´ Steel Curtain Rising: March 2009

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Watch Tower: Stallworth Ownership, Rooney Ambassadorship, and the NFL Owners Meeting Wrap Up

You wouldn’t think that the John Stallworth’s joining the Rooneys as a partner, Dan Rooney’s Ambassadorship, or the NFL Owners meetings would provide much fodder for the Watch Tower, but they did.

NFL Owners Meetings

The NFL spring owners meetings are usually accompanied by a rush of news, if for no other reason than it is a time when coaches, GMs, and owners are altogether in one place and available for interviews.

The Post-Gazette and Tribune Review got face time with Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, and the Rooneys, but the Tribune Review got the better of the Post-Gazette in terms of coverage.

The Tribune-Review’s Scott Brown went beyond reporting what these men had to say and delivered on the prime topic of concern to Steelers Nation fans, namely free agency, and John Stallworth’s ascension to the Steelers ownership suite.

Brown talked with Kevin Colbert about the Max Starks situation, and in the process the Steelers Director of football operations issued a ringing endorsement of the Steelers recently franchised left tackle:

He maintained his focus and he was able to contribute to us this season in a big way. To me, that says a lot about who that player is, to be able to deal with a situation where he lost his job, he stayed positive and he came back and produced in a big way for us. I think that just says a ton about more so what his makeup is rather than his abilities.
Brown also took the extra step of sharing Colbert’s thoughts about Limas Sweed’s development. Bouchette did report on Colbert’s take on the Steelers situation at wide receiver, but he failed to report any new news on Limas Sweed, a player whose growth is obviously of great import both to the Steelers and Steelers Nation.

Ditto the John Stallworth Coverage

Much the same can be said of the coverage of John Stallworth. Ed Bouchette’s articles on the subject certainly were not deficient in anyway, but Scott Brown went the extra mile.

The Post-Gazette published two (on line) articles on the Stallworth story where Bouchette delivered the essential facts, but delivered little else to readers.

The Scott Brown also published two articles on the Stallworth story, but his were much richer. In his first article, Brown shared insights from Art Rooney Jr., the man who scouted Stallworth, a current owner and one of Stallworth’s future partners. He also shared comments from Stallworth’s former teammate, current fellow Hall of Famer, and future employee Joe Greene, and well as Steelers safety Mike Wagner, who no doubt spent lots of time chasing after Stallworth during practice in the 70’s.

For his second article Brown teamed up with Mike Pruista, and the two men told the story of how Stallworth got involved in the ownership process through the words of both Rooneys, along with additional comments from Andy Russell.

Kudos to Scott Brown for hustling for the story.

Opps I

Both Dan Rooney’s nomination as ambassador to Ireland and the latest developments in the Steelers ownership restructuring resulted in minor slip ups on the part of both Pittsburgh dailies.

The main culprit? The timing of Dan Rooney’s decision to hand over the Steelers Presidency to Art II.

When Rooney was first named ambassador to Ireland, Ed Bouchette reported that Art II had assumed the title of Steelers President in 2002. This contradicted what Steel Curtain Rising had written and we assumed that we were in error.

A quick check of the Steelers Media Guide confirmed that the Art Rooney II had become Steelers President in 2003, not 2002.

The error resurfaced when the news about John Stallworth was announced, this time in both the Tribune Review and the Post Gazette. Once again we doubled checked, and it says right there on page 262-263 of Dan Rooney’s self-titled autobiography that the change of title occurred in 2003.

Oops II

The Steelers ownership restructuring was the subject of a more significant error in the Post-Gazette as you can see below.

This is factually correct as far as the new ownership group is concerned.

The only problem with this is that Tim Rooney is not Pat Rooney’s twin – John Rooney is. Tim Rooney by all accounts the consummate middle child. In his book Ruanaidh, Art Jr. talks about how Tim was the most likely to stand up to Art Sr. and during the past year, Tim was the one Rooney brother who pushed hardest to accept Stanley Druckenmiller’s buyout offer.

The Nitty Gritty...

If you’ve read this far you’re not adverse to minutia.

A factoid of interest to very, very few can be found in the coverage of Marvel Smith’s tenure as a free agent. ESPN’s John Clayton was the first to err in his analysis of free agency’s second, when he mentioned that Smith had been waived by the Steelers. The ESPN article that announced Marvel Smith’s signing with the San Francisco 49ers also said that Smith had been waived.

Accept that he wasn’t. Smith’s contract was up meaning he was no longer the Steelers to waive. The team simply opted not to try to resign him.

Thanks for reading. Watch Tower is Steel Curtain Rising’s column dedicated to casting a critical eye on those who cover the Steelers. Click here to read the entire series.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Steelers Resign Madison – Last Free Agent Signing?

Last week the Steelers signed another free agent when Anthony Madison accepted the team’s one year-tender. This was their ninth free agent signing, and as with the previous eight, Madison was already a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Madison is a reserve cornerback who plays mainly on special teams. He joined the team as an unrestricted rookie free agent in 2006, made the practice squad that year, and has been with the team since, with the exception of a brief stint with Tampa Bay in 2007.

Madison has steadily improved, and peeking with 25 special teams tackles last year.

Are the Steelers Done With Free Agency?

With Madison taken care of, and Marvel Smith off to San Francisco, the Steelers have no remaining restrict or unrestricted free agents to resign.

So does this mean they’re done with free agency?

There are conflicting reports.

Art Rooney II spoke to the Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette last week. Ronney II talked up the team’s “take care of your own” approach, but he also left the door open to signing someone from another team, telling Bouchette:

“We don't look at that [signing other team’s free agents] as the barometer of whether we're having a good off season or not," but he went on to say “ ‘I would imagine we will’ eventually sign at least one.”

A few days later Kevin Colbert spoke with Bouchette, and the tone was different. While Colbert did not explicitly rule out plucking someone else from the free agent pool, that was the distinct impression that Bouchette conveyed to his readers:

And it appears they might not sign any more. They have no scheduled visits by free agents and they see nothing on the horizon.
Don’t Look for Terry Holt or Marvin Harrison

Kevin Colbert acknowledged that the Steelers are thin at with receiver with the departure of Nate Washington. To bolster their receiving corps, they attempted but failed to resign Joey Galloway.

But Kevin Colbert has made it clear that the Steelers are banking on improving from within, as his comments to Bouchette indicate:

We lost our third guy and some of the young guys have to step up. We'll keep watching and seeing [in free agency], but at this point we're not optimistic that there will be anybody else that we're interested in. The people we have have to step up.
So don’t expect to see either Marvin Harrison or Terry Holt darken the doorways of the Steelers South Side complex.

Extending Deals of Harrison and Max Starks Top Priorities

Steel Curtain Rising tends to agree with the analysis from Art II. The Steelers are going to need to fill holes at some point, and they’ll bring someone in, even if he is just a special teams player. Most likely, this move will come after the draft.

But significant signings like that of Justin Hartwig or Mewelde Moore of a year ago are unlikely, and not simply because there are not too many of those players available.

The Steelers to priorities remain to extend the deals of Max Starks and James Harrison. Both players are under contract for next year, but have no deal in place beyond that. And both deals are complicated by complexities of the NFL’s salary cap.

You can follow all of the Steelers off season moves in our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus section, or simply check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Marvel Smith Signs with San Francisco - The End of an Era?

One of the hallmarks of the Bill Cowher era of was that the Steelers offensive lines for those years comprised a Who’s Who of AFC Pro Bowlers. But as Bobby Dillion wrote "the times, they are a changing."

ESPN.com is reporting that formers Steelers left tackle Marvel Smith has agreed to terms with the San Francisco 49ers.

The move comes as no surprise. Smith’s contract had expired, and the Steelers had made it clear that they were not going to attempt to bring him back when they used the franchise tag on Max Starks.

End of an Era?

Marvel Smith was the only Steelers lineman with Pro Bowl experience, and his departure marks the end of an era, assuming that none of the Steelers offensive lineman make the 2010 Pro Bowl.

The Steelers have a Pro Bowler or a Pro Bowl experienced offensive lineman in the starting line up every season since Mike Webster made the 1979 Pro Bowl. That isn’t quite the same as sending an lineman to the Pro Bowl ever year – there were plenty of years when no Steeler earned that distinction, but they always had someone who had been there, someone who was capable of that caliber of play.

Smith’s age and chronic back problems certainly conspired against him. Steelers made the assessment that Smith was no longer capable of Pro Bowl caliber play, and they made the right decision.

The Steelers had attempted to resign him on the eve of the regular season, only to be rebuffed – this came on the heels of Smith’s first round of back surgery. The Steelers swore

He started the season well, but got injured again against Jacksonville. The Steelers kept him on the active roster until the end of the year, but and ended up needing back surgery again and went on IR. The 49ers apparently offered Smith very little guaranteed money, as indicated by the article announcing his signing.

Thanks for visiting. You can follow all of the Steelers free agent moves in our Steelers 2009 free agent focus series.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

John Stallworth Joins Steelers Ownership Group

John Stallworth has proven that you can come home again. The Rooneys revealed their new investors at the conclusion of the NFL’s spring owners meeting, and they made good on their promise that this latest investor group would contain “one very recognizable name.”

That name was of course legendary Hall of Fame wide receiver John Stallworth.

Stallworth is the CEO and President of Genesis II and for twenty years was the owner of the Madison Research Corporation, a company that did business with NASA and the US military.

Other investors announced included:

  • Bruce V. Rauner, chairman of GTCR Golder Rauner, LLC
  • the Varischetti family of Brockway, Jefferson County.

These men join the three investors named last December, they are:

  • James A. Haslam III who is president of Pilot Travel Centers, the nation's leading retail operator of truckstops and travel centers
  • Robert A. Paul, 70, who is the chairman and CEO of Ampco-Pittsburgh, a specialty steel manufacturer headquartered Downtown Pittsburgh.
  • Hollywood movie producer Thomas Tull, whose producing credits include Superman Returns and Batman: The Dark Knight.

The Surprise We’ve Been Waiting For

Since the news of the Steelers ownership restructuring broke last July, both Dan and Art Rooney the II announced that they were lining up investors to help them buy out the other four Rooney brothers, and promised early on that their new partners would include recognizable names.

When the announcement of the first three investors last December contained some interesting personalities, particularly Tull, a noted Steelers fanatic, but the Hollywood blockbuster movie maker’s name is hardly on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

John Stallworth’s is. Players from the Super Steelers have made a concerted effort to stay connected with the team, yet this is the first instance of one actually becoming an owner. It is a novel, but most welcome trend.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Roethlisberger Ranked Below Drew Brees? Time to Take Action

ESPN.com is polling the public, asking them to rank the NFL’s quarterbacks.

Brady and Manning come out on top, which is understandable (although that is not how Steel Curtain Rising ranked them, as you can see....)

At number three you have none other than….

Drew Brees.

That’s right, Drew Brees is currently besting Ben Roethlisberger. And it is not even close. The last time I checked, Brees had more than 200,000 votes than Ben.

Let's get this straight, according the the website Pro Football Reference, both Brees and Ben have identical passer ratings of 89.5. OK, so then how to distinguish? Let's look at how they've put those passer ratings to work for their respective teams:

Drew Brees has led his teams to the playoffs twice
  • Ben has led his team to the playoffs four times
Drew Brees has played in only three playoff games

  • Ben has played in ten playoff games
Drew Brees has won one playoff game

  • Ben has won eight playoff games
And of course, Ben has won two Super Bowls in his first five years in the league.

I don’t get it.

Time to Rally Behind Roethlisberger

So its time to rally behind Ben Roethlisberger. Steel Curtain Rising holds nothing against Drew Brees, but the record speaks for itself. Ben Roethlisberger is a better quarterback than Drew Brees.

Make your voice heard. Click on the link below and go to ESPN.com, vote in their poll and let’s correct this mistake.


(If you have trouble loading the page, try refresh a few times.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Steelers Resign Essex and (the other) LB Harrison

The Steelers continue to pay homage to the old adage “dance with the ones the brung you.” The defending Super Bowl Champions announced this week that they had resigned two more of their own players.

They inked reserve tackle/guard Trai Essex to a two year two million dollar contract, and they agreed to terms with reserve veteran Fernando Bryant for one more year.

This comes on the heels of their decision to resign a linebacker named Harrison. No, they are still negotiating with James Harrison, but the have agreed to terms with back up linebacker Arnold Harrison, who spent 2008 on injured reserve.

The Ones that Got Away

The Steelers apparently had interest in signing the only two free agents that they have entertained at their South Side complex. Last week they brought in both Joey Galloway and Chris Carr for workouts, and tendered offers to both of them.

Alas, neither negotiation was successful as Chris Carr signed with the AFC North Division Rival Baltimore Ravens and Galloway signed with Conference Rival New England Patriots.

Analysis of the Moves

As Steel Curtain Rising predicted last month, Trai Essex did not attract a lot of interest in the free agent market, which meant that the Steelers will able to bring him back for a very modestly valued contract.

Trai Essex is never going to be the kind of player the Steelers thought they were getting when the picked him in the third round of the 2005 draft. Nonetheless, Essex has serviceable skills, can play both guard and tackle, and is a solid backup on an offensive line that begs for depth.

Bryant’s resigning is a little of a surprise. He joined the team when Desha Townsend and Bryant McFadden were injured in mid-November, and only played two games. He does give the team a veteran presence, but he did not even suit up since November 20th.

Bryant certainly did not get much if any guaranteed money, and will certainly find himself fighting for a roster spot in Labrobe.

Harrison’s signing is perhaps also a slight surprise. Harrison joined the team in 2005 as an undrafted rookie free agent. He was cut in training camp but spent the year on the team’s practice squad. He returned in 2006 and even started two games in place of injured Joey Porter and was having a strong year on special teams until injuring his knee against Oakland.

He continued to play and make contributions throughout 2007 as a special teams player and reserve linebacker. He was injured in training camp during 2008, and did not play during the regular season. He's got a good track record on special teams, and could develop into an interesting back up at linebacker.

Thanks for visiting. What do you think about the off season? Leave a comment, vote in our polls, check out our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus, or simply browse the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dan Rooney Named Ambassador to Ireland - What Effect Will It Have on the Steelers?

President Barack Obama has nominated Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney to be the US ambassador to Ireland. The nomination was made today as the Patriarch of Steelers Nation and Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen joined the President at the White House for a St. Patrick’s day ceremony.

The move had been anticipated by the Irish Times as early as March the 5th, but the nomination took much of Steelers Nation by surprise as Pittsburgh newspapers made no mention of the possibility until today.

The grandson of an Irish immigrant, Rooney has been active in Irish affairs for decades, founding the America for Ireland fund in the 1970’s. The America for Ireland fund has promoted peaceful resolution of Ireland’s sectarian troubles, and has supported education throughout the Emerald Island.

The Effect on the Steelers

While most of the news has focused on the nomination itself, little has been said about its effect on the Steelers. It’s too early to reach many conclusions, but there is a lot of interesting food for thought.

Rooney Had Better Have His Finances in Order

Nominations for ambassadorships require US Senate approval. Rarely does the Senate reject ambassador nominations (although Bill Wield’s was in 1997) but all nominees do need to go though some sort of scrutiny and vetting to gain.

Normally this would not be more or less a formality, but Rooney is in the middle of trying to conclude the transaction that will see him buy out his brothers Pat and Tim and half of the shares in the Steelers controlled by his brothers John and Art Jr. It’s been reported that Dan Rooney and his son Art II had to take out a loan from PNC Bank topping 300 million dollars. He is also bringing in a number of minority investors.

One needs no degree in finance to know that any deal of this magnitude is going to be complicated. Rooney had make sure his lawyers and accountants have all of the details of the deal in order as Senate scrutiny will bring to light any irregularities that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

How Much of a Role will Dan Rooney Continue to Play in the Management of the Steelers?

Dan Rooney turned over the title of President to his son Art II in 2003. Dan passed the torch just as his father had, no public announcement, just a change in the Steelers annual Media Guide.
At the time it seemed like Dan was planning to phase out his day to day role with the Steelers. And for a while that seemed to be just what was happening. Major announcements, such as the retirement of Myron Cope (if memory serves, if not please correct me) were made by Art II while Dan was off on vacation (apocryphally in Ireland.)

And it was Art II who, in the spring of 2005, declared that it was “time for a Super Bowl.” A little less than two years later, it Art II acted as the team’s point man during the process that saw Bill Cowher begin his coaching hiatus and Mike Tomlin’s selection as his replacement.

Whether by plan, necessity or circumstance, over the past year or so Art II seems to have stepped back in the shadows and Dan has been back in the spotlight.

  • It was Dan Rooney who stood with Pittsburgh Mayor Mark Ravenstall at Mryon Cope’s mid-day memorial Terrible Towel wave
  • Ben Roethlisberger stood with Dan Rooney on the day he signed his new contract
  • Dan Rooney announced the departure of Cedric Wilson and the subsequent decision to keep James Harrison – a move that that got the Steelers Chairman in to trouble as he seemingly excused Harrion’s transgression (he later clarified that he did not condone James Harrison's actions)
  • Throughout the negotiations to restructure the Steelers ownership, Dan Rooney was in the forefront, Art’s name was seldom if ever mentioned

Likewise, at Super Bowl XLIII, it was Dan Rooney who spoke, whereas Art II simply stood off to the side.

Indeed, press reports abounded with descriptions of how Dan is at the Steeler complex everyday, how Dan makes it a point to talk with players in the locker room, take his place behind others in the lunch line, etc…. Those articles made no mention of Art II.

With technology what it is, Rooney is certainly not going to abdicate his role as Chairman of the Steelers. But clearly his day-to-day absence from the Steelers offices in the South Side is clearly this is going to have an effect on the team.

Effect on the League

When news of the Steelers restructuring broke, the NFL made no bones about the fact that they wanted Dan Rooney to retain control of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Part of the reason Dan Rooney’s stabilizing influence on the league.

The NFL is headed for some very complicated negotiations with the players union. Dan Rooney was one of the first owners to realize the importance and recoganize the legitimacy of the players union. Rooney has been a clear and consistent voice admonishing both the owners and the union to work as partners, pushing for fairness in negotiations, and brokering compromises when situations became intractable. The result has been unfettered labor peace for over 20 years, a claim that none of the other major sports can make.

The explosion in the NFL’s revenues and its popularity is directly related to that labor peace.

The league barely avoided a crisis with the union the last time the Collective Bargaining Agreement was renegotiated. While it’s true the Art II played an important role in brokering the deal that ultimately kept the peace, Dan’s influence should not be underestimated.

Even with Rooney on board many pundits were predicting a strike and/or lockout for 2010 or 2011. Does Dan Rooney stepping out of the picture make a work stoppage inevitable?

Steel Curtain Rising will be analyzing the impact that Dan Rooney’s ambassadorship will have on the Pittsburgh Steelers in depth in the coming days. Check back for regular updates. How do you think this will affect the team? Vote in our poll or leave a comment. Please, keep your comments focused on football and football only – politics are strictly off limits.

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.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Steelers to Offer Head Coaching Placement, Recruitment Services to Rest of NFL

The Steelers are getting into the business of selecting NFL head coaches. No, they’re not dismissing recently minted Super Bowl coach Mike Tomlin, nor is Tomlin leaving of his own accord.

Rather, they’ll be offering head coach recruitment and placement services to the other 31 NFL teams.

“It was amazing down in Tampa, we were the envy of the league. Owner after owner came up to us asking ´How do you guys do it….?’” recounted the Steelers heir-apparent. Two years ago the Steelers had to hire a new head coach. The finalists came down to Mike Tomlin, Russ Grimm, Ken Whisenhunt, and Ron Rivera.

Tomlin of course became the youngest man to win a Super Bowl and in the process he defeated Ken Whisenhunt whose top assistant is Russ Grimm. San Diego promoted Ron Rivera to the position of defensive coordinator at mid season, a move that many feel turned around the Charger’s season.

“You know, the first time it happened, I didn’t think much of it, but by the third time a fellow owner came up to me and said ‘hey, do you mind if I pick your brain a little’ I winked to my son, and said, ‘you know, we could make some money off of this,’” recounted Steelers patriarch.

“I thought my dad was just kidding at first, but then I figured, you know, there aren’t too many opportunities for side businesses in the NFL, so why not?” shared the heir apparent.

The move has taken some by surprise, but others find it logical. “You know, the old man and his son took a loan of almost 300 million to buy out the other four Rooney brothers, so they have get the money from somewhere,” indicated an anonymous source.

La Toalla Terrible has not confirmed whether or not rival owners in the AFC North are eligible for this service, nor would the league comment on permissibility of such a service.

La Toalla Terrible takes a lighter, tongue and cheek look at the Steelers. Click here to check out the rest of La Toalla Terrible's writings (rantings?)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Willie Colon, Andre Fraizer to Return to Steelers in 2009

The Steelers signed two more of their own this week.

Starting right tackle Willie Colon signed a one year contract with the Steelers yesterday. Although the Willie Colon was a restricted free agent, the Steelers had extended him a qualifying tender that would have allowed them to match any offer that Colon signed or otherwise receive a first round draft pick had they opted to let him leave.

By signing the tender, Colon can no longer negotiate with other teams. Willie Colon’s contract is worth 2.2 million dollars and change.

Now comes the tricky part for the Steelers. Do they attempt to resign him to a long term deal, or do they allow him to become an unrestricted free agent one year from now?

Andre Fraizer Also Returns

The Steelers also resigned reserve linebacker Andre Fraizer. Fraizer was signed as an unrestricted rookie free agent by the Steelers in 2005, and made some impressive plays by delivering big hits on special teams that year.

He was waived the following year and spent 2006 and the beginning of 2007 with the Bengals. The Steelers wasted no time in bringing him back in 2007 after the Bengals cut him.

Fraizer did not see a lot of action, but he was responsible for the momentum changing punt block against the Redskins on Monday Night Football in early November. Fraizer’s deal is for two years but "only" pays him 1.3 million over the time.

Thanks for visiting. What do you think the Steelers should do? Vote in our poll, leave a comment, follow the news in our Steelers 2009 free agent focus, or simply check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dick LeBeau is High on William Gay

If the Steelers are panicking over the loss of Bryant McFadden, they fail to show it.

Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review got Dick LeBeau on the record about William Gay, and this is what the Steelers defensive coordinator had to say: "I think we've got a good, quality player there who should continue to grow."

Gay played in all sixteen games last year, starting in four of them when McFadden and Desha Townsend were injured. He logged 41 tackles and netted the interception that sealed the Steelers second regular season victory over the Ravens.

The Steelers actions reflect LeBeau's confidence. They will work out a free agent cornerback tomorrow, Tennessee's Chris Carr. But Carr was not a starter in Tennessee, nor is he projected to push for a starting role here.

It would appear that their interest in Carr is as much motivated by Carr's kick return skills as his ability as a cornerback. Carr finished 3rd in the AFC on kick returns and eight in punt returns.

This is logically, as Bob Ligashesky's coverage units improved dramatically in 2008, but the Steelers got little if any spark from their return game, Santonio Holmes' punt return for a touchdown against San Diego in the playoffs not withstanding.

Watch Tower: Pittsburgh Media Mum on Smith Signing

As mentioned here and reported on ESPN and fellow fan site "The Steel Yard" Anthony Smith has signed with the Green Bay Packers.

What is mildly surprising is how little attention the move has gotten from the Pittsburgh media. Neither Pittsburgh daily carried the news on Sunday. Nor was the news the focus of an article or dedicated side bar on Monday, although the Tribune-Review's Scott Brown did mention Smith's departure in an article about Bryant McFadden's signing with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Packers website offically announced Smith's signing Monday, but as of 5:30 pm Eastern time, the Post-Gazette has not passed this bit of information on to its readers, at least not on its website.

Thanks to the world wide web, true diehard fans no longer have to copiously comb the columns of the paper to stay up to date on moves like these, but given the high profile nature of Smith's rise and decline, it is a little surprising that that paper has not seen fit to devote any mega bites to Anthony Smith's departure.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Joey Galloway Visits the Pittsburgh Steelers

Its not often that a free agent with a big name graces the presence of the Steelers complex on the South Side, but it happened today.

Joey Galloway, recently of the Tampa Bay, visited the Pittsburgh today as the Steelers began searching for a potential number three or number four wide reciever.

Galloway was a number one draft choice by the Seattle Seahawks in 1995 and has played for Dallas as well. Perhaps Galloway is one who never quite lived up to his billing, but he did post three consecutive 1000 yard seasons between 2005 and 2007. Two of his year's there also overlapped with Mike Tomlin's, which could explain the mutual interest.

Realistic Chance?

Which begs the question, is there a realistic shot at Joey Galloway becoming a Steeler?

It depends.

He is 37 and is reaching the end of his playing days. Injuries last year limited him to 9 games and only 13 catches. This is not the typical profile of Steelers free agent pick up, yet Galloway also visited the New England Patriots, a team known for finding veterans who just enough left in the tank to make a contribution.

If he is willing to play for at or close to the league minimum, the Steelers would incurr little risk by bringing him on board. The Steelers did something similar back in 2002 when they brought in Terance Mathis as their fourth wide receiver and he caught 23 passes for 218 yards. Those are not impressive numbers at all, but are far better than the seven catches that Limas Sweed and Dallas Baker totaled in 2008 working out of the fourth receiver slot.

There's also no certainly that any concrete talks will emerge from this visit. Last year the Steelers entertained Kyle Brady and Anthony McFarland and nothing materalized with either veteran.

Byrant McFadden Now an Arizona Cardinal

The Steelers lost their third unrestricted free agent of the season, as Bryant McFadden signed a two year ten million dollar to play with the Arizona Cardinals.

McFadden was easily one of the best players left in free agency and it is a little surpirsing that he stayed on the open market so long.

The Steelers did make an attempt to resign McFadden, but it is highly doubtful that the offer they made approached the range of what he got from Arizona.


Well, earlier today, Steel Curtain Rising speculated that there was an outside chance that McFadden would return. That's not going to happen.

The move was not as surprise. And while his loss will hurt the Steelers, one cannot fault them here. McFadden had shown himself to be a capable player during his first three years here, but going into 2008 his play did not warrent a big contract extension. McFadden likewise knew he had little to lose by playing out his final year, and then hitting the open market.

In the final analysis, from a purely cost-benefit perspective, the Steelers are probably better off going with William Gay and Desha Townsend playing opposite Ike Taylor. That said, McFadden will be missed.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Anthony Smith Signs with Packers

Credit the site The Steel Yard with breaking Steelers Nation the news that that Anthony "I guarantee victory" Smith has signed with the Green Bay Packers. OK, ESPN also reported Smith's defection, but thus far neither of Pittsburgh's two major dailies have reported Smith's departure.

Smith was due to become a restricted free agent this year, but the Steelers opted not to give him any quaifying tender, which would have allowed them to match any offer from another team or get compensation should he leave, making him an unrestricted free agent.

From a Rookie Smash to a Sophmore Crash

Smith was drafted in the third round in 2006, and quickly made a name for himself with his big hits. However, he also revealed a tendency to showboat, which drew him the ire of both Bill Cowher and Dick LeBeau.

Nonetheless, going into his sophomore season, Smith was seen as the heir apparent at free safety, while Ryan Clark was viewed as more of a stop gap. Smith failed to wrest the starting spot from Clark during Mike Tomlin's first training camp.

Smith still saw plenty of action in early 2007, and the injury to Ryan Clark against Denver thrust him into the starting line up. In what was perhaps to be an ominous sign, the Steelers defense gave up a 49 yard drive that ended with Jason Elam kicking the willing field goal with Smith standing in for Clark. It would be unfair to place all of the blame for this on Smith, but the Steelers defense ended up giving up 4th quarter leads 3 more times in 2007 after losing Clark.

But Smith's true moment of ignominy came before the Patriot's game, when he brazenly guaranteed victory, only to be torched by Tom Brady twice on deep touchdown passes. Smith quickly found himself on the bench and in Mike Tomlin's dog house.

Practice Hero

Anthony Smith succeeded in grabbing headlines at St. Vincents in 2008, but not in a way the team would like. Smith throttled Hines Ward during practice, a move which relegated him to street clothes for the Steelers for the team's first preseason game against the Eagles.

At the time the Post-Gazette's Gene Collier denounced Smith for "thuggery" a move which prompted Mike Tomlin to defend his embattled free safety.

But actions speak louder than words. Smith played sparingly in 2008, and was inactive for several key games, including the Super Bowl.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

All Quiet on the Steelers Free Agent Front

As free agency entered its second week, the Steelers have been quiet, although perhaps things have gone a little better than expected.

Unexpected was the word last week, as the Steelers rolled the dice by cutting seven year starter Kendall Simmons, which left them with one experienced guard under contact.

The gamble paid off, as Chris Kemoeatu resigned with the Steelers after rejecting a slightly higher offer from the New York Jets.

Nate Washington started the week by becoming the first Steeler defect via free agency, signing a lucrative deal with Tennessee. A lot of people expected Bryant McFadden to quickly follow suit, and he did work out with Arizona. McFadden hasn’t gotten an offer from the Cardinals, and Ed Bouchette reports that some in the NFL find McFadden’s salary demands too high.

This makes sense, as McFadden is quite talented, yet after four years in the NFL he has yet to emerge as a regular NFL starter, although that is not necessarily a reflection on his ability.

The Steelers have opened talks with McFadden’s agent, and might have an outside shot at resigning him, although the odds still strongly favor his leaving for a new team.

Blips from Way, Way, Way Down on the Radar Screen

Diehards note the fact that the Steelers have resigned Martin Nance who was on their 2008 practice squad, although this report is still, cross your fingers, unofficial. Bouchette also reported that they are close to resigning linebacker/special teams standout Keyaron Fox whose return would be welcome.

There was also more news on the effort to resign James Harrison, but that will be the subject of a future post. Stay tuned.

Thanks for visiting. Let us know what you think about the offseason thus far. Vote in our poll, leave a comment, check out our Steelers 2009 free agent focus, or simply surf the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Washington Leaves, McFadden Next?

The Steelers suffered their first free agent defection yesterday, as former number three wide receiver Nate Washington signed a six year 27 million dollar contract with former AFC Central Division rival Tennessee.

Strong suspicion exists that Washington will be followed by Bryant McFadden today, as the team's starting cornerback visited with the Arizona Cardinals yesterday, and is believed to be a candidate for a starting spot there.

Thanks for visting. Check out our Steelers 2009 free agent focus to follow all of the news on Steelers free agents.

Monday, March 2, 2009

How Are Negotiations with Harrison Going? Depends on Who His Agent is Talking To

Click through the pages (or leaf through them if you’re lucky enough) of Pittsburgh’s two newspapers, and you’ll find plenty of coverage of the Steelers attempts to resign James Harrison.

Most of the stories have taken, “sure, it’s a business negotiation, but all of us want to get the deal done and so its all hunky dory” tone. On Wednesday of last week, the Post-Gazette reported that things had hit a snag of sorts, namely that the complexities of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement were making the structuring of the contract difficult.

But all else was well, as indicated by the quote from James Harrison’s agent Bill Parise that Bouchette used to close his article:

"It's very hard," Parise said. "We're trying to do stuff and working hard at it. We're going to get it done but have to be really smart guys."
Contrast that with what Parise told ESPN.

James Walker ran as story on ESPN.com which painted a different picture, beginning with the title of his article “Issue Over Money, Not Length.”

Parise explicitly told ESPN that the two sides were “not close.” One of the quotes they attribute to them is even more attention catching:

"We're talking and meeting pretty regularly, almost daily, but we're having a difficult time getting to where we need to be," Parise said. "I would say talks are progressing but not necessarily yielding the results that we would

Hard to really know what to make of this. It’s not uncommon for media figures to adopt one tone when speaking with the local media and another with the national press, Bill Cowher seemed to do it all the time.

But here Parise is almost saying two completely different things. While this is unlikely to have any real impact on the outcome of negotiations, one would think that he would realize that we are in the age of the internet, and that a fair portion it’s pretty easy to spot such glaring inconsistencies.

Perhaps there’s another explanation for this. If there is, it would be interesting to know.

Thanks for visiting. What is your take on the Steelers this off season? Leave a comment, vote in our poll, check our our Steelers 2009 free agent focus, or check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Just How Valuable Are the Steelers Free Agents?

NFL players are a scarce commodity. Economics 101 tells us that scarcity + high demand leads to high prices.

When free agency began at 12:01 am on Friday the 27th, the Steelers saw no fewer than a eleven unrestricted hit the open market. Most are not expected to return, so that begs the question, just how valuable are these players?

The answer depends upon who responds.

One of the most interesting things in the run up to free agency was the difference in the values that the Pittsburgh press pegged on the Steelers free agents vs. the national media.

In discussing Bryant McFadden, Chris Kemoeatu, and Nate Washington, the Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review regularly attributed the adjectives “top free agent corner/guard/wide receiver,” or phrases like “so-and-so is expected to be the first to go.”

These men are good players who will rake in a lot of money and the Steelers will miss McFadden and Washington.

But the rest of the national media does not hold these Steelers in as high regard as their colleagues in the Pittsburgh press do.

Peter Schrager of Fox Sports wrote a lengthy column rating free agents at every position. He broke players down into three major categories: Big Money Guy, The Bargain Bin, the Wild Card, and one minor one, Other intriguing names.

The Steelers only had one player land in one of Schrager’s top three categories. He put Byron Leftwich into the Bargain Bin, which is on the mark. The only other Steelers to make Schrager’s list were Marvel Smith and Nate Washington, who both were “Other intriguing names” at their respective positions.

Washington is easy to understand, but Smith an intriguing name at his age and with his injury history?

Byrant McFadden’s name was no where to be found, which must be considered some what of a surprise.

Regardless, its interesting to note that 72 hours into free agency, neither McFadden nor Washington has a new team. That will almost certainly change before the end of the week, but the disparity of the Pittsburgh media’s evaluation of Steelers free agents and that of the national media is interesting.

It brings back memories of 1999, when Richard Huntely signed a contract extension with the Steelers. The exact numbers of his deal have faded from memory, but they were nothing extraordinary. The Pittsburgh media was in awe of the contract, in spite of the fact that it only amounted to backup money – generous back up money, but back up money nonetheless.

Pittsburgh Sports Media Gets Blindsided by Simmons’ Departure

Speaking of surprises, Steelers Nation was not expecting Steelers to cut Kendall Simmons. And that’s because this move was totally unanticipated by the Pittsburgh press corps.

In particular, Ed Bouchette was asked time and time again during the season in his weekly chat sessions about the Steelers plans for Chris Kemoeatu. Bouchette’s reply was that the Steelers would most likely let him go and plan to start Stapleton and Simmons at guard in ’09.

To be fair, Bouchette reported several times over the last week that the Steelers were in serious talks with Kemoeatu, but never he suggest that Simmons would get the axe.

Taking Our Own Medicine, Again

A site that revels in pointing out the faults and inconsistencies of the professional journalists in Pittsburgh must own up to its own short comings.

Steel Curtain Rising ran a post the morning after the Steelers cut Simmons. In that post we stated that he’d been drafted in 2003. In fact, he was drafted in 2002. We’ve corrected the mistake, but it is nonetheless important to fess up.