Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bad Choice, New Name

It seems as though the Steelers have been chasing down -- or at least trying to -- via the draft, oh since Lynn Swann and John Stallworth departed.

Who among us will ever forget the first round debacle that was Troy Edwards? Or the third round choice of Georgia's Fred Gibson? The choices of Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes notwithstanding, the Steelers have a dubious history of choosing wide outs in the early rounds.

Now comes a new mock draft, this one from Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times (and please take a look at this before Sam Zell destroys what was once a great newspaper), that identifies another wide out that the Steelers should choose.

In this mock draft Mr. Farmer suggests Oklahoma wide out Malcolm Kelly be the next name in the crap shoot that is first round wide out choices. However, if the Steelers choose this young man it may represent the biggest crap shoot of all -- he did not work out at the NFL Combine, and according to Oklahoma Sooners Blog he did not work out at the OU Pro Day March 12th, and is not expected to work out until April 9th.

On the other hand, according to Mr. Kelly is 6'4" tall and weighs 214 pounds -- certainly qualifying as the big receiver that Ben Roethlisberger longs for. In his three seasons at Oklahoma he caught 144 passes for 2,285 yards, and 21 touchdowns. In 2007 Mr. Kelly was #2 on the team in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

They Must of Been
Looking for an Excuse -- UPDATE

According to an item from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the fact that James Harrison wanted to have his son baptized sufficiently explains the alleged incident in which he was involved, at least so far as the Steelers are concerned.

According to a quote from the article, Dan Rooney said:
"What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it . . . [h]e was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn't want to do it."
Really? That's why James Harrison is still a member of the team but Cedric Wilson isn't? I don't know whether to question the veracity of the statement, the logic behind it, or both.

Original Posting
I came across the report about the alleged incident involving Cedric Wilson and his girlfriend -- not that one, but the new one -- too late in the day (i.e. I was too tired) to write about, deciding instead to take on the issue of domestic violence and Pittsburgh Steelers after a few hours of sleep. Of course as we know now the Steelers cut Mr. Wilson rather than wait to see how the whole mess turns out.

With the alleged incidents involving James Harrison and Mr. Wilson approximately ten days apart the obvious question is why cut one but not the other? Frankly I am hesitant to hazard any guesses . . . but here goes.
  • Salary: Mr. Wilson's cap value ($2,404,302) in 2007 was fifteenth highest on the Steelers, while Mr. Harrison's ($1,446,630) was twenty-fourth. Not a huge disparity, but a million dollar difference may have been a small (teeny-tiny) consideration.

  • Available replacement: This seems the more plausible explanation. Nate Washington made progress last season (he is a restricted free agent, so re-signing him now becomes more of a priority), and with a host of wide outs already on the roster (e.g. Dallas Baker, Jeremy Bloom, Willie Reid) and the NFL draft just around the corner, replacing Mr. Wilson must seem a much less daunting task than replacing the team's Most Valuable Player from last season.
Of course a statement from the team -- not very likely, at least not yet -- would clear things up nicely. To that end, an email from Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic to Steelers' spokesperson Dave Lockett was not immediately answwered.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Welcome, Justin Hartwig

The Steelers continued to be active in the free agency market (in their own, shopping for bargains kind of way) with the signing of center Justin Hartwig. Before your curse the day that the Steelers signed him (a la Sean Mahan), it's a good idea to know a bit about the man behind the mediocre performance.

Mr. Hartwig, originally from Mankato, Minnesota, is 29 years old, stands 6'4" tall, and weighs a 312 pounds.

Mr. Hartwig was a sixth round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans coming out of Kansas in the 2002 NFL draft. According to the webpage at dedicated to Mr. Hartwig "was a three-year starter at right tackle
. . . who appeared in 38 games with 34 starts."

After appearing in just three games his rookie season -- and those on special teams -- Mr. Hartwig won the starting center job during the 2003 training camp (during which Mr. Hartwig and then-teammate Albert Haynesworth got into an altercation during which Mr. Haynesworth reportedly kicked Mr. Hartwig in the chest), and started 47 games at that position over three seasons in Tennessee.

In March 2006 Mr. Hartwig signed a free agent contract (reportedly 5 years, $17 million) with Carolina. At the time Carolina head coach John Fox was quoted as saying "[w]e had him highly rated in our free-agency evaluation . . . [h]e's got the ability to play both center and guard. . . he's going to be a good addition for us."

But during that first season in Carolina Mr. Hartwig played in only two games. After suffering a torn groin the first week of the 2006 season and then re-injuring the groin in the weight room, Mr. Hartwig was placed on injured reserve.

Despite bouncing back in 2007 to start 15 games, on March 11, 2008 Carolina General Manager Matt Hurney made the decision to cut Mr. Hartwig saying:
"We had decided to go in another direction at center and Justin would have been able to come in and compete for the starting spot at right guard . . . [b]ut we decided probably the right thing to do for Justin was make this move now and see if he can get with a team that would consider him as a starter at center."
A week later Mr. Hartwig is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the very franchise that Carolina's owner, Jerry Richardson, said he would like his team to emulate.

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Getting Caught Up

Oh that Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic was the only thing requiring my attention!

Though the real world interrupted I'm back with some quick thoughts.
  1. James Harrison, what are you doing?: Breaking down the bathroom door? Snapping a cellphone in half? Really? Playing angry on the field is one thing, carrying it into your girlfriend's home is obviously something else entirely. Feel free to enroll in a court approved anger management program now so that your lawyer can argue for a diversion program.

  2. From one end of the spectrum to the other: The news regarding Mr. Harrison dominated the (Steelers) news for a few days, and as a result this nice story about Steelers great Levon Kirkland may have been overlooked. It seems that, after finishing his NFL career, Mr. Kirkland -- one of my favorites of all time -- returned to Clemson University to finish his undergraduate degree, is now working on a Masters degree in Sociology, and serves as "minority recruiter for Clemson's admissions department."

  3. Ben Roethlisberger's worth it, but can he do it alone?: The signing of Mr. Roethlisberger to a new contract/extension was widely rumored for some time, but now some analysis is taking place. Among the more interesting of these is an item from our friends at Football Outsiders. They take a hard look at Mr. Roethlisberger's propensity for getting smacked around, and (implicitly) wonder if the lack of protection along the offensive line will result in Mr. Roethlisberger not being able to perform like a $100,000,000 player.
There's more where that came from, and the real world should be in retreat soon, thereby allowing me more time for the passion that we all share!

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Safety Visit

According to a report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review free agent safety Chris Crocker visited with the Steelers on Thursday.

After doing a Google search for "Chris Crocker" I became concerned about just who the Steelers were meeting with.

However, it turns out the Chris Crocker with whom the Steelers actually met played most recently for the Atlanta Falcons (2006-2007) after having been drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2003, and playing for that franchise through the 2005 season.

Here, in rapid fire order, are some specifics:
  • Mr. Crocker is listed at 5'11" tall, 193 pounds, and will turn 28-years old on Sunday.

  • He has seven career interceptions, and had a career best three interceptions in 2007.

  • In 2007 he had 51 tackles, 4 assists, and 1 sack.

  • He was drafted in 2003 by the Browns as the twentieth pick in the third round, the 84th choice overall.

  • He attended Marshall University after having graduated from Deep Creek High School in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Of particular interest to us is a comment that Mr. Crocker made in Q&A session (April 5, 2007) that is posted on the Atlanta Falcons website. The comment, really an answer to a question, that drew our attention is:
"Q: What does it take to be successful at safety?

Crocker: You have to be very disciplined. You are the last line of defense at free safety and you are pretty much the last guy to make a tackle if someone breaks away. If there is a batted ball, you have to get around it and try to pick it off. You have to be like a quarterback, also by delegating responsibilities in the back end, especially with the corners and the other safety to make sure everyone is on the same page."

As we read this, the image that flashed before us was of Anthony Smith getting burned, twice, versus New England. Some in the media are hypothesizing that Mr. Crocker's visit (and Eugene Wilson's before that) are a response to Ryan Clark's injury. However, we believe that it is more accurate to say that the recruiting of a safety is a response to Mr. Smith's inability (whether due to inexperience or some other factor) to handle the responsibilities of the position.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Getting Draft Ready: Mock Draft Updates

We've presented the predictions of at least ten "experts" (just like Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic is an "expert") as to who the Steelers will choose with the twenty-third pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Now it's time for an update (though we could not locate an update of Todd McShay's mock draft)! Here, in no particular order are the updated predictions of those same experts -- and we've thrown in a couple of new ones at the bottom.
  • Previous prediction: Jeff Otah, OL, Pittsburgh. New prediction: Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt.

    Ourlads Scouting Service describes Mr. Williams as "the pick of the litter of all the offensive linemen" who participated in the Senior Bowl.

  • Draft King: Previous prediction: Sam Baker, OL, USC. New prediction: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State.

    Described by Ourlads as having "[g]ood ball skills . . . [n]ot afraid on run support. Raw talent." Mel Kiper has Mr. Rodgers-Cromartie being chosen #7 by the New England Patriots.

  • The Football Expert: Previous predictions: First Round -- Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt. New predictions: Branden Albert, OL, Virginia.

    This site is one of the most comprehensive we have found, and has some mock drafts that go five rounds deep. This revision is a direct result of two players who have helped themselves in All-Star games and at the combine.

  • NFL Draft Blitz: Previous prediction: Michael Oher, OL, Mississippi. New prediction: Chris Williams, OL, Vanderbilt.

  • My NFL Draft: Previous prediction: Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida. New prediction: Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College.

    Mr. Harvey appears to be climbing up some draft boards -- Mel Kiper projects him at going to the Carolina Panthers at #13. As for Mr. Cherilus, we offered an opinion already.

  • Draft Daddy: Previous prediction: Sam Baker, OL, USC. New prediction: Branden Albert, G, Virginia.

  • Scott Wright's NFL Draft Countdown: Previous prediction: Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College. New prediction: Branden Albert, G, Virginia.

    We're beginning to detect a trend.

  • NFL Draft Dog: Previous prediction: Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon. New prediction: Branden Albert, G, Virginia.

    Jonathan Stewart would have been an intriguing choice, but no way is he going to fall this far -- the Steelers have a better chance of getting Darren McFadden.

  • FF Toolbox: Previous prediction: Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas. New prediction: Sam Baker, OL, USC.

    We don't see Mr. Baker making beyond the teens, but this would be wonderful. On the other hand, Mr. Talib is projected at #21 by Mel Kiper so it seems as though that is the more likely scenario.

  • Ask the Commish (New): Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina.

    Back when we were young children there was a television show called "Laugh-In." It was a comedy/variety type thing, and on the show they had a recurring character whose one line was "interesting -- but stupid!" That's how we feel about this prediction. Here is what Ourlads had to say about Mr. Balmer: "Boom or bust type . . . [o]ne year wonder." Our prediction is this: Not only will the Steelers not take Mr. Balmer, but we do not see him going on day one.

  • Draft Ace (New): Branden Albert, G, Virginia

  • Draft Wisdom (New): Branden Albert, G, Virginia

    We really like this site (which offers a second round) if for no other reason than it provides information about any revision(s) made to the prediction (in a previous mock draft they predicted Jeff Otah).

  • Mel Kiper (New -- subscription required): Branden Albert, G, Virginia

    The oracle has spoke

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Searching for a Replacement

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that unrestricted free agent Rex Hadnot visited the Steelers' offices on Wednesday. Mr. Hadnot is 6'2" tall, and weighs in at 325 pounds. He turned 26 years of age in late January.

Coming out of the University of Houston in 2004 Mr. Hadnot, was regarded by some as a "[p]hysical player with good punch . . . [e]xplosive." He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, has been a starting offensive guard for that team since 2005, and is described in a recent South Florida Sun-Sentinel article "as the [Dolphin's] most consistent offensive lineman." Despite that, chances that he might return to Miami seem slim-to-none -- a check of the Dolphins' official roster (on their website) reveals that his name has already been removed.

Scouring multiple online sources reveals that Mr. Hadnot's name has been mentioned in conjunction with the Cleveland Browns (he reportedly visited them on Sunday), Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans (he reportedly will be visiting them on Friday), and the Seattle Seahawks.

If it's a bidding war he and his agent want they shouldn't expect the Rooney family to play that game.

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It Wasn't About the Money

Many of those who read our musings arrive after having clicked over from Pro Football Talk, for you this may be something of which you are already aware.

For those of you who arrive here via some other twisty-turny path, the folks at the aforementioned website are reporting that the difference between what the Steelers offered their free agent guard and what he got from the Jets amounted to "only $1 million less over the first three years."

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In-depth Look at Draft Eligible Players

I received an email from the good folks at Armchair GM alerting me to some rather extensive information they have made available regarding the players eligible of this year's NFL draft.

The list(s) are quite extensive -- including a biography, scouting report, video gallery (where available) and photo gallery -- and sortable, so if you're looking to find out all you can about some of these players go to:

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Arguments for a Different Direction

The Steelers' need for an offensive tackle is well known and inarguable, right?

Well, in an article at RealFootball365 Neal Coolong lays out eight arguments -- all of them rational -- as to why the Steelers should do something else entirely.

Most interesting to us is Mr. Coolong's argument that the "Steelers are deep enough to trade up." The examples provided certainly are compelling, however there isn't an explanation as to how it is the Steelers are "deep." Do they have "excess" talent (as if such a thing were possible)? Or is it picks that the Steelers possess (compensatory picks have not yet been distributed, but the Steelers have one pick in each of the first six rounds, and no pick in round seven)?

Moving up, even 5-8 spots, would change the dynamics of the Steelers' draft strategy tremendously but it's unclear whether any of the teams currently in those positions (Detroit, Arizona, Minnesota, and Houston) would make a good trade partner.

In any event, Mr. Coolong's article adds to the discussion, and we're glad to share!


February 2009 Could Get Ugly

An article in Wednesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contained a couple of nuggets which correct points made here, and elsewhere.

First off, the 8-year deal signed by Mr. Roethlisberger is not an extension but a brand new contract (i.e. the final two years of his old deal were voided), meaning that he is signed with the Steelers through the 2015 season.

Secondly, instead of reducing his number against the salary cap the new contract actually increases his number for the 2008 season. Furthermore, as Ed Bouchette points out in the article, "[Mr. Roethlisberger's] salary leaps to $8.05 million in 2010. He will earn $11.6 million annually through the 2014 season. He will earn $12.1 million in the eighth and final year of the new contract, 2015." Which got us to wondering just what that might mean for future seasons (putting aside, temporarily, the collective bargaining battle that lies ahead for the league and the player's association) -- specifically next off-season.

So we went to the good folks at KFFL to find out just how many free agents the Steelers might have next February. While most of the names are not those of Pro Bowlers there are enough here, combined with the big dollars being paid to Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu (the two of them will account for more than $12,000,000 of the Steelers' $116,000,000 payroll), to make us wonder just what's going to happen. Here's a look at former Steelers, the 2009 edition:

Charlie BatchQBUFA
Najeh DavenportRBUFA
Carey DavisRBRFA
Willie ReidWRRFA
Cedrick WilsonWRUFA
Jon DekkerTERFA
Willie ColonOLRFA
Jerremy ParquetOLRFA
Marvel SmithOLUFA
Jason CapizziOLRFA
Ryan McBeanDLRFA
James FarriorLBUFA
Bryant McFaddenCBUFA
Anthony MadisonSRFA
Anthony SmithSRFA

A list of 15 potential free agents is a daunting thing, and considering that of those at least nine started games in 2007 we begin to get an idea of just how tough things could get.

As Steelers fans it is our nature to see the glass as at least half empty, so it's important to remember that the salary cap will increase next off-season -- our guess is that an additional 6.5% of spending will be permitted -- but how many of the players on the list will $7,540,000 bring back?

I have to admit to being a big fan of James Farrior, but he will be 34-years old next January. As a result of all the factors at work it seems certain that 2008 will be his final season in Pittsburgh. Additionally Cedrick Wilson, who has been something of a disappointment, will turn 30 in December -- bye, bye Ced. Najeh? Charlie? It definitely doesn't look good for them, at least right now. And Marvel Smith has probably already got his boxes ready for packing.

On the other hand the restricted free agents -- especially Messrs. Colon, Davis, Madison, Reid, and Smith -- all can be expected back (i.e. barring an insane contract offer from another team) in Pittsburgh.

Ahhh, but all of that can be put aside for now -- what with the draft . . . and training camp . . . and an entire season to be played before any of this comes to the fore. But, like you, we're not happy unless there's something to worry about.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

They Sound So Much Smarter

Our roundup from the first weekend of free agency says some of the things that our friends at Football Outsiders say in theirs, but they just come-off as so much more intelligent we couldn't help but share.


End of the Line for Clint Kriewaldt? -- UPDATE

Jerame Tuman won't be back after all.

Word from Pro Football Weekly is that he has signed a two-year contract with Pittsburgh West (i.e. the Arizona Cardinals).

Terms of the deal were not announced.

Original Post
The following is from an item at Pro Football Weekly:
"The Steelers created more salary-cap space by releasing three veteran players — LB Clint Kriewaldt, CB-KR Allen Rossum and TE Jerame Tuman. Kriewaldt, a nine-year veteran who was a special-teams standout, was hindered by shoulder and neck injuries in 2007 and ended the year on injured reserve. Tuman, also a nine-year vet, played in six games in '07 before going on I.R. with a back injury. Rossum, a 10-year vet, played one season with Pittsburgh and was their leading kickoff and punt returner. "
For Jerame Tuman this is standard for the off-season -- don't be surprised if he is re-signed prior to training camp. But for Clint Kriewaldt, this may be the end of the line as a Pittsburgh Steelers. And Alan Rossum? Whatever that conditional pick turns out to be, it doesn't appear that the Steelers got their money's worth.

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Steelers Looking for Depth,
Add Running Back

And you were worried that the Steelers wouldn't do anything in free agency.

Alan Faneca left, and you were convinced that the team wouldn't be able to respond.

Shame on you.

Ladies and gentleman please welcome Mewelde Moore!

Verron Haynes, we love you but it seems pretty clear that your time in Pittsburgh has drawn to an end.

Najeh Davenport, you managed to stay healthy and you contributed on kick return and kick coverage teams, but you just didn't prove to be the between-the-tackles-power-runner that the team hasn't had since Jerome Bettis left.

So what's up with Mewelde Moore? Just who is this guy? Here's a little information about the newest member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Mr. Moore had a short-lived baseball career. In three seasons with the rookie league Idaho Falls Padres he collected 37 hits in 176 at bats (.210), with four doubles, three triples, and one home run; and he was 10-for-12 in stolen bases. If the football thing doesn't work out he definitely has the numbers to play center field at PNC Park.

  • Coming out of college (Tulane), here is how Ourlads Scouting Service described him:
    "5105, 205, 3rd round. Quick into hole, good vision. Slips tacklers. Good cutting ability. Instinctive runner. Patient and runs to daylight. Good balance. Gets to outside with cutting ability. Runs good patterns. Can separate from defenders. Understands the passing game. Good athlete. Can adjust to poor pass. Good hands. Can catch ball away from body. Has stamina and endurance."
    So it seems that coming out of college at he was more like Willie Parker (only a better pass catcher) than Jerome Bettis.

  • Apparently, he has flat feet (click and scroll down)

  • The 2007 season saw Brad Childress go to a punt return by committee approach which limited the number of touches that Mr. Moore had on special teams. However in 2006, as the primary punt returner, Mr. Moore had the seventh highest number of punt returns (36), the fourth highest number of yards (365), the eighth longest return in the league that season (71 yards), and one return for a touchdown.
He may not be the answer to all the Steelers' problems, but if he can effectively return punts and spell Willie Parker for 10-15 carries a game, then this is a signing that may be more important than first meets the eye.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Free Agency Roundup

With the reported signing of Ben Roethlisberger to a contract extension, it seems that now is an appropriate time to review what was a hectic weekend in NFL free agency. More specifically, we will take a look at the Steelers and their AFC North cohorts in an effort to figure out just what it all means.

Let's begin with the good news. Ben Roethlisberger's eight year contract extension, signed one day after his twenty-sixth birthday, ensures that he will remain with the Steelers through his most productive seasons. The $21,000,000 signing bonus (part of the $36,000,000 guaranteed) provides the team with some much needed cap relief (which became even more important last week -- according to an report the Steelers lost nearly $2,000,000 in cap space as the result of an NFL cap adjustment). The exact amount of cap space to be saved is still a matter of some number crunching, but the $2,950,000 roster bonus that Mr. Roethlisberger was due is now part of a signing bonus and can be amortized over the life of the contract.

The bad news, of course, is the departure of Alan Faneca to the New York Jets. There is no doubt that the loss of the Pro Bowl guard will hurt the Steelers however (and stay with me on this) the positive impact he will have with the Jets (taking his spot between Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson) exceeds the loss that the Steelers are likely to feel. Even with Mr. Faneca the Steelers' offensive line showed a decline last season, and it is unlikely that that trend would have been reversed had he stayed. And while we try not to engage in sour grapes criticism of departing Steelers, a quote from Mr. Faneca's agent to the effect that his client wanted to go to the Jets because of his high regard for Jets assistant head coach Bill Callahan . . . well, let's just say that sounds pretty ridiculous.

Finally there's that team just across the Ohio border. After trading for Shaun Rodgers and Corey Williams at least one of our favorite publications has pronounced the Browns as the team to beat in the AFC North. In addition they also added Donte Stallworth during their shopping spree this past weekend. There's no doubt that, on paper, these acquisitions make the Browns a better team, but let's remember that this is the same team that has signed more than 20 free agents over the last three years (including Ken Dorsey, Ted Washington, and LeCharles Bentley). They've addressed wide receiver repeatedly -- is there something wrong with Joe Jurevicius? -- and Mr. Stallworth has as many detractors as advocates (as do Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Williams). To top it all off the Browns now have no picks in the first three rounds of upcoming NFL draft. It seems that the Browns are taking a "win now" approach, and one has to question the advisability of a 10 win team, with a young (albeit talented) quarterback, employing such a strategy. If the Browns perform well then Phil Savage may be the Executive of the Year but if not . . . he may have mortgaged the short-term future of the franchise.

The first weekend of free agency was busy and noteworthy, with the Steelers doing what they do (i.e. wishing veterans well as they move to new environs) while their rivals in the division continue to scramble in an effort to catch our favorite team.

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