Nonetheless, the Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik wrote something back on August 5th that Steel Curtain Rising has been itching to respond to.
Smizik of course has been one of Pittsburgh’s top columnists for decades, working out of the Pittsburgh Press and then the Post Gazette. The truth is yours truly has disagreed often as agreed with him, but Smizik indisputably has good insights and always has something interesting to say.
Smizik’s blog post in question extolled Willie Parker’s genuine humility despite his incredible undrafted free agent to Super Bowl hero story. So far, so good.
He then takes the Steelers to task for dissing Fast Willie Parker. To make his case Smizik marshals the following evidence.
Drafting Rasshard Mendenhall in the First Round of 2008 Draft
The Steelers had far greater needs on the offensive and defensive lines, but they bypassed those to take the successor to Parker. NFL teams don’t use No. 1picks on players they expect to be backups for any extended period…
Offensive and defensive lineman were certainly the Steelers top need entering the 2008 draft. But lineman came off of the board in droves during the first round. No first-round quality lineman remained when the Steelers turn came to pick late in the first roud.
Is Bob Smizik suggesting the Steelers should have reached just to get a lineman?
- Or, more to the point, is Smizik suggesting the Steelers should have reached simply to avoid hurting Willie’s feelings?
Smizik’s argument continues by questioning the Steelers explanation that any championship team needs two starting quality backs, pointing to the fact that the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII without Mendenhall and with Parker injured for much of the season.
Wait a minute. When Pittsburgh started the 2007 season with an all undrafted backfield, didn't the pundits come down on the Steelers for being a franchise that fashioned an identity on running the ball only to repeatedly fail to use premium picks on rushers?
Ignoring Willie’s Accomplishments
Smizik’s next argument is that Parker is now the team’s third leading rusher and, at age 28, a man entering his prime. He contends that the fact that Parker cannot get talks started, let alone a contract offer from the team amounts to disrespect on the part of the Steelers.
That is a compelling point in Parker’s favor, but does it amount to disrespect?
The Example of Jerome Bettis in 2000
Jerome Bettis' situation nine years ago offers an instructive example.
Prior the 2000 season Jerome Bettis was also 28 and the already second leading rusher in Steelers history. Like Parker, Bettis was also heading into the final year of his contract. As they're now doing with Parker, the Steelers made no attempt to resign The Bus before the 2000 season.
- Does that mean that the Steelers were dissing Jerome Bettis?
The Bus toured Steelers Nation by storm in 1996 and 1997. But Bettis' numbers dipped in 1998 and 1999 (although primarily because of the offensive line). With Amos Zereoue, Richard Huntley, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala on the roster, Steelers management chose caution instead of a proactive attempt to keep Bettis from reaching free agency.
One could argue, “Well, Bettis had a lot more wear and tear on him at that point than Willie Parker does now.” True, Bettis did, not only from more years of playing in the pros, but from more years of playing in college.
But it is also true that Bettis had only missed one game due to injury in the two years leading up to his 2000 contract year. Parker has missed 6 games in the last two years. And on balance, Bettis overall value to the offense in the year 2000 was greater than Parker’s is in 2009.
The Steelers weren’t being disrespectful to Bettis in the summer of 2000, they were just being prudent.
Difficult Decision to Make on Fast Willie
Steel Curtain Rising is a Fast Willie Parker fan. One cannot help but love his underdog story. Number 39 has proven his value to the team, time and time again.
It says here that Steel Curtain Rising wants Willie Parker to retire as a Steeler. Parker has the attitude and blue collar work ethic that embodies that makes Pittsburgh what it is.
The cold hard fact is that we may not get our wish with Willie Parker.
The Steelers face some cold, hard choices about impending free agents. Brett Kiesel, Casey Hampton, Desha Townsend, Jeff Reed, Ryan Clark, among others hit the free agent market with Willie Parker next March.
- All of them cannot return.
That means tough decisions and calculated risks for Steelers management.
Getting Willie Parker locked down to a long-term contract might seem like a wise move, but what if Mendenhall tears it up this year? The Steelers have the luxury of giving him that chance.
Its possible that Mendenhall will be a bust and that Fast Willie Parker will bolt out of town.
The flip side to the argument is the possibility that Willie is already fading. He broke his leg in 2007. He bounced back with a vengence in early 2008 until he got hurt again. He regained his strength for the playoffs, but his overall production in terms of yards and rushing average was down.
Willie Parker has never quite reached the number of carries (350) that seems to correlate to a sharp drop off in rushing production, but his recent injuries and the four consecutive years of a declining rushing average make it impossible to ignore that stat.
Might Fast Willie have a monster year and prove the naysayers wrong? Absolutely. Steel Curtain Rising hopes he does. Could a nightmare scenario unfold that has Willie running strong elsewhere while Mendenhall fails to produce here? Without a doubt.
Steelers Decision Comes Down to Prudence
Bob Smizik has the right and a lot of compelling reasons to argue that signing Willie Parker now makes good football sense.
But there are also good football reasons for the Steelers to take the risk of holding off on making an offer.
- The Steelers reluctance to resign Fast Willie Parker before the 2009 season comes down to one thing: Prudence.
And a seasoned-pro like Smizik should understand the difference between prudence and disrespect.
Thanks for visiting. Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower casts a critical eye on those who cover the Steelers. Click here to read all articles in the series.