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Friday, March 30, 2012

Steelers host a free agent

The Steelers finally hosted their first free agent on Friday and you can expect a few more to trickle in during the coming weeks as they scan the dollar store wares of what's left over after the feeding frenzy.

Buffalo left tackle Demetrius Bell was in Pittsburgh to meet with Steelers brass. He's visited a few other teams as well and is considered a talented, yet injury prone, left tackle.

Bell has a relationship with Steelers line coach Sean Kugler, which probably prompted his visit to Pittsburgh.

But it's likely his asking price will be out of Pittsburgh's range, even though he played in just seven games last season.

Twenty-seven-year-old left tackles don't come cheaply, even injury-prone ones.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tomlin speaks

Mike Tomlin spoke to the media for the first time since the Steelers lost at Denver in the playoffs on Tuesday at the NFL owner's meetings.

There wasn't a lot of earth-shattering news to be had. Tomlin reiterated that it was he, not owner Art Rooney II, who made the decision to both fire Bruce Arians and hire Todd Haley to replace him as offensive coordinator.

Tomlin also said the Steelers will likely add a running back this offseason, either via free agency or the draft. The draft is the more likely scenario, though a veteran such as Justin Forsett could fill the void left by Mewelde Moore and serve as a nice change-of-pace to Isaac Redman until Rashard Mendenhall is able to return.

He said receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tackle Willie Colon have a lot to prove after both going through back-to-back injury-plagued seasons.

Tomlin also said the Steelers have hosted three college players - not including the ones from Pitt.

They are Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams, Florida International wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and Cincinnati defensive end Derek Wolfe.

Hilton is an intriguing player. The 5-10, 183-pounder looks like an Antonio Brown clone. He also ran a 4.3ish 40 at his individual workout before pulling up with a quad injury, the same issue he had in his bowl game at Florida International.

The Steelers were likely having their doctors check him out to make sure he's sound.

But the fact that Tomlin offered those names up freely tells me he's not interested in any of those players.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Steelers awarded draft picks

The Steelers were awarded three compensatory picks on Monday, giving them 10 total in this year's draft.

Pittsburgh got three extra seventh-round selections, getting the 33rd selection (pick 240), 39 (246) and 41 (248).

The Steelers likely won't make a deal in the first few rounds, but moving up or down in later rounds is certainly a possibility.

While the compensatory picks cannot be traded, the extra seventh-round selections will give the Steelers the option of dealing some of their picks in the middle rounds to move up a little higher.

© William Gay signing with Arizona is not a surprise.

The fact that he signed just a two-year deal is somewhat surprising, however.

Bryan McFadden also signed a two-year deal with Arizona and found himself back in Pittsburgh a year later.

Now, he might wind up being out of football.

In my estimation, Gay is a slightly better player - because he can play in the slot - but two-year deals don't offer a lot of stability.

The Steelers expected to lose Gay, however.

With Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown in the mix behind Ike Taylor, they're fine at cornerback.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thoughts on Wallace

Reports out of San Francisco have Mike Wallace requesting a deal worth more than Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald $120 million contract if he were going to consider joining the 49ers.

This, of course, caused a great deal of public outcry from Steelers fans, who A. Don't think Wallace is worth that kind of money, and B. think he's as good as gone.

Both statements are ridiculous.

Agents always aim high when negotiating. That's their job. If, and that's a big if, Wallace's agent told the 49ers he wanted more than Fitzgerald, so what?

That doesn't mean that's where any final contract would end up at.

Agents ask for the moon all the time. That's what they do. The team then offers a counter - if they're truly interested. And so it goes from there.

As for Wallace not being in Fitzgerald's class as a receiver, realize that in their first three NFL seasons, they both caught 24 touchdown passes, while Wallace had more yards. Fitzgerald had more receptions.

That's not a true barometer and the eye test tells me Fitzgerald is a better receiver, but agents being agents, they're going to look at the numbers.

Does this mean Wallace won't be a Steeler in 2012? Nope. In fact, if the report is true - and I do have my doubts about the veracity - Wallace will definitely be back with the Steelers this season.

And if they can't work out a deal with Wallace, there's always the possibility of using the franchise tag on him in 2013.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ward goes out with class

Hines Ward announced his retirement today, the way he should have done so about a month ago - with class.

Ward thanked his teammates, the organization and fans for his 14 years in a Pittsburgh uniform, choking back tears on a number of occasions.

At this point, there's not a whole lot I can say about Ward that I haven't already said.

I've always respected him and he was always a stand-up guy who was loved by his teammates.

That was apparent at Tuesday's press conference when Aaron Smith, James Harrison and Jerome Bettis showed up to lend support.

They did, however, have a side bet on how long it would take Ward to break down and cry. As Harrison said, "Hines is a cryer."

But there's nothing wrong with that. Ward played with emotion, and it was tough for him to walk away from the game he loves.

Ward can do so, however, with his head held high. He gave his all at all times on the field and in practice.

And as he said, he and Smith, James Farrior and Chris Hoke – all of whom the team has parted ways with in the past month – leave a legacy here much like the Steelers of the '70s.

They won, and they won a lot.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Why I don't see a team making a run at Wallace

Now that Peyton Manning has chosen the Denver Broncos as his final destination, speculation has begun about the Broncos or 49ers making a pitch to Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace.

I don't see it happening in either case.

The Broncos already have a decent young receiving corps as the Steelers found out the hard way in the playoffs. If Demaryious Thomas and Eric Decker could make Tim Tebow look good at times, imagine how they will do with Manning.

And the more important rumor is that Manning would like to bring tight end Dallas Clark along with him from Indianapolis. That makes a lot more sense.

The Broncos could then spend their remaining cap space to beef up their defensive line, which is a weakness.

As for San Francisco, the 49ers can add all the receivers in the world, but right now, they don't have a quarterback. That's a little more important.

I'm not saying it won't happen, but even if it does, the Steelers will work hard to match the offer. They're not going to allow Wallace to walk.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hampton takes a cut

With Casey Hampton taking a cut in pay - it's a cut, not a restructure as some are reporting it - the Steelers' need to take a nose tackle high in the draft is a little less pressing.

And it again goes to show how the Steelers like to do business.

Pittsburgh never likes to go into a season being forced to rely on a rookie at any position, particularly on defense.

That's why there hasn't been a full-time rookie starter on the team's defense since Hampton and Kendrell Bell broke in there in 2001.

And even at that, Hampton and Bell had to earn their spots. They weren't handed the positions.

So the Steelers now have Hampton under contract, meaning they can ease a rookie into the rotation if he deserves it. The same goes at inside linebacker, where they are comfortable playing Larry Foote beside Lawrence Timmons if need be.

Certainly, things aren't so cut-and-dried on offense. But even in cases where rookies have come in and started - Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, etc. - the Steelers had veteran options around just in case things took a little longer than expected.

It's the Steelers way. And it's worked for some time.

So while fans may get upset that both Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin don't like to play rookies, the reality is that they don't like to HAVE to play rookies. And there is a difference.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Market for Wallace being set

There as a flurry on wide receivers getting new contracts on Tuesday as the free agent period began in the NFL.

But none of the receivers signing deals was named Mike Wallace.

That doesn't mean, however, that it wasn't a big day for Wallace, as the market was set for a receiver of his skills.

Let's take a look at some of the deals that were completed.

Vincent Jackson, who is one strike short of getting a year's suspension, signed a five-year $55 million contract with Tampa Bay.

Washington went crazy - there's a shock - and gave Pierre Garçon $42.5 million for five years and Josh Morgan essentially $6 million per year.

Robert Meachem(!) got $25.9 million for four years from San Diego to replace Jackson.

And just before the free agency period began, New Orleans re-signed Marques Colston to a five-year, $40-million deal.

That's some crazy money being thrown around for a group of receivers, many of whom aren't in Wallace's class.

So what will this mean for the Steelers?

That $9.4 million figure it would have cost them to place the franchise tag on Wallace might have been a bargain.

Then again, with so many teams dipping their toes into the receiver waters, there aren't a lot of teams out there still looking for receivers.

And, as I've said all along, it's one thing to sign a receiver to a big deal. It's another to do so AND give up a first-round pick, which is what a team would have to do to pry Wallace away from the Steelers.

The question is, however, can the Steelers afford to sign Wallace to a long-term deal?

The answer, at least right now, is no. But the salary cap will be increasing in 2013, which is good news considering Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are going to reach their restricted free agent year following the 2012 season.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Free agency set to begin

The free agent period will begin in a couple of days and there's sure to be a furry of activity, even though the salary cap came in at just $120.6 million, a smidgen above what it was last season.

Some teams are always prepared to overpay for somebody else's talent.

As has been the case, don't expect the Steelers to be major players – unless they have to.

The team has been in contact with the agent for wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. And even if he gets an offer on the open market, it's likely he'll at least give the Steelers the opportunity to match.

Outside of that, the Steelers will sit on the sidelines and look for bargains - as they always do.

And the Steelers also won't lose anybody they can't do without.

They will make tender offers on all of their restricted free agents to cover their behind, but if push comes to shove, because of Pittsburgh's iffy cap situation, it won't go crazy to match any offers - save one for wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

What's next for Steelers

After the painful goodbyes of last week, the Steelers now prepare for the next step in the 2012 offseason - making their final preparations for free agency.

After last week's releases and the previous restructures the team did in the previous weeks, the Steelers are approximately $12 to $14 million under the salary cap - depending on what it finally comes in at.

The Steelers must now tender their offers to restricted free agents. That will include a first-round tender of $2.742 million for wide receiver Mike Wallace and the low tender of $1.26 million to guards Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky, both of who were undrafted, corner Keenan Lewis (third), safety Ryan Mundy (sixth) and tight end David Johnson (seventh).

That will eat up some $9 million of their newfound cap space.

Offering the low tender for Foster and Legursky is a gamble, perhaps even more so than making a first-round tender for Wallace.

With the release of Chris Kemoeatu, the Steelers have no other guards with NFL experience on their roster. Should another team decide to make an offer to Legursky or Foster that the Steelers cannot or do not want to match, they would receive no compensation.

The team does still have some cap wiggle room should it have to clear space to match an offer for Wallace or either guard.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton, who is scheduled to make $5.89 million, could be asked to take a pay cut or be released. The Steelers could also trim offensive tackle Jonathan Scott ($2.2 million) or safety Will Allen ($1.28 million).

A couple of things we do now know after last week's cuts is that A. this team values Jerricho Cotchery over Ward and will make a strong push to re-sign him, and B. Guard and inside linebacker have become the undoubted biggest needs in the draft.

The Steelers have enough money under the cap to make a strong offer for Cotchery, though, again, if they have to match any offers to their own restricted free agents, obviously, some other cuts would have to be made.

Resigning Cotchery would also preclude the team from making a strong pitch for any of their unrestricted free agents, most notably corner Will Gay or running back Mewelde Moore.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Two more vets told to hit the road, more coming?

The Steelers have informed defensive end Aaron Smith and guard Chris Kemoeatu that they are not in the team's plans for 2012 and will be released.

The news comes a day after the team informed wide receiver Hines Ward that he will also be released.

The total cap savings from those cuts - when they occur – will be $9.7 million.

And the Steelers might not be done. Avella native Ralph Cindrich, the agent for linebacker James Farrior, tweeted on Thursday that he expects his client could also be on the chopping block.

Certainly, either Farrior or fellow veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote, will not be with the team in 2012.

It is difficult to see Smith, like Ward, go.

A consummate professional, Smith was long one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league - until everyone began talking about him being one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league. By the time that happened, injuries began to knock him out of the lineup for extended periods of time.

Yet Smith was still one of the most respected men in a locker room full of strong leaders.

If the Steelers do indeed cut Farrior to go along with the cuts of Ward and Smith, they will have lost a great deal of leadership in their locker room.

Who steps into some of those roles remains to be seen.

Brett Keisel is a natural option along the defensive front, while Troy Polamalu, though not necessarily vocal, is a player who leads by example.

Offensively, there is little doubt that Ben Roethlisberger is now the man, though Maurkice Pouncey has also earned a lot of respect from his peers.

Lasting memories of Hines Ward

The Steelers made the tough, but logical, choice on Wednesday and announced their plans to release wide receiver Hines Ward.

Perhaps it's fitting that it occurred on Feb. 29, Leap Year.

One of my lasting memories of Ward – and there are plenty – will be his half-skip, half-leap in the end zone after catching the game-clinching touchdown pass from Antwaan Randle El in Super Bowl XL.

For 14 seasons, Ward has personified the Steelers organization. He was tough. He was gritty. He was a football player.

In an age when many wide receivers have been me-first prima donnas, Ward worked his tail off in all facets of the game.

When he was a special teams player, he was the best special teams player he could be. When he was needed as a blocker, he threw himself into it with reckless abandon. When he was relegated to being a backup, he did so gracefully.

Here's hoping he takes the giant hint the Steelers gave him Wednesday and doesn't attempt to try and come back another season elsewhere.

The Steelers made it quite obvious that they don't feel he can play any longer.

Their concerted effort to get him 1,000 receptions made their intentions obvious. They didn't want the season to end with Ward short of his goal because they were pretty sure they weren't going to bring him back.

And now that's the case.

Some will say that because of what Ward has meant for the team, the Steelers owed him the opportunity to come back.

But that's ridiculous. The Steelers took care of their debt to Ward in Week 17 in Cleveland when they got him his 1,000th catch.

They told him they didn't think he could play any longer.

He is choosing not to believe them.

And that's a shame.

Maybe Ward will come to his senses soon and realize that at 36, he not only can't, but doesn't need, to play football any longer.

The thought of Ward finishing out his career in another city playing for another team just isn't right.