Monday, March 31, 2008

I'm baaaack

Those who are frequent visitors to this blog – both of you – know that I haven't been around for the past week. I was on vacation in Florida, taking the family away for a little R&R.

But I'm obviously back now and ready to hit the ground running as we head into the draft.

The big news of the past week was the Steelers' interest and then lack of interest in signing Booger McFarland following his release by Indianapolis.

The big defensive tackle would have been used as a backup with the Steelers, someone capable of filling in at all three line positions.

Of course, McFarland then barely passed his physical with the team's doctors and the Steelers thought better of it, re-signing Nick Eason instead.

It's not a particularly good tradeoff and keeps the very distinct possibility alive that a defensive lineman will be selected by the Steelers fairly early in the draft later this month.

This team will not go into next season with Travis Kirschke, Eason and Chris Hoke as it's only options behind the starters as it did last season.

Hoke is solid, while Kirschke showed he still has something left in the tank - though you don't want him starting. Eason, however, isn't much more than a camp body.

Ryan McBean is entering his second season with the team and needs to take a big step forward if he is to contribute.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Of course there are differences

No sooner had the Steelers released wide receiver Cedrick Wilson than the finger-pointing started.

Releasing Wilson following his arrest for assault while keeping linebacker James Harrison following an incident in which he received similar charges showed the Steelers’ hypocrisy.

But that’s not the whole story.

Are different players treated differently for the same infraction? Absolutely.

But there’s more to it than just that.

As team president Dan Rooney later explained, “In the situation with James Harrison, he contacted us immediately after his incident and has taken responsibility for his actions. In today's decision with Cedrick Wilson, we determined the situation was severe enough to warrant the player being released immediately.”

There was also a difference in the two situations beyond that.

While Wilson stormed into a public place and allegedly struck his former girlfriend in a crowded restaurant, Harrison allegedly struck his girlfriend at a private residence.

What’s the difference, you might ask?

In Wilson’s case, there are 50 to 100 witnesses that saw him strike his former girlfriend.

In Harrison’s case, the only two people who know what happened are Harrison and his girlfriend.

And, right or wrong, these kind of cases often come down to a he-said, she-said situation.

Harrison reportedly admitted to police and the Steelers immediately after his incident that he did, indeed, strike the woman.

That, in itself, shows some remorse.

Fact is, he could have said nothing happened and would have had a good chance of getting the charges dropped in court.

Wilson’s infraction, on the other hand, showed an extreme lack of sense. Who, after all, goes into a restaurant and picks a fight? And with a woman, at that?

Couple that with the problems the couple had in January, when police were called to Wilson’s home after the woman in question fired a couple of shots – while Wilson wasn’t there – following an argument, and you see a relationship that is troubled.

In fact, it’s a good idea that if SWAT is called into your relationship, you probably shouldn’t see that person any more.

The Steelers likely sat down with Wilson after that and told him as much. Yet he walked into a crowded restaurant and slugged his former girlfriend.

Smart.

Would the Steelers have released Wilson if he were a starting wide receiver?

Maybe, maybe not.

But the fact is, he isn’t.

And different employees are treated differently, based on their value to the company.

Harrison is likely looking at a one-game suspension – at least – from the NFL for his infraction if convicted.

Perhaps the Steelers felt that punishment in itself will be enough to insure that Harrison will walk the straight and narrow from now on.

In Wilson’s case, he was a guy who already had a tenuous spot, at best, on the roster. His arrest and the fact there was no doubt about his actions was just the final straw.

The biggest thing to me is that these kind of incidents are a symptom of one of the ills of our society.

The Steelers have had four players arrested for assault on a woman they were involved with in recent years – Santonio Holmes, Najeh Davenport, Harrison and Wilson.

In each case, the woman involved was somebody that the player had fathered a child with out of wedlock.

That, in itself, is usually a recipe for problems.

The mother is angry that the father didn’t marry her. The father usually ends up angry because he doesn’t get to see the child as much as he likes – if he wants to at all. And those bad feelings lead to plenty of arguments.

But society doesn’t frown upon these kind of unions as it did, say, 30 years ago.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wilson arrested

According to reports, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson has been arrested for a fight at a restuarant in Pittsburgh.

If this is the case, it could spell the end of Wilson's days with the Steelers.

Wilson, you'll remember, was involved with an altercation with his then-girlfriend at his home. She apparently had an armed standoff with police at the home - though Wilson was not there.

In the latest altercation, Wilson reportedly assaulted the now ex-girlfriend.

Though technically, he wasn't at fault - though if you read some of the things she claimed he said to her, he was – in the first altercation, there certainly will be plenty of witnesses around for this latest run-in.

It won't be a matter of he-said, she-said. It will be a matter of what the crowd witnessed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Random notes

© According to Adam Schefter of the NFL Network, the Steelers agreed to contract terms with former Carolina center Justin Hartwig. The deal is reportedly for two years, worth $4 million, and includes a $975,000 bonus.

© Visitors to this blog know that I was in favor of this move as it will send Sean Mahan to the bench and help solidify what was the team's biggest problem area on its offensive line last season.

© The Steelers announced Tuesday that guard Chris Kemoeatu and tackle Trai Essex have signed their one-year restricted free agent tenders with the team.

That means both are intent on working out with the team during the voluntary workout sessions that began Monday.

© Anybody who has kept an eye on who the Steelers bring in prior to the draft knows that they usually are guys who the team winds up selecting in the draft as well.

That said, here's an early list of players they have already brought in or are scheduled to bring in:
Branden Albert, OG/OT, Virginia
Mike Pollak, OC, Arizona St.
Dre' Moore, DL, Maryland
Kendall Langford, DE, Hampton
Keilen Dykes, DE, WVU
Cliff Avril, OLB, Purdue
Curtis Johnson, OLB/DE, Clark-Atlanta
Aquib Talib, CB, Kansas

Friday, March 14, 2008

Steelers bring in Hartwig

Apparently, somebody with the Steelers reads my blog.

Pittsburgh brought in center Justin Hartwig for a visit Friday, looking at yet another possible replacement for Sean Mahan.

Hartwig, a starter for the Panthers and Titans, would be a definite upgrade over Mahan, who didn't pan out after signing with the team as a free agent in 2007.

The Steelers also like youngster Darnell Stapleton. But the question is if they like him enough to name him a starter heading into 2008 with Mahan being the only other alternative.

Their interest in Rex Hadnot last week would suggest not.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Steelers have another visitor

The Steelers hosted Kansas City linebacker Keyaron Fox on Tuesday, the sixth free agent the team has brought in thus far.

The only one they have signed has been running back Mewelde Moore, though the team did re-sign linebacker Andre Frazier as well.

Despite Frazier's new deal, the team is still searching for a capable replacement for former special teams captain Clint Kriewaldt, who was released a couple of weeks ago.

Kriewaldt had been the team's backup to inside linebacker James Farrior.

The 6-3, 235-pound Fox is a four-year pro who was a third-round pick of the Chiefs.

He's started four games in his career and saw some playing time as KC's fourth linebacker when it shifted to a 3-4 at times last season.

He's also been a solid special teams contributor for the Chiefs.

Also, Tennessee free agent free safety Donnie Nickey will visit the team sometime later this week. Nickie is a very good special teams player.

One thing that jumped out at me Tuesday was Carolina's release of center Justin Hartwig.

Hartwig, 29, is 6-4, 315 pounds and has plenty of starting experience, both in Carolina and Tennessee.

A groin problem ended his 2006 season, while a knee injury did him in 2007.

He's definitely somebody worth taking a look at for the Steelers.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cross Hadnot off the list

The Cleveland Browns saved the Steelers from themselves, signing guard/center Rex Hadnot.

The Steelers had Hadnot in for a visit last week, soon after the loss of Alan Faneca in free agency.

But as I had previously stated, I wasn't a big fan of signing him since Miami had let him walk with no apparent replacement in sight.

Those notions were verified over the weekend by people I talked to, who told me Hadnot is a journeyman-type and would have been a negligible upgrade over center Sean Mahan.

Now, the Steelers can look elsewhere for help.

One player who would intrigue me is former Jacksonville guard Chris Naeole.

Naeole ended the 2007 season in injured reserve after suffering a torn tendon in his quad and was released March 3.

The 33-year-old is a nasty run blocker who had proven to be very durable in his 12-year career before this recent injury. If he checks out OK physically, he could be just the kind of player who would help the Steelers up front immediately.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Harrison arrested

Steelers linebacker James Harrison was arrested in Ohio Township for assaulting his girlfriend early Saturday morning.

According to the reports, Harrison slapped the woman.

We'll have more in this when we find it, but Harrison could be facing a suspension from the NFL if convicted.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Steelers bring in Crocker

Free agent free safety Chris Crocker visited the Steelers Thursday, but left without a contract.

Crocker, a former Browns' draft pick, played in 2007 for Atlanta, recording a career-high three interceptions.

Crocker is the second free safety brought in by the Steelers for a visit this week, joining New England's Eugene Wilson.

That would seem to signal that the team was not only unhappy with Anthony Smith and Tyrone Carter at the position after Ryan Clark was lost for the season, but that it doesn't have a lot of faith that Clark will recover from his surgery to remove his spleen.

Smith, though, could be slated for a move to strong safety.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wilson leaves, Hadnot visits

Free safety Eugene Wilson came and left the Steelers on Tuesday without a contract offer.

Guard/center Rex Hadnot visited Wednesday, though he, too, hasn't received a formal contract offer as of yet.

Wilson would be likely need to be promised a starting job to be induced into signing with the Steelers, who are optimistic Ryan Clark can return from his medical problems of last year.

Clark has been working out at the team's facility after having surgery during the season to have his spleen removed.

Anthony Smith started in Clark's place after the surgery and was benched late in the year in favor of veteran Tyrone Carter.

Hadnot would be used as a veteran to push Chris Kemoeatu at left guard – in place of Alan Faneca – and Sean Mahan and Darnell Stapleton at center.

At 6-2, 325 pounds, he has more bulk than the 295-pound Mahan, who was the team's starting center last year.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Steelers sign Roethlisberger, Moore

The Steelers made their first big splash of the offseason, signing QB Ben Roethlisberger to an eight-year contract extension worth $102 million and signing free agent running back Mewelde Moore.

Roethlisberger's signing was a priority for the team an gives them stability for the better part of the next decade at the position.

Moore, as regular readers of this blog know, was one of the target players for the Steelers, mainly due to his abilities as a return man and third-down back.

He'll handle punt and kickoff returns for the Steelers and also catch a lot of passes out of the backfield spelling Willie Parker, serving in the same role Kevin Faulk does in New England.

Moore's deal is for three years.

The Steelers are scheduled to host New England free safety Eugene Wilson later this week.

Don't get perplexed

With Ben Roethlisberger due a $3 million roster bonus March 5, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been focused on signing their franchise quarterback.

And that deal is getting closer to happening.

Meanwhile, save guard Alan Faneca’s signing with the New York Jets, all has been relatively quiet for the Steelers on the free agent front, particularly compared to what’s been happening with some of their rivals in the AFC North.

Cleveland has been a major player in the first few days of free agency, signing former New England wide receiver Donte Stallworth to a seven-year, $35-million contract; trading a fifth-round draft pick and cornerback Leigh Bodden to Detroit for defensive tackle Shaun Rogers; sending a second-round pick to Green Bay for defensive end Corey Williams – and signing him to a six-year, $38-million deal; and re-signing quarterback Derek Anderson to a three-year, $26-million deal.

Consider the team had already signed running back Jamal Lewis to a three-year, $17-million deal prior to the opening of free agency, and the Browns have taken on a ridiculous amount of money for what? A quarterback with one good season under his belt, an overweight nose tackle who played – when he felt like it – on the worst defense in the NFL last season, a defensive end who’s never played in a 3-4, and a wide receiver who has spent more time nursing injuries than he has catching passes during his career.

In return, the Browns have given up pretty much their entire 2008 draft and their best cornerback.

It’s a pretty big gamble, one that could add up to a winning season or two, but in the long run will severely damage Cleveland considering the amount of money the Browns are spending.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, has seen two of its better defensive players, defensive end Justin Smith and free safety Madieu Williams, sign with San Francisco and Minnesota, respectively.

And the Bengals have yet to make a free agent addition.

Considering the Bengals’ defense was among the worst in the league last season – and in the past decade, for that matter – that’s not a good sign.

Baltimore, meanwhile, has had no free agent losses, but hasn’t added anyone, either.

So while Steelers fans may gnash their teeth over the loss of Faneca – something that hurts, but was not unexpected – a quick look around the division shows Pittsburgh isn’t really in bad shape.

Certainly losing Faneca hurts the Steelers, but don’t think for a second that the team is going to sit on its hands and come back with the same cast of characters – minus Faneca – that it fielded in 2007.

Signing Roethlisberger to a long-term contract was the team’s main focus for this offseason and that’s going to get done.

And once it is, the Steelers will focus on the offensive line, both in free agency and the draft.