´ Steel Curtain Rising: Could the Steelers Follow the Example of the Washington Redshirts?

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Could the Steelers Follow the Example of the Washington Redshirts?

Cut down day has arrived. The Steelers formally let go of their first ten yesterday, and rumors circulate that Justin Hartwig and Frank Summers are also on their way out.

That leaves 8 more cuts, none of them easy.

These are all tough calls, literally touching on every position area, save for tight end (although why they continue to keep Matt Speath, whom they don’t throw to despite the fact that he can catch but cannot block continues to befuddle.)

Steelers preseason is not shown in Buenos Aires, as you might expect, so I can offer little in the way of opinion on who should stay and who should go.

But might there be an easier way?

There, in fact is, although it is highly unlikely the Steelers would follow it.

Remembering the Washington Redshirts

The late Jack Kent Cooke, former owner of the Washington Redskins, wanted a winner, and he did not care how much it cost. In an age preceeding both the salary cap and free agency, Cooke spent like no other.

The primary beneficiaries were back ups, who in some cases made as much as starters in other cities.

Rookies also benefited too.

Back in the 1980’s you could put players on injured reserve and reactivate them. If you did it before the season, they were out six weeks. Otherwise, they were out for four.

Every year before cut down day the Redskins would stash a host of players on IR, mostly promising young rookies, who just weren’t quite ready to play.

This was against league policy, but the Redskins had it down to a science.

They’d cut a half dozen or so expensive veterans to get to the roster limit. At the time, a team picking a player up off of waivers had to honor the player’s previous contract. Since Cooke paid these men so well, there were generally few takers.

Once these players cleared waivers, the Redskins would then put the rookies on IR and resign the veterans.

The rest of the league took notice. I can distinctly remember one commentator on ESPN referring to them as the Washington Redshirts.

An SI article by Peter King from the early 1990’s described how some players were asked to “take dives” during practice, so that they could appear on the injury report, and then be put on IR. The article was about abuse of the injured reserve policy in general, but most of King's examples focused on the Redskins.

The most famous beneficiaries of Washington’s policy were Mark Rypien and Stan Humphries, but loads of future starters, backups, and role players for the Redskins got a “redshirt year.”

The NFL, took incremental action until it got to the point where we are today, a player who goes on IR was out for the year. They also created the practice squads, to give teams a place to develop young, but unready, talent.

Would the Steelers Follow Suit...?

The quandary that the Steelers face is that at a number of positions, the Steelers have to choose between two young players who, while unproven, have a lot of potential.

Stashing a couple of them on IR seems like the ideal solution, particularly during this uncapped year.

But it is also highly unlikely that the Steelers will do that. One of the reasons why Hartwig is likely to be gone is his salary. The Steelers do not pay people to sit at home.

And it is also breaking the rules and, while the Steelers are not as saintly as the image that most of us (myself included) like to perpetuate, they certainly do run one of the cleaner shops in the NFL.

By the end of the today, the Steelers will have had to make difficult choices between Frank “The Tank” Summers and Jonathan Dwyer, Joe Burnette and Anthony Madison, Antonio Brown and Stefan Logan, Sunny Harris, Doug Worthington, and Nick Eason.

And that is the way it should be. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin get paid good money to make those tough choices.

And while they do make mistakes, (Ryan McBean couldn’t get a wiff of playing time in Pittsburgh and is now a starter in Denver), they usually get it right.

So keep the faith, and at 6:00 pm let’s get ready to welcome the members of the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers.

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