´ Steel Curtain Rising: Steelers Tipping Their Hand on CBA Negotiations?

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Steelers Tipping Their Hand on CBA Negotiations?

“There are no plans to engage in talks about a long-term extension for [Willie] Colon.”
- Mike Prisuta, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/12/09

My first reaction upon reading this was “why?”

Its not that Willie Colon is an All-World offensive tackle, but the facts are simple:

  • In two seasons as a starter, he has shown himself to be a decent player on an otherwise undistinguished offensive line
  • He signed a one year tender, binding him to the team through 2009
  • If they don’t sign him to a long term deal, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2010
  • The Steelers currently have no viable alternative behind him, unless you could Tony Hills

The Steelers entered free agency this year and saw five offensive lineman become free agents, either restricted or unrestricted.

As things currently stand, this time next year three starters, Max Starks, Willie Colon, and Justin Hartwig will all become free agents again.

They say they want to sign Max Starks to a long term deal, but he’s got eight million and change coming to him as a franchise player. The leverage is all on his side.

Logic then dictates that you get your other tackle under contract sooner rather than later.

Steelers Looking Ahead to Uncapped Year?

Upon reading Prisuta’s article, Steel Curtain Rising’s instinct screamed “write an article and take the Steelers to task for their patchwork offensive line building strategy.”

For the past two years the Pittsburgh’s MO for the offensive line has been: Franchise a guy here, transition a guy there, keep him around as a restricted free agent, cross your fingers and hope you can do the same next year.

It has worked, but can the Steelers remain competitive if this continues?

That’s a legitimate question, but perhaps the Steelers are operating with a little more foresight than they’re given credit.

Although it’s not on most fans’ radar screens, the NFL is heading from some tricky waters on the labor front. The current collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the NFLPA expires in 2011. 2010 is set as an uncapped year.

While an uncapped year will not be kind to mid-market teams like the Steelers, as Daniel Snyder will doubtlessly set the market rate for third string running backs at 10 million dollars a year or some other ludicrous sum.

  • Yet the uncapped year does come with some advantages for teams that operate wisely

One of those is that players will not reach unrestricted free agency until they’ve played for six years.

Willie Colon was drafted in 2006. He’s played three years and is now a restricted free agent. Under the current scheme, he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent after he’s played his fourth season. But unless the owners and the NFLPA renew the agreement in before the end of 2009, the NFL will enter the uncapped year.

And if that happens Willie Colon will still be a restricted free agent again in 2010 and at least theoretically in 2011.

Dan Rooney is one of the league’s most influential owners, and Art II played a key role in averting the uncapped year back in 2007. The Rooneys will work day and night to get an agreement in place. It’s good for them and its good for the game.

But if it’s true that they’re not going to seek a long-term deal with Colon then the Rooneys could very well be signaling that they think the league is headed for an uncapped season, despite their best intentions and efforts.

Alternative Explanations

It’s quite possible that Steel Curtain Rising’s take is in err. After all, a little more than a year ago we admonished our readers to ignore what Kevin Colbert said about the 2008 draft, assuring them that the Steelers would focus on the offensive and defensive lines in spite of their pledge to “take the best player available.”

Steel Curtain Rising was wrong then, so its only appropriate to offer some alternative explainations now.

Prusita Is Mistaken

The Pittsburgh media has been caught behind the curve on the Steelers personnel plans recently.

So its quite possible that they will attempt to ink Colon to a long-term deal before the season starts. Right now their priority is resigning James Harrison, and that contract is going to be tricky. Assuming they get that deal done, they’ll then know what they have to spend on other players.

Prusita’s Right Because the Steelers Simply Don’t Think Colon is Worth a Long Term Investment

Perhaps we can simply take Prusita’s report at face value. With few exceptions, the decision to give Kendall Simmons a four year contract in 2007 comes to mind, the Steelers are very wise about who they commit long-term money to. It is very rare that they issue a contract that they later regret, and its also uncommon that they discard someone who goes on to be a star elsewhere.

While they do not have viable replacement for Colon in waiting, it is certainly plausible that they could pick someone up in the draft with an eye to grooming him to be the starter on opening day 2010.

All of this is of course speculation. Steel Curtain Rising invites those of you who have access to legitimate sources to pick up from here take the story to wherever the facts lead you.

Thanks for visiting. What do you think about the offseason so thus far? Leave a comment, vote in our poll, explore our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus, or check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The short answer is that the Steelers are merely hedging their bets and they may also disagree with one of your facts (I know I do). The fact in question is that Colon is a "decent" right tackle. I would rate him as a below average tackle and only the 3rd or 4th best player on the Steelers undistinguished line. They offerred him the tender to ensure they have depth for next year so they do not feel forced to reach for a tackle in the draft. If an elite tackle falls to them in the draft or if Hills develops, they are not locked into Colon longterm or throwing money away like they did with Simmons.

Of course, the uncertainty with CBA causes a lot of difficulty on any long term contract. Apparently this is one of the issues slowing down the Harrison negotiations. On Colon's case, however, I think it has more to do with the fact that they are not sold on him being their RT for the future.

KT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KT said...

Thanks for commenting "Anonymous."

You make good observations.

Colon is an interesting case, as it seems like everyone, save the coaches, sees him as a natural guard and not a tackle.

Thanks again for commenting.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.