´ Steel Curtain Rising: May 2009

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

Monday, May 18, 2009

Perfect Picture: Noll, Cowher, Tomlin – 3 Men, Six Trophies

This Thursday, the Steelers will travel to the White House for their Super Bowl Champion photo op. Getting your picture taken at the White House is a tremendous honor.

But, for all of the pomp and cirumstance, there is a different picture that the Steelers should be intent on taking this off season.

Immediately after Super Bowl XLIII Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert declared that the Sixth Super Bowl transformed the Steelers legacy.

No longer was it four Super Bowls for the Steelers of the Seventies and one Super Bowl for the Cowher era, but six for the entire organization.

Colbert was right.

The Steelers sixth Lombardi Trophy elevates the Steelers to a unique plane. They were the first to get three, the first to get four, only one of three to get five, and now they’re the only ones with six.

It is fitting then that the franchise honor the three men most responsible for this accomplishment.

Dan Rooney must bring Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin together with the six Lombardi Trophies, and record the moment on film.

Limited Window of Opportunity?

Under normal circumstances, one would reasonably expect that the Steelers would shoot such a photo in the due course of things.

But perhaps circumstances are not completely normal.

Chuck Noll is 76 going on 77 and troubled by back problems. Press reports inform that his health in general is so-so at best. He was unable to attend either Super Bowl XL or XLIII, even though the latter was played close to his winter home in Florida. A Cleveland Plain-Dealer article on him at Christmas reported that he does manage to get to the golf course on good days, but those days come less frequently now.

Bill Cowher is doing well and thriving in his respite from coaching. But there’s the rub. This is only a respite, or so we assume. Cowher's youngest daughter will graduate and go to college next year, potentially freeing him to return to the sidelines.

While there is nothing to prevent him from taking a snap shot with the Steelers after he is under the employ of another team, but it might be a little awkward.

The frequency with Cowher returns to Pittsburgh to visit his family is unknown, but one would figure that he would make fewer visits if he is coaching elsewhere.

But right now, that’s not an issue.

Noll reportedly still spends a few months in Pittsburgh, and one would figure that would be when he wants to escape the Florida heat.

There’s one man who can bring all three men together with a simple phone call. That man is Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, and he’s about to ship off to Ireland.

Time for Steelers Nation to Act

Steelers Nation must act.

Perhaps the Steelers are already planning such a photo shoot, but a quick search of Google images yields nothing.

So Steel Curtain Rising calls on Steelers fans across the world to act.

  • Email the Steelers – their website gives this address. steelersfeedback@yahoo.com Although it’s only supposed to be to report site issues if fans start inundating them with the same message, it will catch management’s attention
  • Email the Steelers Digest. The Digest is the Steelers in-house publication, and is published out of Steeler headquarters. Again, if fans flood the editor’s in box, people will take note. Here is the address: steelers_digest@yahoo.com
  • Old Fashioned pen and ink. Ironically, letters can sometimes be an effective way to catch attention here in the digital age. The Steelers address is:

    Pittsburgh Steelers
    UPMC Sports Performance Complex
    3400 South Water Street
    Pittsburgh, PA 15203

Harness the Power of the Internet -- Let People Know

Finally, we also call on fellow members of the Steelers fan website/blogging community to help us get the word out by posting similar messages on their websites, blogs, and message boards.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Steelers and Free Agency, How Times Have Changed

Last Friday Ed Bouchette wrote a very interesting article on how, unlike Larry Foote, most Steelers want to stay in Pittsburgh.

Bouchette’s on to something. Chris Kemoeatu took less money to stay with the Steelers. James Harrison was course to hit the open market in an uncapped year, but he pushed to stay. James Farrior could have played out the final year of his deal and cashed in, he opted to resign.

It wasn’t always like this, as a brief stroll down memory lane reveals.

“…I want to stay in Pittsburgh, but really, it’s not up to me….”

During the 1990’s Steelers Nation heard some variant of the above quote from soon-to-be free agents and free agents alike. (If memory serves, Yancy Thigpen was the one who actually said, “I want to stay in Pittsburgh, but really, it’s not up to me.”)

While the Rooneys took a lot of flack for letting so many free agents get away, the truth is they were pioneers in managing free agency and the salary cap. They excelled at identifying the players essential to winning, and signing them long before they reached free agency. Dermonti Dawson, Greg Lloyd, Barry Foster, and Rod Woodson were among the heavy hitters who Steelers management kept off of the open market.

This didn’t keep the fans, or the press, from focusing on the ones that got away.

Starting in 1993, the Steelers refused to negotiate contracts during the regular season. Players knew that this meant that if they didn’t get a deal before opening day, they were as good as gone.

That was Carnell Lake’s interpretation, and after he left he openly talked of playing 1998 with a sort of bitter resignation it would be his last in Pittsburgh.

Lake’s sentiment is understandable. To a point.

In many cases players’ memories suddenly got short when they hit free agency. Dan Rooney himself admits that they made a mistake in letting Rod Woodson get away. Not only was it a mistake, but the way in which they let him go was a mistake.

Woodson wasn’t happy about it, but he also seemed to forget that the summer prior to his final season the Steelers had offered him a much more lucrative deal than he ended up getting from San Francisco as a free agent.

Neil O’Donnell was of course the most egregious case, openly stating something along the lines that he would “take less money to stay in Pittsburgh before going to a bad team.” That was October 1995. In February 2006 O’Donnell turned down a competitive offer from the defending AFC Champion Steelers to go to the 1-15 Jets... He never started a full season again.

Why the Change?

The biggest reason for the change is Heinz Field, which gave the Steelers revenues to better compete in the free agent market. But the departure of Tom Donahue also had something to do with it. Donahue deserves equal credit with Bill Cowher and Dan Rooney for keeping the Steelers competitive during the early years of free agency.

But Donahue’s attitude towards departing free agents was not always helpful. Shortly after leaving the Steelers, Kevin Greene, Rod Woodson, and Eric Green found themselves on the free agent market again, and each expressed a desire to come back. Donahue was dismissive, going as far to say “we’re not in the salvation army.”

Kevin Greene played several more productive years in Carolina, and Rod Woodson could have really helped the Steelers in the late 1990's and early part of this decade.

Kevin Colbert, in contrast, has a much more practical view that accepts that players who leave are making business decisions. He has also welcomed back former players such as Myron Bell, Ainsley Battles, and Tom Myslinski.

It is impossible to measure the impact of this change in philosophy, but it certainly seems to have helped the team navigate free agency.

Watch Tower: A Couple of Slip Ups

Bouchette’s article also contained a couple of minor inaccuracies. He compared Larry Foote’s situation to Adrian Cooper, who played tight end behind Eric Green in the early 1990’s, saying that the Steelers traded him to Minnesota because he was unhappy with his salary.

While that’s technically true, Cooper’s comments in the aftermath of the Steelers playoff loss to Joe Montana’s Kansas City Chiefs supplied the Steelers prime motive for dealing him. When questioned about what had been a sub-par season, Cooper claimed that if his salary had been higher, his performance would have been better.

Upon hearing that Tom Donahue is reported to have said, “if that is true then he has just played his final game as a Pittsburgh Steeler.”

The other issue revolves around Greg Lloyd. Bouchette lumped him in with free agents who wanted to stay but were forced to go. Again, it is true that Lloyd wanted to stay, but the Steelers let him go when he still had 2 years left on his contract.

Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower takes a critical look at those who cover the Steelers. Click here to read more Watch Tower entries.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Final Comment on Larry Foote and Gary Russell

There’s been plenty of talk about Larry Foote and Gary Russell on this site, but there are two more items of interest before putting the story to bed.

No Ill Will Toward Larry But….

It is hard to wish someone who has been such a reliable player and upstanding citizen ill will, and I certainly do not desire that for Larry Foote.

But his comments about feeling “limited” by the Steelers prior to Lawrence Timmons arrival leave a little bit of a bitter aftertaste.

Larry Foote is a good player, a very good player. But has he done anything to elevate himself to the elite level of linebacking that is at the core of the Steelers defensive identity?

James Harrison has. As has James Farrior. LaMarr Woodley is giving plenty of signs he’s headed in that direction too. Joey Porter was there, as were linebackers like Levon Kirkland and Greg Lloyd before them.

I dare say no.

Foote won two Super Bowls with Pittsburgh. He has now forced his way out of the only franchise to win six Super Bowls to sign with the only team to go 0-16.

He has certainly found a place with plenty of room to grow.

Give the man credit. He signed a one year deal with an eye toward proving himself and cashing in. He is putting his money where his mouth is.

Gary Russell Redux

Ed Bouchette made a very interesting comment in his recent chat. Someone asked him if Russell would still be with the team had the Steelers chosen to move Foote earlier.

Bouchette characerized the Steelers justification that Russell had to go to clear up cap room to resign Charlie Batch was a “smoke screen.”

In his previous chat Bouchette stuck by his reporting that Russell had been cut for cap reasons, but when pressed by Steel Curtain Rising, Bouchette admitted that he only “sort of” bought the explanation.

Rumors have abounded to explain the Steelers motive for letting Russell go. All are unsubstantiated so they will not be repeated here, but suffice to say, it looks like those who thought there was something else to the story were probably correct.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Steelers Cut Larry Foote

As anticipated, the Steelers cut inside starting linebacker Larry Foote today. Foote joined the team as a 4th round draft pick out of Michigan in 2002, becoming a full time starter 2004.

Foote has started every regular season and playoff game since 2004, yet his departure is no surprise.

The emergence of 2007 first round pick Lawrence Timmons made it all but certain that Foote was headed to the bench. That, coupled with his nearly 3 million dollar salary at a time when Pittsburgh is desperate for cap space, made Foote expendable.

Mike Tomlin nonetheless wanted Foote back, and that’s where the story took an interesting twist. Recently, Foote not only made it clear that he wants to be where he can start, but he also complained that he’d felt limited in Pittsburgh before Timmons arrival.

The Steelers unsuccessfully attempted to trade him during and after the 2009 NFL draft. Finding no takers, they let him go.

Why No Trade for Foote?

Is it surprising that Pittsburgh could not trade Foote? Consider that at the tail end of the 2008 off season the Steelers dealt reserve offensive lineman Sean Mahan for a seventh round pick.

Tampa Bay was familiar with Mahan, but he did not start a single game.

One figures that Foote should start wherever he goes. So why couldn’t they trade him?

Despite the apparent incongruence of the two situations, the reason why the Steelers couldn’t trade Foote is simple. Most teams expected them to cut him, so few had any incentive to make a deal. (That’s my take, if anyone has other insight, give a holler.)

Bouchette’s Bragging Rights

This also goes to show those (such as this site) who question the potency of Ed Bouchette’s sources.

Last week Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower detailed how Ed Bouchette and Scott Brown’s sources seemingly were leading them to different conclusions on the Larry Foote story. Bouchette reported that Foote would be cut today, Brown indicated that Mike Tomlin might keep him around.

Bouchette knocked this one out of the park. Hat’s off to the dean of the Steelers press corps.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Steelers Sign Undrafted Rookie Free Agents

The Steelers filled out their roster this week with undrafted rookie free agents as well as a few veterans with NFL experience. Will the next Super Bowl superstar please step foward?

The signing of undrafted rookie free agents is normally not a high profile affair in the NFL, but current Steelers stars such as James Harrison and Willie Parker joined the team as undrafted rookie free agents. Darnell Stapelton, who started for most of the season at right guard, was also undrafted.

In total, three wide receivers, two linebackers, two defensive lineman, two quarterbacks, one running back, one safety, one tackle and one long snapper will get a shot at making the team. Steelers rookie free-agent signings:

Player, Pos. — Ht./Wt. — School

Steven Black, Wide Receiver — 6-2/202 — Memphis
Cedric Goodman, Wide Receiver — 6-2/189 — Georgia
Tyler Grisham, Wide Receiver — 5-10/184 — Clemson

Tom Korte, Linebacker — 6-0/239 — Hillside (Mich.)
Andrew Schantz, Linebacker — 6-1/234 — Portland State

Steve McLendon, Defensive tackle — 6-3/305 — Troy
Jeff Bradley, Defensive tackle — 6-3/280 — Western Carolina

Kevin McCabe, Quarterback — 6-2/209 — California (Pa.)
Mike Reilly, Quarterback — 6-3/214 — Central Washington State

Isaac Redman, Running back — 5-10/228 — Bowie State (Maryland)
Derrick Richardson, Safety — 5-11/201 — New Mexico State
Ramon Foster, Offensive Tackle — 6-5/328 — Tennessee
Mark Estermeyer, Long Snapper — 6-1/251 — Pitt

Veteran “Street” Free Agents

The Steelers also picked up a few men who have NFL experience.They are former Detroit Lion’s wide receiver Shaun McDonald, and cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, who most recently played for the Indianapolis Colts. They also inked veteran punter Dirk Johnson, wide receiver/kick returner Jayson Foster and kicker Piotr Czech.

Of thise, McDonald is the most interesting pick up, as he caught 69 passes for the Lions in 2007 and another 35 last year. McDonald is 28, and he also has some experience returning kicks.