January of this year Bill Belichick had this to say about the man who replaced Junior Seau: "He's definitely improved. He's seen different combinations of blockers and people out there, and that experience has definitely helped him. He hasn't had a chance to have a lot of extended playing time at (outside linebacker) until this year, (and) he's played solidly throughout the course of the year." Ok, so it's exactly the most effusive praise one could hope for; but then again consider the source. In any event, Mr. Bunta-Cain had a career year in 2006: 31 tackles, 12 assists, 5.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 2 kick returns for 25 yards (no doubt as part of the blocking wedge).

Meanwhile John Clayton is reporting that Joey Porter may become part of the New York Jets' defense, joining former Steelers teammate Kimo von Oelhoeffen. According to Mr. Clayton, if that should come to pass then the Jets would likely release linebacker Eric Barton (who will turn 30 years old in September, had 73 tackles and 28 assists in 2006 to go with 4.5 sacks).

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Porter Signs with Dolphins

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is reporting on its website that Joey Porter has signed a five-year, $32,000,000 contract with the Miami Dolphins. According to the report Mr. Porter will receive a signing bonus of $12,000,000 "and $8 million dollars in guaranteed salary."

All fans of the Black & Gold wish Joey Porter well; and, despite some of the hysteria that has been on display since his unceremonious departure, he will certainly go down in Steelers' history as one of the best, most charasmatic figures to ever wear the uniform. However, the view from here is that this signing represents a bad bargain for both the team and Joey Porter.

To this point in his career Mr. Porter, who turns 30 years old on March 22nd, has played in 122 career games. By the time this new contract expires Mr. Porter will be 35, and will have played in 202 games. Why is this a big deal? Well, the sixteen linebackers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame averaged 168 games played in their careers -- a figure that Mr. Porter will eclipse (barring injuries) with the Dolphins' 15th game of the 2009 season (at which point this new contract will have two seasons remaining). Certainly players are better conditioned today than ever, but one doesn't have to go out on much of a limb to say that Joey Porter will be slowing down by the conclusion of the 2009 season, so the potential salary cap implications could be significant.

Also, from "just" a football perspective, it isn't clear that the Dolphins are the best fit for Mr. Porter. Certainly defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be employing the 3-4 scheme, but it is anticipated that Jason Taylor will drop back from the end position to play the right side, with Joey Porter going to the left side. And while both Mr. Porter and Mr. Taylor may be regularly blitzing on passing downs, it seems more likely that Jason Taylor will be the "featured" linebacker while Mr. Porter will assume something approximating a supporting role.

Joey Porter out of the limelight? Say it ain't so.

Of course the Steelers are scheduled to host the Dolphins at some point during the 2007 season, so for at least one week we'll all be reminded of why we loved it so much to have Joey Porter amongst us.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Free Agent Worth Looking At

With only $4,000,000 of space beneath the salary capp -- assuming that Chris Gardocki doesn't, finally get released -- and this year's gaggle of draft picks to sign it certainly seems unlikely that the Steelers will be looking to free agency for any helping in what is beginning to take on the appearences of a rebuilding project. However there is one player the team should look at seriously, even if it seems a crazy idea.

In all of the noise associated with their release of Corey Dillon, and the subsequent signing of Adalius Thomas, few have taken note that the team has, apparently, ended their association with wide receiver Troy Brown. It seems that his age -- Mr. Brown will be 37-years old in July -- is the primary reason for this decision. While I'm loathe to argue with the collective wisdom of the Patriot's Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick, the view from here is that Mr. Brown has some football still ahead of him. Despite his advanced age he managed to come up with 43 receptions in 2006 (his most in a single season since his 97 catches in 2002), of which 28 were for first downs (a conversion percentage of 65.12). Indeed, his 43 receptions would have been third highest on the Steelers last season, and his first downs would have tied him for third with Nate Washington.

Beyond the numbers, Troy Brown is a winner -- his play against San Diego, stripping an apparent fourth down interception away from Marlan McCree, thereby saving the Patriots' season is evidence of that -- who has a knack of coming up with big plays in big games. Certainly it would be difficult to convince Mr. Brown to begin anew after spending fourteen years in New England, but here's hoping that Kevin Colbert makes a phone call and asks.

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Free Agency FAQs

The fine folks at NFLMedia.com have come up with some frequently asked questions regarding NFL free agency. The information is presented here, reformatted but otherwise unedited.

Q – When can players start being signed in the 2007 free agency signing period?
A – Beginning at 12:01 AM ET on Friday, March 2.

Q -- What are the categories of free agency?
A -- Players are either "restricted" or "unrestricted" free agents. Within the categories are also "transition" and "franchise" players.

Q -- What is the time period for free agency signings this year?
A --
  • For restricted free agents, from March 2 to April 20;
  • For unrestricted free agents, from March 2 to July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later)
  • For franchise players, from March 2 through the 10th week of the season (November 13).

Q -- What is the difference between a restricted free agent and an unrestricted free agent?
A -- Players become restricted free agents when they complete three accrued seasons and their contract expires. Unrestricted free agents have completed four or more accrued seasons with an expired contract.

Q -- What constitutes an "accrued season?"
A -- Six or more regular-season games on a club's active/inactive, reserved-injured or "physically unable to perform" lists.

Q -- Other than accrued seasons, what determines a restricted free agent?
A -- He has received a "qualifying" offer (a salary level predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players) from his old club. He can negotiate with any club through April 20. If the restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new club, his old club can match the offer and retain him because it has the "right of first refusal." If the old club does not match the offer, it can possibly receive draft-choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed, the player’s rights revert to his old club after April 20.

Q -- What determines an unrestricted free agent?
A – A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any club, with no compensation owed to his old club, through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp,
whichever is later). On July 23, his rights revert to his old club if it made a "tender" offer (110 percent of last year's
salary) to him by June 1. His old club then has until the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season (November 13) to
sign him. If he does not sign by November 13, he must sit out the season. If no tender is offered by June 1, the
player can be signed by any club at any time throughout the season.

Q -- What determines a transition player?
A -- A club can designate one transition player (or one franchise player) in any given year. No transition players were named this year. The player’s club must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player's position or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. A transition player
designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another
club after his contract expires. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

Q -- What determines a franchise player?
A -- A club can designate one franchise player (or one transition player) in any given year. The salary level offer by a player's club determines what type of franchise player he is. An "exclusive" franchise player -- not free to sign with another club -- is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player's position as of April 20, or
120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, or the average of the top five salaries at his position as of the end
of last season -- whichever of the three is greater. If the player is offered a minimum of the average of the top five
salaries of last season at his position, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, he becomes a “nonexclusive”
franchise player and can negotiate with other clubs. His old club can match a new club's offer, or receive two first-round draft choices if it decides not to match.

Q -- Can a club decide to withdraw its franchise or transition designations on a player? If so, can it then use
them on other players?

A -- A club can withdraw its franchise or transition designations and the player then automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent either immediately or when his contract expires. The club cannot name a new franchise or transition player that year. It can name a new franchise or transition player the next year.

Q – What is the salary cap for 2007?
A – The salary cap is $109.0 million per club.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Davenport Remains with Steelers --
And Other Free Agent News

With T.J. Duckett's release from Washington some (including us) thought that the Steelers would go after a BIG running back to complement All-Pro Willie Parker. However, the team instead chose to go with someone they already knew well and signed Najeh Davenport to a two year contract.

Signed after the first game off the 2006 season, Mr. Davenport rushed for 221 yards on 60 carries -- a per rush average higher than Jerome Bettis' in 2005 -- and energized the kickoff return team. In fact he lead all Steelers' kick returners with 448 yards.

Despite the positives the Steelers are putting a great deal of faith in a player who has a significant history of injuries -- both in college and the pros. As Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic pointed out last October Mr. Davenport missed significant amounts of time in 2003, 2005, and 2005. While it would be great if that extended run of bad luck was firmly in the past, the most important player on the Steelers' roster at the start of the 2007 season may be the third-string running back.

Meanwhile in other news, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel is reporting that the Miami Dolphins are interested in signing former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter.

Of course the "source" for that is Mr. Porter's agent, so one has to wonder. Moreover, the Dolphins have Channing Crowder at the right outside linebacker position (103 tackles, 1 sack) so one has to wonder if Mr. Porter is prepared to move to the left side where, theoretically, he would replace incumbent Donnie Spragan (and would upgrade Dom Capers' defense).

Finally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that the Browns have thrown some more money at the horror that is their offensive line by signing former Cincinnati Bengal Eric Steinbach. With the injury to LeCharles Bentley -- last offseason's prize acquisition -- looking to be career-ending, it seems as though the Browns believed that they had little choice but to go back into the free agent pool one more time.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Getting Draft Ready --
Assessing the Secondary

This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult groups to assess. On the one hand the secondary showed steady, significant progress during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Conversely, because of injuries (most notably to Troy Polamalu) and inconsistent play (that means you, Ike Taylor) this group took a big step backwards in 2006.

The safety position is an obvious strength for the Steelers. Though he struggled with a nagging injury, and his skills as a pass rusher were largely neutralized by enhanced blocking schemes by opponents, Troy Polamalu is one of the best strong safeties in the National Football League (and a free agent at the end of next season). At the free safety, Ryan Clark had the type of season that makes an observer realize just how talented the Steelers' scouts and front office staff are; and as if that wasn't enough the depth at safety -- Tyrone Carter, Mike Logan, and rookie Anthony Smith all saw considerable playing time (though some of it was filling in at the corners, the Steelers safeties had the third highest number of man-games played in the AFC, 70)-- is most impressive.

Then there is the cornerback position. Ike Taylor's struggles -- at covering receivers and catching passes -- have been well-chronicled. On the other side of the field Deshea Townsend excelled, if only in comparison to the struggling Mr. Taylor. Behind them are Anthony Madison, who played reasonably well --- his high-stepping interception and subsequent tongue-lashing from Dick LeBeau not withstanding -- and Bryant McFadden who, when he plays well plays very well, but was seemingly inconsistent during 2006. It seems obvious that the cornerback position is very much in need of strengthening.

The Steelers have a good mix of youth and experience in the secondary, but stronger cover corners are definitely going to be on the team's shopping list going into free agency and the draft.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

It Stinks Being Correct

It is now being reported that the Steelers have cut Verron Haynes and . . . Joey Porter.

According to comments reported on the Steelers' website, Kevin Colbert attributed the release of Mr. Porter to salary cap concerns:

"Releasing a player like Joey Porter, who has meant so much to this franchise and helped us win a Super Bowl championship, is not an easy thing to do . . . It's one of the decisions you have to make under this current system, and it's definitely a salary cap-related issue where we needed some short-term relief. But we also had to factor in what our cap situation is going to be in 2008 and 2009 and beyond."

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Reading the Tea Leaves

While the signing of Aaron Smith to a four year extension was as much about creating salary cap space as it was securing the services of one of the more underrated defensive linemen in the NFL, the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense also is beginning to take shape.

While no one in the Steelers' organization has explicitly said that Joey Porter is on his way out, Mike Tomlin's tepid endorsement of Mr. Porter, combined with this renewed commitment to Mr. Smith, would seem to indicate that the long-term view within the organization is that Mr. Smith's value to a 3-4/4-3 blended defense is significantly greater than Mr. Porter's. Of course, a new contract for Mr. Porter would render all of this conjecture meaningless, if not ridiculous; however the Steelers have an overall history of being careful with their free agent dollars and have been more than willing to allow more than a few linebackers (e.g. Levon Kirkland, Greg Lloyd, Mike Vrabel) depart.

Clearly then the next part of this equation will be the draft. Should the Steelers opt for defensive ends, especially in the early rounds, it would be confirmation that Joey Porter's days in the Black & Gold are limited.

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