Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The next 11

Here are the next 11 picks in my first mock.

11. St. Louis, Brodrick Bunkley, DT. Florida State. Another great offense that needs defensive stoppers.

12. Cleveland, Chad Greenway, OLB, Iowa. Sorry, I’m not buying that he’s slipping. Don’t forget the Phil Savage-Kirk Ferentz connection.

13. Baltimore, Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State. Ravens like high-motor defenders like Hali.

14. Philadelphia, Chad Jackson, WR, Florida. The TO experiment/debacle is over.

15. Denver (from Atlanta) Marcus McNeil, OT, Auburn. The Broncos need to get younger up front.

16. Miami, Jimmy Williams, DB, Va. Tech. Dolphins need secondary help.

17. Minnesota, Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt. Vikings trade Culpepper, get their possible QB of the future.

18. Dallas, Ernie Sims, LB, Florida. Sims can play inside linebacker in the Cowboys’ 3-4.

19. San Diego, Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State. New QB Phillip Rivers needs all the targets he can get and Keenan McCardell isn’t getting any younger.

20. Kansas City, Tye Hill, CB, Clemson. Hill is a welcome addition to a horrid defense.

21. New England, Lendale White, RB, USC. Patriots luck out and get a power back to replce Corey Dillon.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mocking it up

With April now nearly here, it's time to start thinking about mock drafts. Over the next couple of days, I'll be posting my first round, 10 or so picks at a time.

1. Houston, Reggie Bush, RB, USC. A no-brainer, really, unless they trade the pick.

2. New Orleans, Mario Williams, DE, North Carolin State. After signing Drew Brees, the Saints are primed to trade this pick to a team looking for a QB.

3. Tennessee, Vince Young, QB, Texas. Young is close with Steve McNair and is a similar quarterback.

4. New York Jets, Matt Leinart, QN, USC. It’s my belief that the Jets will want to trade up for Leinart. They may not have to.

5. Green Bay, A.J. Hawk, OLB, Ohio State. The Packers were awful on defense last year. Hawk is outstanding.

6. San Francisco, Michael Huff, DB, Texas. The 49ers wanted Hawk, but settle for Huff, who can play corner or safety.

7. Oakland, Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland. Davis was the workout star of the combine and can stretch the field.

8. Buffalo, D’Brickshaw Ferguson, OT, Virginia. This is a stroke of luck for Buffalo, which struck out with former top pick Mike Williams.

9. Detroit, Winston Justice, OT, USC. No wide receiver for the fourth year in a row.

10. Arizona, Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon. Great offense needs defensive stoppers.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

More ammunition

The two extra fourth round and one additional fifth round pick the Steelers collected Monday when the NFL announced its compensatory picks will come in handy for a team looking for an infusion of young talent.

The Steelers have drafted well under director of football operations Kevin Colbert, who's also shown no qualms about moving around to get the players he desires.

The team traded down in the first round in 2001 and up in the second to grab nose tackle Casey Hampton and linebacker Kendrell Bell.

A couple of years later, the team traded up in the first round for the first time in history to grab safety Troy Polamalu.

Bell is now gone, but Hampton and Polamalu are Pro Bowl players considered the best in the league at their positions.

By rule, teams can't trade compensatory picks. But if the Steelers are inclined to make a move in this year's draft, they now have the ammunition to do so without giving up the farm.

For example, they could deal their second round pick and their fourth to move up a dozeon or so spots in the second round if there is a player they want by don't feel will be there when they pick.

It would certainly make things easier to grab a guy such as linebacker Bobby Carpenter in the first round and trade up in the second to grab safety Darnell Bing.

That would be two quality players and the team would still own a third and two more fourths.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What Haynes means

The question has been posed what the Steelers will do in the draft if they re-sign running back Verron Haynes. Will they still look for a running back in the draft with starter Willie Parker, backup Duce Staley and third-down back Haynes on the roster?

Sure. Remember, they still have a running back spot open on the roster to take Jerome Bettis' spot. Head coach Bill Cowher has always carried at least five running backs.

Even with the aforementioned threesome and fullback Dan Kreider, the Steelers still have an open spot on the roster for a young back who will eventually replace Staley.

Who woulde fit that bill? How about Virginia running back Walli Lundi, who could be had in the third or fourth round?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

We like Ike

Restricted free agent cornerback Ike Taylor has yet to draw a contract offer from another team, but could get one soon.

Now that the New York Jets have two first-round draft picks available to them thanks to their trade of John Abraham to Atlanta, Taylor might be on their radar.

Any team that signs Taylor to a contract would owe the Steelers a first-round draft pick in return if the Steelers don't match the offer.

Considering the Jets released starting corner Ty Law just prior to the start of free agency, Taylor would be a nice pickup for them. And they have the ammunition with which to do it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dwight visits

As I reported last week, the Steelers hosted Tim Dwight Tuesday as they continued their search to replace Antwaan Randle El as a return man.

Dwight is an average NFL wide receiver, possibly even below average. But he's been to the Pro Bowl as a return man and could give the Steelers a boost in that area.

In other news, quarterback Tommy Maddox visited the Miami Dolphins to talk about a backup job behind newly acquired Daunte Culpepper.

I thought the Dolphins were going to be much improved this year, but signing Maddox would be a step backward for Miami.

Monday, March 20, 2006

New commish

The next commissioner of the NFL may very well have ties to Washington, Pa.

Roger Goodell, the NFL's chief operating officer, has been widely rumored to be the next commissioner when Paul Tagliabue retires, something he will now do in July.

Goodell, a native of Jamestown, N.Y., is a 1981 graduate of Washington & Jefferson College and has worked for the league since 1982.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Big week

A week that started with the Steelers losing wide receiver Antwaan Randle El ended with a bang for the defendind Super Bowl champions.

After losing Randle El on Sunday, the Steelers went on a mini signing spree, bringing in outside free agents Ryan Clark and Rodney Bailey, and re-signing linebacker Clint Kriewaldt, defensive end Brett Keisel, cornerback Deshea Townsend, tight end Jerame Tuman and offensive lineman Barrett Brooks.

That's not a bad haul for the Steelers, who have now pretty much kept the nucleus of last season's championship team together.

When you look around the league, particularly the AFC, other than Jacksonville, the contenders for the Steelers next season haven't done a lot to help themselves.

New England has just two receivers (Deion Branch and Bethel Johnson) under contract. Indianapolis lost Edgerrin James and some key defensive players. San Diego lost Drew Brees. Miami has bettered itself, but it may take a while for the Dolphins to gel with new quarterback Daunte Culpepper. And the Bengals still have questions about Carson Palmer's return.

Considering what the Steelers have done and the fact they can still add an impact player or two in the draft, the Super Bowl champs have had a strong offseason.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Looking for return man

With Antwaan Randle El now in Washington, the Steelers are exploring their options for kick returners.

Tim Dwight will be first up, visiting the Steelers in the next few days.

Dwight, a former Pro Bowl return man, has played for San Diego, Atlanta and, most recently, New England.

Steelers adding seats

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced today that they have submitted plans to the Sports and Exhibition Authority to add a new club section to Heinz Field for the 2006 season.  The project will add approximately 700 club seats plus 20,000 sq. ft. of enclosed club space in the north end of the stadium.  The capacity of Heinz Field will increase to 65,050.
The new seats will be offered to those on the season ticket waiting list and some to existing season ticket holders who have previously requested to relocate to club seats.
The new seats will carry a seat license and will be priced in the range of the existing club seats at Heinz Field.
Construction on the project is scheduled to begin next month at a cost of approximately $4.0 million. 
Also, the Steelers are looking at return man Tim Dwight, most recently of the New England Patriots.

A former Pro Bowl return guy, Dwight would help ease of the loss of Antwaan Randle El.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Steelers flurry

Tuesday was a big day for the Steelers as they signed safety Ryan Clark (scroll down to read more about him) and defensive end Brett Keisel Tuesday while losing defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen to the Jets.

Clark and Keisel signed four-year deals with the Steelers and are considered players with plenty of upside. Clark is just 25, while Keisel is 27.

The 35-year-old von Oelhoffen got $9.2 million from the Jets over three years, including a $3.2 million signing bonus. His contract may be even more out of whack than Antwaan Randle El's deal the other day.

The Steelers also hosted former Cleveland Browns tight end Aaron Shea Tuesday, though he moved to the backburner with all of the other signings going on.

Jerame Tuman, who finished the season as the Steelers' backup tight end, apparently has turned down the team's offer to return. So too has Chris Hope, which prompted Clark's signing.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Possible hope replacement?

The Steelers have begun looking at possible replacements for free agent free safety Chris Hope, starting with former Washington safety Ryan Clark.

Clark is an overachiever from LSU who won a spot in the NFL as a rookie free agent with the New York Giants. Ironically, he was released by the Giants two years ago when they signed former Steelers' starter Brent Alexander.

That turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Clark, who signed with the Redskins, becoming a two-year starter in Washington.

Hope, meanwhile, will meet with the San Francisco 49ers later this week.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

And so it begins

According to several sources, wide receiver Antwaan Randle El signed a 6-year $31 million deal with the Washington Redskins after spurning a 6-year $18-million offer from the Chicago Bears that included an $8 million signing bonus.

Randle El's deal with Washington includes up to $11.5 million in bonus money, but he joins a crowded Redskins' receiving corps. Washington just traded for San Francisco's Brandon Lloyd on Saturday and already has Santana Moss and David Patten on the roster.

Defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen visited the New York Jets over the weekend, but the Steelers will still likely bring the veteran back.

Cincinnati has shown interest in Tommy Maddox, although I'm not sure why.

And Chukky Okobi has reportedly restructured his contract, though that is unconfirmed at this point.

The only free agent the Steelers have re-signed thus far is linebacker Clint Kreiwaldt.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Quiet start

While the Browns are spending like drunken sailors and the Ravens are getting ravaged like France in a war, all has been quiet with the Steelers thus far in free agency.

No signings. No losses.

That likely won't continue.

But the longer the Steelers' free agents hang around on the market, the better the chance they have of re-signing with the Steelers.

Of note: Safety Chris Hope will visit the Browns early this week.

Given Cleveland's early flurry, if the Browns want Hope, they'll get him. They've still got a lot of money to spend and are looking to make a splash.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Randle El vs. Bryant

Back in 2002 when the Steelers were looking for a No. 3 receiver to compliment Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, many fans screamed bloody murder when the team passed on Pitt's Antonio Bryant in the second round to take Antwaan Randle El instead.

To make matters worse, Bryant was the next receiver selected after Randle El and put up some decent numbers that season for the Dallas Cowboys.

But as we have now found, Randle El was the better pick.

Bryant was bounced out of Dallas in a trade to Cleveland for Qunicy Morgan, the same Quincy Morgan whom the Cowboys cut and was subsequently picked up by the Steelers.

His problem? He's lazy and his attitude stinks. Sure, he's got talent, but good luck coaxing it out of him.

Randle El, meanwhile, will never be a star, regardless of the contract he gets when the free agency period opens at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. But he's a much better player than Bryant will ever be.

Character matters and Randle El's character has always been much better than Bryant's ever was or will be.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Freeing up the cash

With the salary cap going up to $104 million with the new CBA in place, the Steelers find themselves about $11 million under the salary cap.

That's good news for a team with four starters heading into free agency.

But don't expect the Steelers to suddenly become big spenders on the open market.

The team will need to save about $4 million in cap space with which to sign its rookies. That will leave about $7 million in "Mad Money" with which to play with.

You can expect the team to go hard to re-sign defensive end Brett Keisel. And finding a safety to replace Chris Hope will also be a must.

The team will likely look to the draft for help at wide receiver. And Charlie Batch will be brought back to back up Ben Roethlisberger.

If things get too crazy, the Steelers can still clear more cap space by restructuring the contract of one or both of their centers.

Jeff Hartings got a $750,000 roster bonus March 8, bringing his cap hit in 2006 to $8 million. Add to that the $2 million Chukky Okobi is scheduled to earn and there's some wiggle room at that position.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Safety dance

With the release of both Mike Logan and Russell Stuvaints and the impending free agency of Chris Hope, the Steelers are about to find themselves with just two safeties on the roster in Troy Polamalu and Tyrone Carter.

Now Polamalu is good, but he can't play both safety positions at the same time, so this could be a problem.

Carter has starting experience with both Minnesota and the Jets, but he's the kind of guy you're always looking to replace.

One option for the Steelers would be to re-sign cornerback Deshea Townsend and move him back to free safety. He catches the ball well and has been around the defense so long he likely knows it better than anyone on the team.

Another option would be to sign a veteran free agent. But if you're going to do that, why not just bring back Chris Hope?

Just a couple of weeks ago I would have put the odds of the Steelers using a first-round draft pick on a free safety at about 10 percent. But given that the position is really the only opening in the starting lineup that doesn't have a viable replacement, those odds are growing significantly.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Here we go

Talks again broke off between the NFL and NFLPA late Sunday night, but the league moved the start of free agency back to 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

NFL owners will meet Tuesday in Dallas to discuss the NFLPA's latest offer.

Two teams struck just before free agency hit to re-sign their star running backs.

Seattle inked Shaun Alexander to a $62 million deal that will pay the reigning NFL MVP over $15 million in bonuses and salary in 2006.

Green Bay brought back Ahman Green for a one-year $5 million deal.

The Steelers did restructure running back Duce Staley's deal at a savings of $1.2 million. Instead of earning a base salary of $2.5 million in 2006, Staley will now earn $670,000. He will instead get the $1.83 million in signing bonus, lowing his cap hit in 2006 from $3.67 million to $2.34 million.
Also last week, the team officially placed running back Jerome Bettis on the reserve/retired list, thus clearing his $5.35 million salary off their books.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Still no new CBA

Even though owners and the NFLPA have resumed meetings on a new CBA, nothing has been ironed out yet.

If something doesn't happen soon, most teams will go back into panic mode and begin purging themselves of high-priced vets once again.

Teams have until 6 p.m. Sunday to be under the salary cap, be it $95.5 million or $105 million. That's why the Steelers are in a holding pattern right now with what else they will do.

Nobody is really sure what the cap is going to be, but everyone has two plans in place, just in case.

This is my 14th season covering this league and I've never seen it in a situation like this. NFL popularity is at an all-time high. Can't these guys see that they are risking everything by not coming to some kind of deal?

But, when nobody wants to budge, this is what you get.

The great Gordon Gecko once said, "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." But that couldn't be further from the truth right now for the NFL or its players.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Next cuts are the deepest

With Tommy Maddox and Willie Williams now former Steelers, the question is, who's next?

Rumor has it that it will be Chukky Okobi.

The Steelers would like to do something to lower center Jeff Hartings' cap figure of just over $8 million in 2006, though Hartings has balked at taking a Jerome Bettis-like pay cut.

But the Steelers would clearly prefer to keep the 33-yar-old Hartings over Okobi, who's base salary jumps to $2 million this season.

One way to do that would be to extend Hartings' contract for at least one more season, while lowering his base salary in 2006.

The Steelers would then release Okobi and draft a center early this year as Hartings' eventual replacement.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Free agency pushed back

The NFL has extended the free agency period, moving it back three days instead of the month that had previously been talked about.

The move comes on the heals of the owners' meeting Thursday in which they voted not to cave into the players' salary demands.

Teams now have until 6 p.m. Sunday to be under the cap. But which cap is it going to be? Could be about $95 million if there is no new CBA. It could be $105 million with a new CBA in place.

That's quite a difference. You can see why NFL teams are in such a state of confusion right now.