´ Steel Curtain Rising: August 2008

Why Did the Steelers Lose to Tampa

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Willie Reid, Ryan McBean Top Steelers Cuts; Charlie Batch goes to IR

The Steelers paired their roster down to the NFL’s 53 man limit on Saturday, and the list included a few surprises.

2006 third round pick wide receiver Willie Reid topped the list, followed by 2007 fourth round pick Ryan McBean. They also cut return specialist Eddie Drummond and punter Paul Ernster.

In addition they placed quarterback Charlie Batch on injured reserve ending, which will make him ineligible to return his year. As he is in the final year of his contract, he may have played his last game as a Steeler.

The Steelers also reached injury settlements with 2008 sixth round picks linebacker Mike Humpal and safety Ryan Mundy.

The other players waived by the Steelers

Patrick Bailey, linebacker
Billy Latsko, fullback
Doug Legursky, guard
Matt Lentz, guard
Roy Lewis, defensive back
Grant Mason, safety
Jeremy Parquet, offensive tackle
Scott Paxton, defensive tackle
Jordan Reffett, defensive end
Micah Rucker, defensive end
Dezmond Sherrod, tight end
Lee Vickers, tight end
Justin Vincent, running back
Travis Williams, corner back

Assuming that the Steelers do not pick up one off of the wavier wires, the Steelers will start the season with only have two tight ends on their 53-man roster, although Mike Tomlin situationally used offensive tackle Max Starks as a third tight end in 2007.

Willie Reid had been locked in an intense battle with 2007 7th round pick Dallas Baker for the 5th wide receiver spot. Reid had performed well during preseason, leading the team in catches, and many insiders felt he had the upper hand. But during the off season Mike Tomlin had praised Dallas’ Baker’s development, but qualifying his remarks with the caveat that Baker needed to perform well with pads on. Apparently, Baker looked good enough in pads.

Roy Lewis’ departure marks somewhat of a surprise, as he had both played well and shown an ability to play both corner and safety. Expect him to be resigned to the practice squad… assuming he clears waivers.

Today’s roster moves also confirm a rather disturbing trend of poor second-day drafting on the part of the Steelers. Stay tuned for further coverage of this issue.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rooney Brothers Met with Druckenmiller Before Goodell; Attempting and End Around?

The Post-Gazette reported on Friday that the four Rooney brothers met with New York billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller on Monday, the day before meeting with their brother Dan and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Druckenmiller is attempting to take control of the Steelers by buying out the four Rooney brother’s collective 64 percent of the Steelers.

The meeting’s purpose was to hammer out the details of his offer, and the report indicated that the deal could be closed in “a week or two.”

Analysis

This is an interesting development. None of the Rooney brothers spoke with the press following their meeting with Roger Goodell, instead designating Goodell to speak in their place.

While Goodell was short on specifics, his message was clear:

The NFL prefers that Dan and Art II remain in control of the team.

He also offered that the meeting helped everyone understand the situation. Some reports had Goodell saying that the Rooney brothers weren’t necessarily intent on selling to the highest bidder (presumably Druckenmiller), but that they did want a fair price for their shares in the team.

Goodell also offered his opinion that the situation could be resolved in a few months, by the end of the year, leading one to think that the situation favored Dan and Art II keeping the team.

In that light, the news that the four Rooney boys had met with Druckenmiller the day before meeting at NFL headquarters qualifies as a minor bombshell.

Clearly, Art Jr., Tim, John, and Pat Rooney are giving Druckenmiller’s offer serious consideration.

Unknowns

The Post-Gazette article by Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette cited no sources whatsoever, leaving the reader to guess who is supplying the information.

Did Dan, Art II, and Goodell know about this meeting? Were the other four Rooney’s going behind their brother’s back? Or were they simply trying to clarify Druckenmiller’s offer before the meeting with Goodell?

We don’t know.

Tuesday’s article in the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review made it clear that the Rooney boys weren’t too sure about why they were going to New York, and implied that they were not thrilled with traveling to the Big Apple.

The Rooney brothers certainly had to know in advance that Goodell called the meeting to express support for Dan Rooney.

How much did Goodell lean on them? How did they react?

2 + 2 isn’t Quite Equaling Four

This story will make you dizzier that a nighttime trip down Glassrun road. At one moment it seems like Dan and Art II have the upper hand, the next moment Druckenmiller snatches the spotlight. One article talks of a family feud, the next plays down familial tensions.

Most likely, this is no accident.

From the very outset, there’s been a marked difference between the stories emanating out of New York and those coming out of Pittsburgh. The sources for the ones coming out of New York indicate that Druckenmiller has the upper hand, the ones based on Pittsbrugh sources present a more complex picture.

Consider this, when the story first broke, Druckenmiller’s intermediaries told us that the deal could close in “a few weeks.” Early July is not eons ago, but its more than a few weeks.

Rooney boys didn’t meet with Druckenmiller for tea, but one must be a little skeptical at the latest report that the deal could close in “a week or two.”

If that is the case, then why is John Rooney still retaining his seat on the Steelers Board of Directors? Why has Art Jr. sold out his shares in the racetracks – a move that would allow him to continue as an owner? Why did Ed Bouchette’s article explicitly suggest (again, without linking it directly to sources) that Art Jr. or John might still want to hold on to part of the team?

None of these facts negates the possibility of a sale to Druckenmiller closing in a fortnight, but they also fail to reveal an immediate readiness to cash in with the billionaire.

Working the Media

Druckenmiller knows how to work the media.

Word gets out that he wants to buy the team. Steeler’s Nation panics, so Druckenmiller makes his passion clear for the Steelers. The public gets wind that he paints his face and swigs Iron City at Heniz field. Reporters ponder whether he’s the next Daniel Snyder, and Druckenmiller friends are in the paper a few days latter saying, “oh, he only did that once…. Just to get his daughter into the spirit of things.” Goodell announces that's he's to meet with the five Rooney brothers, and Druckenmiller goes public quickly thereafter, again speaking through third parties, reaffirming that his offer was still on the table, and extolling its virtues to both the Rooney brothers and the franchise.

This latest revelation follows a similar pattern.

Its impossible to know what the real intentions of the four Rooney brothers are because there is so much conflicting information.

Druckenmiller’s intentions are clear. He wants the team. Part of his strategy is to create an aura of inevitability about his acquisition of the team through his contacts with the press.

Time will reveal which set of sources are closer to the truth… will the revelation arrive in a few weeks or a couple of months?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Steelers Defeat Panthers to Wrap Up Preason

The Pittsburgh Steelers won a field goal kicking derby to defeat the Carolina Panthers 19 to 16, as Jeff Reed booted in a 43 yard field goal with no time remaining.

This is the second week in which Jeff Reed has kicked a field goal at the end of regulation to deliver victory for the Steelers. In fact, on the heels of his four field goal performance against the Vikings, a game in which he was the only team member to score, Reed could stake his claim to being the preseason offensive MVP.

Reed was not alone on the scoreboard tonight, as fullback Carey Davis managed to score on a six yard run.

Tonight's victory gives the Steelers a 3-1 record in preseason, for whatever that is worth.

All eyes are now on the mandatory cuts that must come the next two days. Mike Tomlin entered the game saying that three to five roster spots were at stake, admonishing several players to make the most of their last opportunities to impress.

While final roster cuts are never easy, one of the most attention catching, and disturbing, facts is that draft picks like Ryan Mundy, Mike Humpal and even fourth round pick Tony Hills and third round pick Bruce Davis have been mentioned as possible cuts.

This is unlikely, but it is a situation that Steel Curtain Rising will be paying close attention to.

Once the 53 man roster is set, the next question will be whether the Steelers sign any of the players who are in the final year of their contracts before their self-imposed negotiation black-out period begins when they open against the Houston Texas.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Steel Curtain Rising Right on the Money on Rooney Reunion with Goodell

The five Rooney brothers met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the league’s Park Avenue offices, and afterwards Goodell described the meeting as positive and was optimistic that the Steelers ownership restructuring could be finished by year’s end.

Prior to the meeting, the Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette reported on the issues driving this round of the discussions/negotiations between the Rooney brothers. It would be far too presumptions (and almost certainly erroneous) to claim that Bouchette has been taking a peek at posts on this site, but Steel Curtain Rising did accurately identify each of the issues in play several weeks ago...

Role of the League

When the story broke in early July, a number of commentators suggested that the NFL might intervene on the side of Dan Rooney. As stated here on July 7th, the designation of former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue showed that the league was very interested in the outcome of these negotiations.

Likewise, when the Goodell-Rooney meeting was set, we shared Steelers Digest editor Bob Labrolia’s observation that the league in fact wanted Dan and Art II to maintain control of the team.

Following today’s meeting with the Rooney brothers, Goodell had this to say:



"There's great respect for the Rooney family in the National Football League, and we want to do everything we can to ensure that the Steelers continue to be operated by the Rooneys and the way they've been operated." [Emphasis added]
Words don’t get any more plain than that.

Not only is Goodell making his preference for Dan and Art II clear, he’s also not casting a favorable eye on billionare Stanley Druckenmiller’s promise to assume controlling interest yet retain Dan and Art II.

Also of interest is the fact that Goodell invited three other owners to the meeting “because ultimately NFL owners must approve by a 3/4 majority any change in the Steelers ownership.” The other owners attending were: New Orleans’s Tom Benson, Carolina’s Jerry Richardson, and Cincinnati’s Mike Brown.

Dan Rooney described Jerry Richardson as “a special friend” in his autobiography My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL, and Brown and Benson are consumate “old guard” NFL owners.

Goodell would have been sending a far different message had he invited Jerry Jones, Daniel Snyder, and Zygi Wilfwas….

Not Necessarily Four Against One...

Press reports conflict about how these negotiations are affecting relationships between the five Rooney brothers. The four brothers have already rejected two offers from Dan, but some sources have characterized this as a “family feud,” while others have indicated that this is something that is simply complex and difficult for all involved.

However, Bouchette’s article in this morning’s Post-Gazette moved toward confirming something that Steel Curtain Rising first hypothesized earlier this month – All four Rooney brothers might not be ready to get out of the football business.

That post was in response to another of Bouchette’s articles, which reported that Art Rooney Jr. was divesting himself of his shares in the race tracks, and that John Rooney, unlike his brothers Tim and Pat, had not resigned from the Steelers Board of Directors.

Art Jr’s divestiture of his shares in the racetracks could be part of his estate planning, but it would also clear the way for him to retain his shares in the team, perhaps in exchange for a renewed management role. (Dan fired Art Jr. head of scouting in 1986.)

John Rooney is heavily involved in the management of the Yonker’s Raceway, and the NFL is pushing for a resolution of this matter because of its anti-gambling policies. John's non-resignation at least suggests the possibility that John Rooney is exploring ways where he can perhaps maintain a reduced ownership stake in the team.

Its important to state, for honestly's sake, that suppositions made here about the league's role and the possiblity of some of the Rooney brother's not selling are are not the stuff of rocket science. However, one has to wonder why Bouchette would report about John and Art Jr.'s moves with out without reporting on their possible motives.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Steelers Defeat Vikings in Final Seconds

Steelers kicker Jeff Reed booted a 47 yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining to give the Steelers a 12-10 victory over the Minnestoa Vikings in the third preseason contest of the season.

The Steelers first string defense limited Minnesota's star running back Adrian Peterson to 21 yards on 12 carries, although it allowed its fourth touchdown of the preseason.

Ben Roethlisberger completed 10 of 17 passes for 65 yards, although the pass blocking of the offensive line was poor, putting Big Ben under constant pressure. The Steelers play their final preseaon game next Thursday against the Carolina Panthers.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Decision to Resign James Farrior Speaks to Self Confidence of Steelers Braintrust

In a move that took Steelers Nation by surprise, the Steelers announced today that they have resigned James Farrior to a five year extension worth 18.25 million dollars. Farrior had been set to become a free agent at the end of this season, but repeatedly stated his desire to remain with the team.

Drafted as an outside linebacker by Bill Parcells and the New York Jets in 1997, James Farrior signed with the Steelers in 2002 and has been a mainstay of their defense since. He’s led the team in tackles in four out of five seasons and has compiled over ten sacks in the last two season, posting 6.5 just last year.

Farrior’s signing represents a bold and clear signal that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tolmin are very self-assured in the course they are charting for the Steelers future.

The Steelers linebacking corps is one of the team’s strengths. James Harrison emerged as Pro Bowl talent in 2007, Larry Foote provides solid play at the other inside linebacker slot, and the development of Lamarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons holds tremendous promise.

This move is so bold because the Steelers have four offensive lineman who are in the final year of their contract. The offensive line is not a team strength, nor do they have much in the way of up and coming talent on the offensive line.

Farrior’s value to the team is manifest, and his dedication to conditioning and preparation is second to none. But age 33, the easy money would have had been down on Farrior becoming expendable given that Timmons is coming along so nicely, thus allowing the team to focus on resigning their offensive lineman.

Since the advent of free agency the Steelers have identified the players they feel they need to win and made concerted efforts to resign these players before they reach the open market. They have also strongly prefered to invest long-term money in players who they feel are dedicated to the team.

By signing Farrior, the Steelers make it clear: They regard him as a championship-caliber player who is essential to winning and they are committed to keeping him.

This move continues the trend established during the 2008 NFL draft. Mike Tomlin went on record after the playoff loss to the Jaguars saying that the offensive and defensive lines were priorities. Yet, he and Kevin Colbert steadfastly insisted that they were going to draft the best available athletes. Steel Curtain Rising wrote that off as attempted misdirection, but we were forced to eat our words. As the 2008 draft unfolded, lineman came off the board in droves, yet Tomlin and Colbert stuck to their guns.

Locking James Farrior up is the right thing to do. Signing a player at his age is always a calculated risk, but Farrior has been healthy throughout his career.

Farrior’s signing also dispels the argument voiced by Ed Bouchette that the Steelers are too preoccupied with the ownership restructuring to focus on extending contracts.

To that end, Steelers Nation should hope that the remainder of the off season brings further contract extension surprises with an eye toward protecting Ben Roethlisberger

Rooney Brothers Meeting with Roger Goodell Delayed

The five Rooney Brothers had been set to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week, however Street and Smith’s Sports Business Daily reported that the meeting has been postponed. The meeting was originally scheduled for Thursday the 21st, but it appears that the meeting will take place on August 26th. The delay was announced on Monday, so the postponement was unrelated to Gene Upshaw’s untimely death.

This meeting has been long anticipated, and could signal the endgame of the on-going negotiations between the Rooney brothers over the Steeler's ownership structure and the future of the Rooney family as head of the team Art Rooney Sr. founded in 1932.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Steelers Wise to Heed Harrison, Preseason or No

James Harrison laid claim to his place in the Steelers Linebacker Legacy during the team’s 75th Anniversary pummeling of the Baltimore Ravens. As a one man wrecking crew he wreaked havoc on the Baltimore backfield with a fury seldom seen since Greg Lloyd’s departure. Now Harrison is embracing the mantel of locker room leader, and his teammates need to respond to his wake up call.

After two preseason games Pittsburgh’s first string D has allowed two touchdowns and one field goal, while only forced one three and out. As the Post-Gazette reported last Saturday, James Harrison is having none of the “its only preseason mantra.”

According to Ed Bouchette, the reining MVP threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the defense:

It's not just going to snap around and just come soon as September comes…. You got to go out there and play these preseason games like it's a real game, no matter how long you're in there. And I don't feel like we're doing that right now.


Harrison’s point is plain: As long as you keep score, winning must be the objective.

Should Steelers Nation be concerned about the defense?

A regular reader of this blog likened preseason football to “watching the paint dry.” (No argument here, but from down here in Buenos Aires, I actually miss preseason football.)

As a rule, preseason results are meaningless, but those games are good gauges for two things:

  • Getting a look at new players

While players do “flash” during preseason only to disappear later on, you usually get a good feel for how they’re going to pan out. Think back to the 1996 preseason: It was obvious that Jahine Arnold would do little more than tease as a professional. In contrast, Carlos Emmons made a convincing case that he was going to out play his 7th round pick status.

  • Evaluating specific units

This one tricky. Preseason performance is frequently, but not always, a good indicator of a particular unit’s health.

It was painfully apparent that Joe Walton had thrown the Steelers passing game into complete disarray during the 1990 preseason. Ten summers ago Bill Cowher struggled to patch together and offensive line, and it was obvious early on that the team’s run blocking was not up to snuff. Last year special teams were a problem from the preseason to the playoffs.

However, in the 2005 preseason, the team’s four quarterbacks posted a collective 62.2 pass rating. They were led by Brian St. Pierre; Big Ben brought up the rear with a 32.8 passer rating.

Bill Cowher simply declared, "Our passing game has not been in synch all preseason."

Everyone quickly forgot that after Ben began the regular season by completing 72% of his passes for four touchdowns and zero picks against Tennessee and Houston.

Why Harrison’s Words Are Still Necessary

On paper, barring injuries, the Steelers defense should field a stronger unit in 2008 than in 2007. LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are posed to boost the team’s linebacking corps, and Ryan Clark’s return should boost the secondary.

What’s troubling about the Steelers defense is the nonchalant, “its only preseason” attitude the some of its players seem to be taking.

The Steelers 2007 defense lacked killer instinct. The pass rush disappeared as the season progressed, and the team gave up leads 5 times in the final minute.

The lack of a power runner and special teams snafus certainly contributed, but those things will happen. When they do, the defense must pounce.

In other words, if the defense is primed for the kill, Tyrone Carter makes a play instead of freezing with his hands on his knees as David Garrard runs 18 yards on third and short to set up the go ahead field goal in a playoff game.

Mike Tomlin is not pleased with his defense’s performance, but he does not share Cowher’s fire and brimstone style. That means that the appropriate attitude must be established from within the locker room, and as Bouchette’s article makes clear, James Harrison has taken that duty upon himself:

We're not playing or coming out with the same attitude we come out with in the regular season. ...You got to show something in the preseason. That's why we play the damn games.

Facing the NFL’s toughest schedule and doubts about the defense's ability to close, the Steelers defense would be wise to heed Harrion’s warning.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Is Orpheus Roye’s Return A Red Flag?

Who says you can’t come home again?

The Steelers resigned their former 1996 sixth round draft pick Orpheus Roye. Roye left the team as an unrestricted free agent in 1999, and has played for the Cleveland Browns since then, until he was cut earlier this year.

Roye’s signing marks the team’s second personnel move on the defensive line in under five days. On Wednesday the Steelers let go unrestricted rookie free agent Kyle Clement and signed Kevin Huntley. Huntley however failed a physical, leading Pittsburgh to release him and sign Roye.

Steel Curtin Rising speculated that the Steelers might actively scourer the wavier wire in search of defensive lineman, and that’s what’s happening.

Tomlin stated in January that the team needed to get “younger and stronger” on the defensive line, yet Roye is 35. They were willing to discard an interesting rookie prospect such as Kyle Clement in favor of Huntley, who was clearly nothing to write home about. When Huntley washed out they immediately went out and signed a 35 year old.

Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are clearly concerned about the team’s defensive line. Expect more activity on this front as teams begin roster cut downs.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tony Hills the Next John Jackson?

Tony Hills' name has surfaced infrequently during training camp, but when it has it is most frequently paired with John Jackson.

Tony Hills played tackle for UCLA before the Steelers drafted him in the fourth round of this spring's draft. John Jackson was of course a tenth round pick out of Eastern Kentucky in 1988.

There was little consensus surrounding Hills when he was drafted. Some writers suggested he'd have gone higher if it were not for an injury, others questioned his toughness.

Writing in the Steelers Digest, Jim Wexell first compared the two players, remarking, "Tony Hills looks like John Jackson. He's raw but he has a great build, long arms, and quick feet."

The Tribune-Review's Scotty Brown was less generous, declaring Hills as "a major project."

Most recently this week the Tribune-Review's Mike Prisuta offered that he couldn't figure out of Tony Hills was the next John Jackson, or the next Fred Gibson -- the last 4th round pick who failed to make the team.

A tenth round pick is by definition a long-shot to make the team. John Jackson had a difficult time in preseason, getting runover left and right by a young Pat Swelling in the Super Dome in the final preseason contest of 1988.

Yet Jackson made the team, and he grew into a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle. (In fact, Jackson became the highest paid lineman in football when he left via free agency in 1998 -- He was grossly overpaid, but it did take the Steelers two full years to recover from losing him.)

So the Steeler press corps might be unable to make up their minds, but you've very well may have made up yours. What do you think?

Does Hills have long-term potential or was he a reach? Sound off in the comments section.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Steelers Sign DE Huntley, Waive Kyle Clement

The Steelers signed former Raiders and Falcons defensive end Kevin Huntley today, and waived undrafted rookie free agent Kyle Clement to make room for him in the roster.

Huntley adds youth and depth to the defensive line, although he only played in six games for the Raiders in 2006 and five with the Atlanta Falcons.

This move ends Kyle Clement's long-shot bid to make the Steelers roster. Clement was a stand out defensive lineman with Northwood, a Division II school in Michigan. Kyle Clement was particularly popular with the readers of Steel Curtain Rising, as several hundred of Google keyword combinations brought readers here in search of news about the underdog from Northwood.

Clement garnered few headlines during training camp. Mike Tomlin commented that the audience that witnessed the Steelers night time practice at Latrobe Stadium was probably the largest gathering the young defensive lineman had ever played before.

Clement played in last Friday's game against the Eagles and was credited with one tackle. He sprained his knee during the game however, and Mike Tomlin had declared him out of tomrrow's pre season contest in Toronto against the Bills prior to waiving him this afternoon.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mike Tomlin may be a very different coach than Bill Cowher, but there is one trait both men share: A belief in veteran back ups quarterbacks.

With Charlie Batch out 4-6 weeks due to a broken collarbone, the Steelers wasted little time choosing Byron Leftwich over Dante Culpepper to bridge the gap until Batch’s return.

This is a smart move. There’s no substitute for having and experienced man under center when your starting QB goes down.

Leftwich’s signing, along with the team’s apparent intent on not putting Batch on the injured reserve sets up an interesting roster quandary. Fifth round pick Dennis Dixon fairly well by all accounts on Friday night in relief of Batch, and the team is hoping to groom him as Ben Roethlisberger’s under study.

Batch’s injury might complicate those plans, because keeping all four men would require carrying four quarterbacks on the active roster. Waiving Dixon and putting him on the practice squad is a risky proposition – He’s a fifth round pick, but would have gone much higher were it not for a torn ACL.

There is a precedent for carrying four quarterbacks. The team did it in 1995, when they had Neil O’Donnel, Mike Tomzack, Jim Miller, and Kordell Stewart on their active roster. They did it again in 1999 when Kordell Stewart, Mike Tomzack, Pete Gonzales, and Anthony Wright were all on Pittsburgh’s 53 man roster.

Carrying four quarterbacks is considered to be quite unorthodox, but Cowher was ready to flaunt conventional wisdom twice. It will be interesting to see if Tomlin is willing to follow suit.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Charlie Batch Breaks Collarbone in Preseason Opener

Backup Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch suffered a broken collarbone during the first half of the Steelers preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, reports the Tribune-Review.

Its unknown how serious the injury is, although a collarbone break is among the more serious injuries a player can suffer. If Batch is to be lost for the year, that will leave the Steelers with two rookies, fifth round pick Dennis Dixon and undrafted rookie free agent Mike Potts behind Ben Roethlisberger.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Goodell- Rooney Brother Meeting to Signal Endgame in Steelers Ownership Restructuring?

Recent reports that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will call a meeting with the five Rooney could signal that the Steelers ownership restructuring process is reaching its end game. The Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette broke news of the forthcoming meeting last Sunday. According Bouchette, Goodell asked for the meeting after Paul Taglibue appraised of the situation. Taglibue, a former NFL commissioner, has been moderating the ownership restructuring discussions between the five Rooney brother.

League to Play Decisive Role?

The league does not normally delve so deeply into internal ownership issues, so Taglibue’s role in this process was eye brow raising from the start. At issue are the needs of the Rooney brothers, now in their late 60’s or 70’s, to plan their estates, and NFL rules that prohibit teams for involvement with casino gambling operations, which the Rooneys have at their racetracks in New York and Florida.

The exact tenor of these intra family discussions varies depending on the source. Some sources describe them as an ongoing “family feud.” Others sources, while admitting to some tension between the parties – and generations – cast the discussions as generally amicable, if highly complex and exceedingly difficult.

Dan Rooney currently controls 16% of the team, and would like to buy out his brothers, but the other Rooney boys have rejected two offers from. These rejections led the other four Rooney brothers to seek an investor capable of purchasing their shares, and New York billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller (and Steeler fan) has indicated he is ready, willing, and able to buy our the four younger Rooneys. Indeed, Druckenmiller today reaffirmed this his bid to buy out the Rooney brothers with a single, straight cash transaction remains on the table.

Reading Between the Lines

Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola wrote about the ownership restructuring in the August 2nd edition of the Steelers Digest. Labriola edited the publication for more than 20 years, working directly out of the Steeler offices. While he is not the most objective source, he undoubtedly has better access than any other journalist to what’s really going on behind closed doors. Two weeks ago Labriola made this observation:

The NFL is sensitive to the Rooney ownership issues, it wants Dan and Art II to continue to run the franchise, and it doesn’t want the team to incur more than a manageable debt. Any sale of the Steelers would be subject to
approval of 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners. (emphasis added)

Reading between the lines Labriola’s words translates into this: The NFL and/or Dan Rooney are ready to use its muscle to influence the process on the side of Dan Rooney. Just as important is Labriola’s comment that the league is sensitive to debt issues. You can interpret that to mean that any final deal will most likely not result in Dan Rooney as the exclusive buyer of his brother’s shares.

Pieces of Steelers Ownership Restructuring Puzzle Falling into Place?

Bouchette’s article in Sunday's Post-Gazette shed a lot of light on the Steelers ownership restructuring process, but also left many unanswered questions. Bouchette indicated that Dan Rooney had divested his shares of the race tracks and that his brother Art has divested 90% of his shares. Also brothers Tim and Pat have resigned from the Steelers Board of directors

This is an unequivocal sign that the dice have begun to roll.

Unknowns Still Remain

Bouchette’s article shed a lot of light onto a complex story, but many unknowns remain.
  • What is the value of Dan Rooney’s shares of the race tracks, and who bought/assumed control of them?

Given that the Racetracks are far more profitable than the Steelers, one has to figure that Dan Rooney’s shares in those have to give at least enough money to buy out one of his brothers, assuming that red tape and taxes that go behind transferring these share doesn’t eat up too much of their value. This has been a major issue since the story broke, and it still lacks clarity.

  • What’s Art Rooney Jr. up to?

Why did Art Rooney divest most his shares of the race tracks? Notice, Art Jr. did not resign his post on the board of directors -- does that signal that he intends to stay on as a Steeler owner? Does it mean that he is trying to position himself to make a power play to regain the role in running the team that he lost in 1986 when Dan fired him as head of scouting? Perhaps Art Jr. is just chasing in all around, but his partial divestiture is quite peculiar.

  • Why didn't John Rooney also resign from the Steelers Board of Directors?

The resignations of Tim and Pat Rooney signal their intent to get out of the football business, these were expected. But why has John Rooney not followed suit? There could be trivial reasons for this, but more hard news on this would be helpful.

  • What is Art II's stake in the Steelers be when this is over?

When the story broke, the reports talked about how Art II and Dan were trying to obtain controlling interest. Since then all reports have focused on Dan Rooney’s efforts. Writers could simply be saving space (not one of my graces, but hey, its my blog!) or it could be that Art isn’t going to be a buyer. I am ignorant on the rules of finance, but common sense indicates that, if/when Dan does buy out all or part of his brother shares, he simply can’t add his son’s name to the invoice and give him possession of the team. (Perhaps there are ways he can do this.)

Even if that Dan Rooney succeeds in obtaining controlling interest of the Steelers, he still must grapple with the issue of how to pass it on to his son Art II, without Art II getting crippled by inheritance taxes.

Joe Robbie’s heirs tired and failed to deal with the inheritance tax issue, but it can be done. Paul Brown was able to pass the team on to his sons. One would hope that Dan would have a plan for this, but it’s also possible that the restructuring process prevented him for addressing this issue.

Regardless, no journalist, inside or outside of Pittsburgh has written about this. It would be nice if they did.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Long Injury List from Latrobe a Concern

Mike Tomlin’s stated goal for training camp is to “come out as a battle-hardened unit.” This is exactly the objective that Steelers Nation expects from their leader in the field.

The reality that is playing out in Latrobe, is something a little different.

First, came the news that this would be the Steelers shortest summer ever at St. Vincents. Then Tomlin began camp by putting three players on to physically unable to perform list. (Granted, Casey Hampton’s spot on this list amounts to a quasi punishment for showing up out of shape.)

The second week of camp finds Chris Kemoeatu leaving the PUP list only to have the Steelers holding nine players out of practice because of injuries. The official list of starters not practicing Tuesday was:
  • James Harrison (groin)
  • Deshea Townsend (groin)
  • Brett Keisel (groin)
  • Kendall Simmons (shoulder)
  • Marvel Smith (back)

You can add Big Ben to that list, as he only participated in 7 on 7 drills.

Back ups sitting out include:

  • Limas Sweed (hamstring)
  • linebacker Mike Humpal (hamstring)
  • tight end Dezmond Sherrod (neck)
  • linebacker Anthony Trucks (back)

Apparently, Simmons and Smith sat out for precautionary reasons and were supposed to practice Wednesday.

Given that each NFL team only gets 16 shots at glory each year, combined with the realities of the salary cap, the desire of NFL coaches to avoid injury prior to the regular season is understandable.

Hence, every year it seems like starters get less and less work in the preseason, and now it seems like attitude toward practicing someone is, “when in doubt, pull him out.”

Perhaps that’s the right thing to do.

There’s no mock-Pro Bowl selection of the star players whose seasons end before opening day.

But should we be alarmed that the team's only two established, veteran starters on the offensive line were held out of pratice? How is the line to build cohesion?

At the end of the day, football is a men’s game. As Chuck Noll used to say, football is about hitting, and hitting requires using your body as a projectile. While definitely is an activity that makes one prone to injury, it’s not something that comes naturally. It takes time and yes practice to get into that mindset.

Certainly, players (Casey Hampton excepted) now arrive at camp in far, far better shape than their brethren did 30 or 20 years ago. But nothing can simulate live football.

If Mike Tomlin needs to hold a player out of practice for his good or the good of the team that he most certainly do that. Far better to avoid minor injuries blossoming into major ones.

But one must hope that Tomlin can find a way to exit Latrobe as “a battle hardened unit” in spite of long injury lists.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Subtexts for Steelers Training Camp 2008

Long before the run test the offensive line, special teams, and the defensive line were the established story lines for Training Camp 2008. As if on cue, Casey Hampton failed the run test and Daniel Sepulveda tore an ACL, underlining the urgency of these areas.

Nonetheless, there are several smaller, but still significant, questions lurking below the radar screen in Latrobe.

Is Mike Tomlin Too Chummy With His Coaches?

Given the team’s horrendous special teams in 2008, the question is not whether Bill Cowher would have fired Bob Ligaschesky, but would he have announced it at the post-game press conference or waited until the next day? Mike Tomlin retained Ligaschesky, concluding that was the root of the problem lay in Pittsburgh’s lack of special team stand outs and not schemes.

It’s true. The Steelers 2007 roster did want for special teams studs. But, as Joe Starkley pointed out back only weeks after Tomlin’s hire, Ligascheksy’s track record as a special teams coach could generously be described as mediocre. Pittsburgh’s 2007 special teams weren’t simply sub-par, they were a critical weakness.

During the 3-0 start, the papers were awash with stories describing how Steeler assistant coaches were basking in autonomy that been unheard of in during the Cowher years. Autonomy is fine, but it goes hand-in-hand with accountability. Case in point:

  • Whose decision was it to keep James Harrison off of the kick off coverage team until the second half of Jacksonville playoff game? If Tomlin signed off on this then the error’s on him, if Ligascheksy did it on his own, then he made a serious mistake.

Tomlin regularly cites Tony Dungy has his formative influence. But Dungy, like his own mentor Chuck Noll, often found himself unable to part ways with assistants that deserved the boot. Tomlin chose continuity over change for his coaching staff during his first off season. That’s fine, as long as he’s ready to shoot and ask questions later during 2008.

Do Tomlin and Bruce Arians Philosophies Clash?

Since the day he was hired Mike Tomlin has espoused a love for “attrition football.” Music to the ears of Steelers Nation. However, Bruce Arians signaled a desire for an offense that stresses the pass more upon his promotion to offensive coordinator

The Redskins of the 80’s, the Cowboys of the ‘90’s, and yes, the Steelers of the late 70’s, showed that power football up front and passing downfield do indeed mix. But long before Dan Kreider fell to injury, Arians had begun phasing him out.

  • Kreider’s bruising style should have been brought to the forefront, given the Steelers weak offensive line in 2007.

While the Steelers’ stable of running backs might end up being envy of the league, it remains to be seen if their offensive line is stout enough for Smash Mouth Football. Therefore, it’s possible that any philosophy clash between Tomlin and Arians will not surface in 2008, but it is a situation that bears watching.

Is Carey Davis a Legitimate Fullback?

Coaches gave the starting nod to Carey Davis over Kreider last year because of Davis’ ability as a ball carrier and pass catcher. Davis was supposed to give the offense more flexibility.

  • Davis contributed little to either the running or passing games, and his blocking was clearly inferior to Kreider’s.

Yet it is Davis, and not Dan Kreider who hold’s the team’s lone fullback slot at St. Vincents. The evolution of Arians’ offense, plus the potential for a pony backfield of Mendenhall and Parker, might render this question moot, but Carey Davis has a long, long, long way to go to show he can fill the shoes once occupied by the likes of Merrill Hoge, John L. Williams, Tim Lester, and the aforementioned Dan Kreider.

For Whom the Waiver Wire Tolls…

Circumstances conspired to prevent the Steelers from nabbing lineman with their premium picks. The Steelers also failed to find good value on the free agent market, save for the signing of center Justin Hartwig. (Despite Tribune-Review writer John Harris’ campaign Anthony McFarland’s behalf.) Both the offensive and defensive lines still need help.

That leaves the waiver wire.

While plucking gems off of waivers is less common in the free agency era, and its certainly not the way you want to fortify your team. But it’s the only option the Steelers have.

Kevin Colbert boasts an excellent record with undrafted rookies and “street free agents.” So if the Steelers start scrounging around the waiver, it isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, in fact, it could turn out to be a net positive. Keep your eyes peeled for unexpected personnel moves around the league. You'd better beleive that Colbert & company will be doing the same.