Friday, February 29, 2008

What's happening

Steelers Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca has agreed to terms with the New York Jets on a four-year, $32-million deal that includes $23 million in guaranteed money. Or at least that's what ESPN.com was reporting.

According to Faneca's agent, no deal has been agreed to as of yet and he's still mulling offers from the Jets, Rams and 49ers.

Any deal Faneca would sign will dwarf the 4-year, $21-million offer the Steelers made to Faneca.

© The Steelers could pull the transition tag off of tackle Max Starks soon.

The team has no intention of paying Starks – its No. 3 offensive tackle last season – just under $7 million to play next season and has been working on a new deal with his representatives.

Also, the Steelers have just $2 million in free cap space at this point and would need to relinquish the tag on Starks if it wishes to sign any free agents.

The transition tag was used solely to give the team some wiggle room during the initial flurry of free agent signings.

© Kick returner Allen Rossum, released by the Steelers last weekend, was signed Friday by the San Francisco 49ers.

© Linebacker Clark Haggans is garnering interest from the Browns and Patriots, but don't rule out a return to the Steelers - as a backup, of course.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thoughts on Cope's passing

What can you say about Myron Cope that hasn't already been said?

I consider myself fortunate to have known the man for the past 16 years, having met him when I was a young reporter new to the Steelers beat.

Perhaps in that is where I can describe Cope the best.

When I came to the Observer-Reporter in 1993, I was still very wet behind the ears and in way over my head covering the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Heck, the first preseason game that season was in Barcelona, Spain, against the great San Francisco 49ers. I had never before even been on a plane.

But a scant 12 hours after taking off from Pittsburgh, there we were watching practice in Barcelona and sitting next to me was none other than Cope.

I hadn't slept – none of us had – and Cope was certainly ornery from not having been able to smoke – much, I'm pretty sure he snuck off to the bathroom a couple of times – but he sat there and talked to me as if we'd known each other all our lives.

That was Cope. He always had a special place in his heart for the writers covering the team because he knew what they had to deal with.

I remember during the 1995 season having a conversation with him on the bus ride from the hotel to Soldier Field in Chicago. I had seen one of the Bears' players in college at Cheyney and he wanted to know all about this kid so that he could talk about him on the air.

He credited me on the broadcast with the information and needless to say, I got more than one call when I returned home telling me so.

I also remember when the Steelers would take the media covering the team out to dinner on the road on Saturday night before a game and just listening to Cope stories about players from the decades he had been around the team. Stories of players such as Jack Lambert, Bobby Layne and others could and later did fill books.

And finally, I remember sitting in Cope's room at training camp having a drink with the man, again, listening to his stories.

There are other stories, many I can't tell in a forum such as this. But I consider myself fortunate to have known the man.

I was 40 years his junior, but it didn't matter. We were all in the same business and Cope was, after all, always a writer at heart.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Free agency primer

With free agency set to begin March 1 here’s a quick look at some players the Steelers could be looking at.
Don't expect the Steelers to go wild, particularly since many of the top players have received the franchise tag this year. But Pittsburgh could look at filling some depth at certain positions, particularly on the defensive line, linebacker and running back.
The only place where the Steelers might be willing to pay starter's money is on the offensive line.

Running backs
Melwelde Moore, Minnesota - a deceptively tough inside runner with good pass-catching skills who also returns punts and kicks.
Musa Smith, Baltimore - a very strong runner who could replace Najeh Davenport as Willie Parker’s backup.
Maurice Hicks, San Francisco - a bigger back who could back up Parker and has also returned kickoffs in his career.

Wide receivers
Andre Davis, Houston - an outstanding return man who blossomed as a receiver in Houston.
Antonio Chatman, Cincinnati - has had a couple of injury-plagued seasons, but could solve the Steelers’ return problems.

Offensive linemen
Jake Scott, Indianapolis - the Colts’ starting right guard could be the perfect replacement for Alan Faneca.
Justin Smiley, San Francisco - suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery in 2007, but should be OK for 2008. Some feel Smiley could play center.
Jason Fabini, Washington - Fabini started at guard for Washington in 2007, but has spent the majority of his career at right tackle. That kind of versatility could be what the Steelers are looking for.

Defensive linemen
Tommy Kelly, Oakland - is coming off a torn ACL, but like Smiley, should be OK for the start of training camp. Is a solid run defender who could be tired of the losing in Oakland.
Bobby Hamilton, Cleveland - Hamilton has bounced around a little in recent years, but he’s got plenty of 3-4 experience and could slide into a backup role for the Steelers getting a handful of snaps per game.

Linebackers
Chaun Thompson, Cleveland - Thompson has played inside and outside in Cleveland’s 3-4 and is a solid special teams player.
Donotarrious Thomas, Minnesota - started some games in 2006 when Mike Tomlin was the team’s defensive coordinator. Has been Minnesota’s best special teams player since entering the league four years ago.
Rocky Boiman, Indianapolis - the Steelers showed an interest last season, but he re-signed with Indianapolis for a season. But Boiman could play inside or outside for Pittsburgh and is an excellent special teams player.

Defensive backs
B.J. Sams, Baltimore - the Steelers wouldn’t be bringing Sams in as a cornerback, but as a return man, where he’s still electrifying despite some injuries.
Jim Leonhard, Buffalo - a special teams ace who ended up starting at free safety this season because of some injuries.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What Starks tag means

The Steelers' transition tagging of Max Starks means that Alan Faneca's days in Pittsburgh are over.

But it also means that Willie Colon is looking at a move to guard or even center – which is also a possibility – if not Colon, then Kendall Simmons could be shifted to center.

The Steelers weren't at all happy with center Sean Mahan's play and will be looking at different options there.

Darnell Stapleton will also get a serious look.

Does this mean the Steelers won't look for an offensive lineman in the draft? Nope.

Marvel Smith is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2008 season and given his back problems, the team is unlikely to re-sign him. Plus, they don't want to hand a starting spot to Chris Kemoeatu.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Steelers re-sign Kirschke

It's not the signing that many wanted, but the Steelers have re-signed defensive end Travis Kirschke to a two-year deal.

On the surface, it seems like a lot of nothing. Kirschke's been little more than a backup for the Steelers over the years.

But he proved to still have something left in the tank last season replacing Aaron Smith in the final stretch – when he was far better than Nick Eason.

Do you want Kirschke starting?

Nope. But he's a capable guy when he's getting five to 10 snaps per game.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What it all means

The NFL’s worst nightmare is now coming to fruition.

When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell punished the New England Patriots early in the 2007 season for spying with video cameras on the New York Jets during the opening game of the regular season, he hoped the problem would go away.

It hasn’t.

In fact, it’s growing exponentially.

Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Friday that Goodell confirmed to him during a special meeting about the Patriots’ spying that the team filmed coaches of the Pittsburgh Steelers on four occasions, presumable using those stolen signals against them. Included in those instances are two AFC Championship games.

The Patriots upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship in 2001 and again in 2004 en route to two of the three Super Bowl victories they’ve had this decade.

“I think Steelers fans have a lot to be concerned about this and I'm one of them,” Specter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, adding that “maybe Steelers ownership should think about it a little.”

They should, but even if the Steelers’ ownership is privately outraged by this, they won’t take it public.

The Rooney family, if anything, has shown great loyalty to the NFL over and over again throughout the years. Dan Rooney is not Al Davis, to be sure.

Rooney realizes that a scandal involving the integrity of the league such as this can serve no purpose other than to give the league – and by extension, the Steelers – a black eye.

And the rest of the ownership in the league knows it as well. That’s why there wasn’t a greater outcry when the “Spygate” story originally broke, at least not from the powers that be in the NFL.

The NFL doesn’t want this scandal to turn into what steroids and performance-enhancing drugs have been to Major League Baseball. The league doesn’t want its owners and coaches hauled in front of a grand jury to air its dirty laundry.

So go ahead, be angry that the Steelers, Broncos, Colts – pick a team, the Patriots likely spied on them all – were perhaps cheated out of a championship.

But the NFL owners don’t want this to go any farther and they hold enough pull – for better or worse – with the rest of Specter’s cohorts in the government to likely stop this thing from getting that far.

But much like an entire generation of baseball players are now tainted by the steroid scandal, so too are the Patriots’ championships in the 2000s.

New England fans can scream about it all they want, but nothing the team has done in this decade now matters. They’ll try to call it sour grapes or whining, but nobody’s talking about taking those championships away.

The Patriots won them. They just didn’t do so fair and square.

And the only thing worse than that would be to win the first 18 games of a season and then lose in the Super Bowl. Oh wait, that already happened.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A nugget or two

It's obvious to anybody who's been paying attention that the Steelers will address their offensive and defensive lines in this year's draft.

With that in mind, here are a couple of nuggets from this year's Pro Bowl to consider.

Of the six guards in the Pro Bowl – including Alan Faneca – five were former first-round picks. The other was an undrafted rookie.

Eight of the nine offensive tackles who were elected or attended as an injury replacement were first or second-round picks. One was not drafted.

Three of the four centers in the game were selected in the fourth round or later. The other was undrafted.

Every defensive end in the game was drafted, with five of the eight being selected in the first three rounds.

Four of the eight defensive tackles were first-round picks. Two others were first-day picks, while two were undrafted.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Keeping the grass

The Steelers will be keeping grass at Heinz Field.

After toying with the idea of putting in an artificial surface, the team has decided to stick with grass.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Franchise period set to begin

The time for teams to place the franchise tag on potential free agents begins Feb. 7, and continues until February 21.

The tag gives a team a right of first refusal as to any offer sheet signed by the player. If the team then chooses not to match the offer, it receives two first-round draft picks as compensation.

But don't expect the Steelers to take that route with guard Alan Faneca.

To use the franchise tag, the club must offer the player a one-year deal with a salary equivalent to the average of the five highest-paid players at his position in the league. The pay is determined not by 2007 salary, but by cap number, which is a huge difference.

There are two levels of franchise tag, nonexclusive and exclusive. The exclusive version does not allow the the player to negotiate with other teams.

According to some reports, players who could possibly get the tag this year include: Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross, Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, Patriots receiver Randy Moss, Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant, Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen and Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super thoughts

So I guess the Patriots aren't among the best teams of all-time.

The Giants took care of that Sunday night, making the Patriots nothing more than a footnote in history - a team that went 16-0 in the regular season and didn't win the big one.

Was it a good season for the Patriots? Sure.

But the lack of a championship guarantees that they can't be discussed with the best of all-time.

The Giants beat the Patriots by putting an obscene amount of pressure on Tom Brady. They hit him. They hurried him. They sacked him.

And the New England offensive line was exposed for being not all that it had been cracked up to be.

Was Brady's ankle a factor? Probably. He certainly didn't look as confident or mobile as he had been earlier this season.

The Giants blitzed at times, but just as often, they got to Brady with a four-man rush.

And that's what you need to do to beat Brady. You can't blitz every play, because when it's picked up, you're in trouble. But if you can mix it up and get there whether you send six or send four, now you're in business because it becomes a chess game.

There's some fire in the smoke coming out about the recent news that the Patriots filmed the Rams in a walkthrough before the Super Bowl in 2001.

If there's proof, Bill Belichick could go down for a long time.