´ Steel Curtain Rising: March 2012

Screwed by Bloggers Polling, Again

Folks, it looks like Blogger's polling has decided to stop working. We had a good poll on the Steelers draft which suddenly got dropped to zero.

Guess you get what you pay for on these free platforms. Thanks to all those who voted.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Watch Tower: Does Mike Wallace Have an Attitude Problem?

NFL free agency is in full swing, but aside from the depature of William Gay, activity on the South Side has been all but nill.

Nonetheless, the Watch Tower has found fodder to shine its light on.

Mike Wallace has an Attitude Problem?

Everyone knows that Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace’s meteoric rise crashed into a brick wall in the middle of the 2011 season. In Pittsburgh parlance, Wallace slipped from looking like a combination of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth to doing more than a fair Will Blackwell imitation.

Explanations for “why” have ranged anywhere from the law of averages to the difficulties of double teams. Mike Tomlin himself offered the later at recent NFL meetings.

However, in explaining his prediction that Wallace would end up signing his one-year tender and stay with the Steelers for 2012 Ed Bouchette offered this expected gem:
Wallace must prove that what happened to him in the second half of the 2011 season was not a fluke, that the change in his attitude was temporary and out of frustration and that he will remain the big star of this receiving corps and not Antonio Brown. [Emphasis added.]
To date, this is the first time a reporter with sources has attributed the drop in Wallace’s play was due to his attitude. Bouchette of course offered no sources, and that’s to be expected, it is highly unlikely that a member of the Steelers organization would question Wallace’s attitude on the record without making major news.

About the only other mainstream print/digital figure to question Wallace was Peter King, who in his Monday Morning Quaterback Column which followed the Steelers Thursday night game vs. the Browns listed Wallace in his “Ten Things I Think I Think:”
a. Mike Wallace's effort, or lack thereof, blocking on plays he's not involved in.
The Steelers insist that they’re still trying to come to terms with Wallace for a long term deal – Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review confirmed this in an exclusive interview with Art Rooney II, but the attitude issue is one that bears watching.

Bragging Rights for Fox Sports

As we all know, Hines Ward decided to call it a career and retire as a Pittsburgh Steeler. This news came as some what of a surprise, and FOX Sports deserves credit for breaking it.

In fact, Fox broke the news on their website (which yours truly discovered via Yahoo!) and confirmation of Ward’s retirement was no where to be found on the Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review, ESPN.com, or Sports Illustrated’s websites.

Its indeed possible or rather probable that reporters from these publications were tweeting the news when FOX had the news on their site, but Fox still beat its competitors by a mile on a very big announcement.

Mike Tolbert Headed to Steelers – NOT

For a very short time Mike Tolbert’s impending landing in Pittsburgh was all the rage. The only problem with that story was that it had zero basis in fact.

The rumors were a complete fabrication, most likely purveyed by Tolbert’s agent. Such false stories have become a stable of the pro football news landscape, as detailed by Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong. Coolong’s analysis was, I dare say, Watch Towerish in nature.

Confusion Over the Cap

Whether the Steelers can sign any new free agents and/or come to terms with Mike Wallace or retain their other players in large measure depends on how much salary cap space they have available.

Neither the NFL nor the NFLPA publish official salary cap numbers, so fans are dependant on the media for that information.

Fans hoping to know what the Steelers salary cap situation is are out of luck, unfortunately.

Before Casey Hampton’s salary reduction (which only Gerry Dulac insisted on calling a renegotiation) the Steelers either had a million to a million and a half in salary cap space, or 3 or 4 million.

Following Hampton’s decision to “take one for the team” Scottt Brown reported that the Steelers were “6 to 8 million” under the cap while Gerry Dulac reported that the deal left the Steelers with “4.5 to 5 million” in cap space.

Those are significant differences. Fans of course don’t “need” to know what the Steelers salary cap situation is, but if Brown is closer, in fact, to the correct number, then the Steelers have some room to maneuver. If Dulac is right however, they’ll almost certainly need to shed more salary between now and training camp.

Tomlin, Haley, and Arians

No wrap up of the Watch Tower would be complete without a word on Arianshaleygate.

Mike Tomlin spoke for the first time publically about the dismissal of Bruce Arains and the decision to hire Todd Haley. Tomlin claimed not only that the Haley decision was his (which more or less is the conventional wisdom) but also that the Haley decision was also his call – completely.

Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com wasted little time in calling out Tomlin on this one, exposing some of the contradictions between Tomlin’s recent words and other statements attributed to him throughout this process.

Ed Bouchette also got into the act, taking a more nuanced approach which, while stopping short of letting Tomlin completely off the hook, did offer an intepreation of how Tomlin might have been truthful throughout.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

William Gay Signs with Pittsburgh West aka Arizona

Steelers Digest Twitter feed is reporting that William Gay is tweeting that he has agreed to terms with the Arizona Cardinals, aka, Pittsburgh West.

Other sources were close to report the news, as even Gay's Twitter feed does not appear to back this up as of 12:30 pm eastern time.

However, by 12:52 eastern time Scott Brown of the Tribune Review was confirming the move.

Former Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton is now the Cardinals defensive coordiantor. In another ironic twist to the story, the Steelers let Bryant McFadden go to Arizona in 2009 largely due to William Gay's emergence.

Gay struggled in 2009 as a full time starter, prompting the Steelers to bring McFadden back via trade during the 2010 NFL draft. William Gay's performance improved tremendously under the eye of Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake, but so did that of Keenan Lewis, thus making Gay expendable.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Remembering Ron Erhardt's Tenure as Steelers Offensive Coordinator, 1992-1995

Most people forget the Buffalo Bills were heavy favorites to win Super Bowl XXV. Reality turned out to be different.

People remember Scott Norwood’s last second missed field goal. They recall how Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick's defense disrupted the K-Gun offense that was supposed to end a decade of NFC Super Bowl dominance.

  • But the game’s real story was New York's offensive game plan.

The Giants came out with 3 tight ends and handed off to 33 year old O.J. Anderson. Anderson could only grind out 3 yards and change a carry, but New York fed him the ball anyway and dared Buffalo to stop them.

The Bills couldn't.

Like a Burmese python, the Giants smothered the oxygen out of the game, leaving none for the Bills vaunted offense to take flight. New York possessed the ball for an unheard of 40 minutes, including 22 in the second half.

  • Smash Mouth Football had perhaps never reached a higher pinnacle than Super Bowl XXV.

After the game Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola penned a column praising the Giants for the upset. He then broke down the Giants offensive roster along side the Steelers roster, arguing that the Steelers were at least equal to the Giants.

The 1990 Steelers had followed up on their storybook 1989 season with a disastrous trek up Walton’s Mountain. Joe Walton’s offense relied on finesse and gimmicks and stood as a stark contrast to New York’s physical, bruising style.

For another year, Labriola’s column was nothing more than a trivial, but poignant reminder of what Chuck Noll’s final years might have been.

When Chuck Noll decided to hang it up in 1991, Labriola’s speculations became a lot less trivial.

That’s because Bill Cowher selected Ron Earhart, the architect of the ’90 Giants Super Bowl offense, to be his first offensive coordinator.

Sadly, Ron Earhart passed away at age 80 in Boca Raton, Florida, and Steel Curtain Rising now mourns his loss and celebrates his memory.

Throw to Score, Run to Win

Unlike his predecessor Tom Moore and his successors Ken Wisenhunt and, yes, Bruce Arians, Moore can stake no claim to a piece of the Steelers Six Lombardis.

But he nonetheless made an important contribution to Steelers football, which deserves to be recognized and celebrated.

  • Erhardt’s off quoted philosophy was simple: “Throw to Score, Run to Win.”

In other words, get a lead and take the air out of the ball.

To fans who feel that the Steelers went pass happy under Bruce Arians, a few video tapes from the Erhardt Era should serve as the perfect antidote.

Erhardt, in a word, liked to run the ball. During his tenure in Pittsburgh, Ron Erhardt’s offense never dipped below 5th in rushing attempts, and was number 1 in rushing yards in 1994 and 4th and 6th in 1992 and 1993 respectively.

  • Earhart allowed for zero ambiguity about the Steelers identity, they were a physical, Smash Mouth Football, power rushing team.

He also simplified the offense greatly. Joe Walton’s playbook had hundreds of plays and dozens of formations and a scheme for every situation – and he’d call any one of them in the heat of a game, whether the Steelers had practice it or not.

In contrast, as reported by Ed Bouchette in the Dawn of a New Steel Age, Erhardt based his offense on a “dirty dozen” plays which he hammered into his team in practice.

Erhardt wasn’t perfect. Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense had befuddled Erhardt when the two faced off in the NFC East, and the ’93 Houston Oilers defense manhandled Erhardt’s offense not once but twice that season.

And when Barry Foster went down for the season in mid-1993, Erhardt failed to fully exploit the rushing talents of Merril Hoge. To wit, after Foster’s injury the Steelers won the games where Hoge got significant carries and lost those where he remain an afterthought.

Bill Cowher fired wide receivers coach Bob Harrison after the 1993 season, replacing him with Chan Gailey. Under Gailey’s influence the Steeler’s offense opened up, including the increased use of 4 wide receiver sets in the later half of 1994 and 5 wide receivers in 1995.

As recently reported by Ed Bouchette in PG Plus, the Steelers had agreed to allow Erhardt to coach out the final year of his contract in 1995 and then make way for Gailey. Erhardt had a change of heart and wanted to stay, but Cowher declined to renew his contract, promoting Chan Gailey to offensive coordinator instead.

Erhardt coached the New York Jets offense for Rich Kotite in 1996 before retiring.

Ron Erhardt wasn’t one of the “great” offensive minds to serve in Pittsburgh, but he did inject physicality back into Steelers football at a time when it was needed. Steel Curtain Risings thoughts and prayers go out to Ron Erhardt’s family.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hines Ward Retires as a Steeler

This is the way it should be.

  • A special player playing his entire career for a special organization, going out with a special moment.

Merely weeks after vowing that his career was not over, Hines Ward decided to retire as a Pittsburgh Steeler. He announced his decision in a tear-filled press conference at the team’s South Side complex, with Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, James Harrison, and Jerome Bettis in attendance.

Ward was emphatic that he felt he could still play, and said the competitive desire still burned in him. But, reflecting on his legion accomplishments with the team, Ward truthfully said, “I don’t have prove anything to no one.”

At the end of the day it was his love for the Steelers and his love for Steelers Nation that moved Ward to hang it up now, tearfully declaring:

Today I came back to Pittsburgh to grant Steelers Nation its one last request.

Today, I am officially retiring as a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Ward read a prepared statement, beginning by warning James Harrison that no he would not cry. Ward’s pledge lasted all of two minutes.

As a testament to his character, Ward went out of his way not only to thank his coaches and the Rooneys, but also the team’s training and front office staff – members of the organization who are invisible to the average fan, but just as vital to the team’s ability to win games.

  • The poise and class evident in Ward during his farewell press conference revealed just how strong of a locker room leader Ward is and how deeply he’ll be missed.

But even there, Ward offered words of wisdom, praising predecessors, talking about how guys like Dermonti Dawson, Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland, Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart for teaching him how to practice and how to win.

His message was clear: Ward learned from the men who understood what it meant to wear the Steelers uniform and he’s done everything in his power to continue the tradition.

14 years ago the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Hines Ward using their second third round pick in the 1998 NFL draft, making Ward the 92nd player chosen overall. 10 other receivers, including Randy Moss, came off the board before Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher called Ward’s name.

  • Only a fool would take any one of the before taking Ward were a redraft to be held today.

Since that moment, Ward built an impressive resume:

  • Playing in 217 games, starting 190 of them where he caught 1,000 passes for 12,083 yards scoring 85 touchdowns
  • Rushing for 428 yards and scored another touchdown,
  • Making 42 special teams tackles during his first three seasons
  • Delivering bone crunching blocks, which became so fearsome that he forced rule changes
  • Winning MVP Honors in Super Bowl XL
  • Leading the team to Super Bowls XL and Super Bowl XLIII victories

Those are Hall of Fame numbers, period.

But as Ward himself said, “Its not about stats.” And in his 14 years Ward did something both far more impressive and far more important that stats can never measure.

Hines Ward contributed to and helped define the very essence of what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Hines Ward knows that and understands what that means explaining:

As much as I will miss football, my teammates, coaches and everything about the game, I don’t want to play it in any other uniform. The Black and Gold runs deep in me, and now I will remain a Steeler for life.
Hines Ward has not only earned the right to call himself a Steeler for life, he retries and one of the men who has helped establish that as something truly special.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Steelers Free Agent Focus 2012: Mike Wallace

What is Mike Wallace really worth?

That is a very difficult question to answer and Steelers future as a Super Bowl contender might hinge on Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s having gotten the answer correct.

Wallace was an undeniable bright spot in an otherwise difficult 2009 campaign. As a mere third round pick, his play surpassed all expectations, so much that the decision to part ways with Santonio Holmes became a no-brainer.

During 2010, Wallace showed that he was more than up to the task of being an NFL wide receiver – during the regular season, as he caught 60 passes for an eye-popping 21 yards per catch average. His ten touchdowns were only two shy of the team record.

During the playoffs Wallace told a different tale. 26 catches in 3 post-seasons games is perfectly fine, but his 8.8 yards receiving were more of what you’d expect from a running back.

Wallace began the 2011 season on fire, literally.

  • He extended his regular season streak of 100 yard receiving games to 6
  • Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace 40 yard plus hook ups, were a stable of the Steelers offense
  • Wallace now holds the record for the longest scoring and passing play in Steelers history

But Wallace’s play tapered of precipitously as the season wore on. He didn’t score a touchdown in the final six games. Worse yet, he more often seemed to sit and watch as DB’s made plays on under thrown balls.

(In private emails, Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain has argued that Wallace lacks the size and physique to out muscle DB’s in those situations. Fair enough – but should he at least try?)

His slump continued in the post season, becoming more renown for his drop on what could have been a 52 yard game-changing play vs. Denver, than anything else.

A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma

Mike Wallace remains a riddle wrapped in an Enigma, to steal a Winston Churchill cliché.

And what a tantalizing enigma Mike Wallace is.

As Bill Barnwell of the website Grantland.com points out, only Anquan Boldin has accrued more years in than Mike Wallace in the three years he’s been in the league.

Barnwell indicates that the Steelers total number of possessions has been low during Wallace’s tenure and Ben Roethlisberger has been suspended, out or injured for many of Wallace’s games. He argues that if you control for those factors, Wallace’s numbers take on stratospheric proportions.

Barnwell’s number crunching is mouth watering.

But it also betrays the fantasy-league mentality that is rarely relevant towards what counts in the NFL -- winning championships.

Mike Wallace does still have a real upside. And even if he fails to realize it, he is still one of the few NFL players who can take it to the house on any given play.

That alone makes him an asset to any offense.

But that alone doesn’t negate the reality that Wallace still has real holes in his game. Holes significant enough to lend one to believe that he’ll never blossom into a Larry Fitzgerald type receiver.

That’s why the Steelers decision to place a first round tender on Wallace and let him test the market is the right move. More than any other position, the Steelers have shied away from throwing big money at a wide receiver, as pointed out by Ed Bouchette in the Post-Gazette.

With Hines Ward’s time in Pittsburgh over, the Steelers will likely have to make that long-term commitment to either Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown very soon.

They’ve likely given themselves the chance to do that on their own terms and, if not, they’ll have extra first round pick which they can use to draft another wide receiver.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2012 Free Agent Focus.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Casey Hampton Accepts a Pay Cut

The Pittsburgh Steelers made their first big move in free agency and, true to form, the move was wholly contained within the South Side.

Starting right nose tackle Casey Hampton, still recovering from an ACL injury suffered in the Steelers playoff loss to Denver, has agreed to accept a pay cut.

Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette described the move as a “restructuring” while Dale Lolley of From the NFL Sidelines and Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review described the move as a cut.

According to Brown, Hampton agreed to take a 2 million dollar salary reduction and forgo a 1 million dollar roster bonus.

Brown also reports that this move brings the Steelers to 6 to 8 million below the cap – this number is significant, because previous reports had pegged the Steelers at 1.5 million to 2 million below the cap.

Either way the additional cap space is welcome. The move could allow the Steelers to seal Mike Wallace to a long term deal; it could likewise free up money for Jericho Cotchery, William Gay, or a free agent from another team.

Home Town Discount, or Homegrown Prudence?

Casey Hampton’s had been rumored to be the next cap casualty and/or a candidate for a salary cut. The fact that Hampton agreed to play for less is slightly surprising, given that he is in the final year of what is likely his final NFL contract.

However, he will be 35 when the season starts and is recovering from a serious knee. On top of that, the Steelers run defense had a below par year in 2011 – for Pittsburgh – and while it would be grossly unfair to finger Hampton for all of this, the nose tackle is the fulcrum on which the success of the 3-4 defense rises and falls.

Kevin Colbert had indicated that he wanted and expected Hampton back during the NFL scouting combine, but rumors of Hampton’s expendability nonetheless persisted.

By agreeing to a pay cut, Hampton all but ensured that he will be drawing a pay check for the 2012 NFL season, and pocketing a extra million in change beats making nothing.

For their part, the Steelers also avoided putting themselves in a position where the would HAVE to draft a nose tackle in the top 2 or 3 rounds. (With that said, the Steelers must get serious about finding and grooming Hampton’s successor.)

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2012 Free Agent Focus.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Steelers Gamble to Gain Flexibility in the Free Agent Market

The Steelers placed their tenders to Mike Wallace and other restricted free agents today, and in doing so they gave themselves some breathing room, while also opening themselves to come considerable risks.

The Steelers offered Mike Wallace a first round tender, in a move that was widely expected. The move ensures that the Steelers would get a first round pick should anyone sign Wallace – the Steelers would likewise get the chance to match any offer for Wallace.

However, Wallace was the only Steeler to get a high tender.

Over the weekend Steel Curtain Rising speculated, based on Ed Bouchette’s predictions in PG Plus, that the Steelers would offer their starting guards 2nd round tenders.

  • They did not, only offering them the original round tenders.

In doing so they opened themselves to some significant risk. As Doug Legrusky and Ramon Foster were both undrafted rookie free agents, the Steelers would get nothing in return if they left, although they would retain the right to match any offer.

  • This move entails some real risk, if for no other reason than the Steelers have NO other guards on their roster, in the wake of the departure of Chris Kemoeatu.

While neither Legursky nor Foster strike fear in the hearts of opposing defensive line and linebackers coaches the way Alan Fanaca and Will Wolford once did, both men have shown they belong in the NFL.

The Steelers apparent motive in taking this risk is to preserve precious salary cap space. The Steelers are about in the middle of the pack in terms of salary cap space, but to get there they’ve had to defer a lot of salary to future years, a move that could come back to haunt them.

The Steelers are clearly trying to keep their options open, either to match an offer to Mike Wallace, secure him to a long term deal, or give themselves the ability to sign other free agents.

The Steelers, as expected, tender Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy, and David Johnson, so they can match offers for any of those men and will get compensation should any of them leave.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2012 Free Agent Focus.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Aaron Smith Says Good Bye to Steelers Nation

When the Steelers cut Aaron Smith, there was some speculation that he might head off to Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals.

While no one has ruled that out explicitly, Smith himself seems to be strongly signaling that he will hang it up.

As reported by Post Gazette Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette, Aaron Smith took out a full page ad in the Post Gazette to say good bye and thank Steel City Fans for their support.

Steel Curtain Rising's editorial policy is normally not to publish verbatium texts from other sites. But in this case an exception is being made because Smith's message shows just how much of a class act he was and how great the Steelers orgaization remains.

According to Bouchette, the following text can be found on page D-7 of the Sunday March 11th Post Gazette:

Dear Steelers Fans,

As of today, I am no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I leave the field and Steelers with no regrets, and am grateful to have played for such a tremendous organization. I feel truly blessed to have spent my entire professional career in the best town, playing for the most loyal fans who have loved and supported myself and my family.

The last 13 years of our lives have been special because of the people who cheered me on, and I am truly fortunate to have been a part of the Steelers, the City of Pittsburgh and the Steelers Nation. You have opened your arms and your hearts to us as a family and we will never forget that. Your support, enthusiasm, love and dedication are gifts I will carry with me my entire life.

I may no longer be on the Steelers active roster, but I will always be a Steeler and will never forget the people who made it all worthwhile -- the fans, the Rooneys, the front office, the equipment guys and trainers, my teammates and family. Thank you for supporting me over the last 13 years, and I hope you will support me in whatever future path life will take me on.

We plan on making Pittsburgh our home and I will endeavor for the rest of my days to find a way to thank each and every one of you personally for all that you have done and meant for me and my family. You cheered for me for 13 years and now I cheer for you for the rest of my life. You will always be in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to have the job of a lifetime. You will always be in my heart.

Your friend always,

Aaron Smith and Family, No. 91
Good Bye and Good Luck Aaron

As Bouchette points out, Alan Fanaca is the only player he can remember taking out an ad in the newspaper to say good bye to the fans. Oliver Gibson, a nose tackle the Steelers drafted out of Notre Dame in 1995 did something similar when he left for Cincinnati in 1999, by publishing a letter to the editor in the Steelers Digest.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a franchise which yields nothing to anyone else when it comes to the legacy of their defensive line. In 13 years of play, Aaron Smith earned the right to have his name spoken in the same breath as Ernie Stauntner, Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and Dwight White.

This is truly a touching way for Smith to end his time as a Steeler. Aaron Smith, Steelers Nation thanks you for your contributions and your sacrifices and wishes you the best!

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2012 Free Agent Focus.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Steelers 2012 Free Agent Focus

The Pittsburgh Steelers are poised to enter one of the trickest free agent signing periods since the current system began in 1993.

All of that, and they still remain only 8 to 14 million dollars under the salary cap, depending on whose numbers you believe.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents (3)

RB Isaac Redman
DT Steve McLendon
P Jeremy Kapinos

Restricted Free Agents (7)

WR Mike Wallace
TE David Johnson
OT Jamon Meredith
OL Ramon Foster
OL Doug Legursky
CB Keenan Lewis
S Ryan Mundy

Unrestricted Free Agents (10)

QB Charlie Batch
QB Dennis Dixon
QB Byron Leftwich
RB Mewelde Moore
WR Jerricho Cotchery
OT Max Starks
OL Trai Essex
CB William Gay
CB Anthony Madison
P Daniel Sepulveda

Tough Decisions Await the Steelers

A world of scarcity is a world of choices, or so Dr. Peter Meenan, my Economics 102 teacher taught us.

  • For the Steelers, salary cap space is scare and they need to make some tough choices.

As Ed Bouchette pointed out in the Post-Gazette last week the Steelers will likely tender Mike Wallace high enough so that they can get a first round pick if they lose him. And, as Bouchette pointed out in PG Plus today, they’ve got little to no choice but to give Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster second round tenders.

Right there that eats up 6.5 million dollars of the Steelers salary cap space. If they’ve currently got 12 or 14 million of cap space, they have some breathing room, but not a lot.

If they’re only 8 or 10 million under the cap, they have very little room to maneuver.

Assuming that the Steelers tender Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy, and David Johnson, which would allow them right of first refusal or a third, 6th, or 7th round draft pick in return for losing them, the Steelers would commit another 3.78 million dollars in salary cap space.

Total all of that up, and the Steelers will have committed 12.08 million dollars to without even thinking of resigning Jerricho Cotchery, William Gay, Byron Leftwich and/or Charlie Batch; or sign their draft picks.

Kevin Colbert and Omar Kahn could still make a few moves. Will Allen could be cut. The Steelers could renegotiate more contracts, although questions abound as to whether deferred to much salary to future years.

Disclaimer....

Steel Curtain Rising has no access to any inside information nor intimate knowledge of the mechanics of the NFL salary cap. What you see above has been gleamed from public sources and the calculations are over the back of an envelop variety.

  • So perhaps the Steelers will find a way to do more with less.

Nonethless, it is safe to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 roster will look quite different from the 2011 edition. In other words, Hines Ward, James Farrior, Chris Kemoeatu, Aaron Smith and Bryant McFadden are far from the only familiar faces that will be missing.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2012 Free Agent Focus.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Steelers Shed Salary, Super Bowl Rings, and Locker Room Leadership....

Institutional memory is a curious concept. Clearly one can neither precisely define or measure it, but institutional memory nonetheless remains a tangible quality.

One of the lessons that the Steelers organization took from the ‘70’s is that they held on to too many Super Steelers veterans too far past their prime.

After parting ways with Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, and James Farrior no one can hurl that accusation at Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, and Mike Tomlin.

In 1976 the Steelers left their 1975 first round pick Dave Brown unprotected in an expansion draft…

  • …Brown went Seattle where he made a Pro Bowl, two UPI All Pro Teams and one AP All Pro teams

In 1979 the Steelers kept a rapidly fading Dwight White over rookie training camp sensation Dwaine Board

  • White was done within two years, whereas Bill Walsh snapped up Board, who posted three double digit sack seasons with the 49ers in the ‘80s.

And of course in the spring of 1983 the Steelers figured the could squeeze a couple of three more seasons out of Terry Bradshaw, opting to pass on a kid named Marino...

  • ...Steelers Nation knows how passing on Dan Marino turned out.

Who knows?

Were memories of those mistakes echoing through Art Rooney II’s head as he gave the word to Kevin Colbert to lower the hammer on yet another franchise icon?

Or did salary cap realities simply force any shred of sentimentality out of the Steelers?

No one can be sure.

The Steelers did start the off season $20 to $25 million over the 2012 salary cap. Colbert and Omar Khan did they damdest to giggle the numbers to the extent where its reasonable to ask whether the Steelers are mortgaging their future.

But the contract restructurings of Ike Taylor, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Ben Roethlisberger were all to get the Steelers under the cap.

Which only reaffirms the status quo.

  • Positioning the Steelers for the future required untethering the organizations it from its recent past.

So now gone are James Farrior, Chris Kemoeatu, Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, Arnaz Battle, and Bryant McFadden.

Giving these six players their walking papers freed up approximately 10 million dollars in salary cap space.

  • But the Steelers are also saying goodbye to 12 Super Bowl rings if you throw in Chris Hoke's retirement.

That statement is perhaps overly dramatic, because 5 of the 6 players had seen age, injury or ineffectiveness drastically reduce their role from 2010 to 2011. James Farrior was the only starter released, the only player with no heir apparent, and the only one who arguably could have contributed in 2012 were salary on consideration.

But winning is just as much about the intangible as it is about the measurable.

  • James Farrior, Hines Ward and Arnz Battle were all captains of their respective units
  • When William Gay and Kennan Lewis sent Bryant McFadden to the bench, McFadden embraced his role on specials teams with relish.
  • Aaron Smith never hesitated to take younger players whom he knew had been drafted to replace him, under his wing.

However necessary their departures might have been, each of the men the Steelers parted wasy with was an important leader, both on and off the field.

That's not something to gloss over lightly, as the Redskins experience of the 90's reveals.

The first Joe Gibbs era in Washington ended just as the salary cap era was beginning. In the blink of an eye veterans like Art Monk, Ernest Byner, Charles Mann, Ricky Sanders and other Super Bowl veterans were gone. These were players who had learned how to win, a lesson which their successors are still struggling to master almost 20 years later.

The Steelers recent “termination” binge was not as wholesale as Washington’s was in the mid-90’s. By all accounts the organizational culture on the South Side is far different that of Redskins Park, and one that’s strong enough to manage the coming locker room leadership transition.

  • But the Redskins lesson reminds us that there is no set formula for letting go of Championship Era players as they grow old.

Regardless of whether you let your veterans go too late or too soon, its always about getting the next decision right, and it is rarely just a question of simple numbers.

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Steelers to Cut James Farrior

If Kevin Colbert has put in a more draining week during his time with the Steelers, this past week has to run a close second.

Already having cut a Super Bowl MVP and the franchise’s best 3-4 defensive end, Colbert again had to drop the hammer James Farrior, who for a decade had been a mainstay on one NFL’s top defenses of the decade.

Of the recent cuts, Farrior’s perhaps comes the closest to qualifying as a surprise, although it was quite clear that either he or counterpart Larry Foote would have to go.

Nonetheless, the decision to part ways with James Farrior marks a sea-change for the Steelers defense, as it was Farrior’s job to make the defensive calls in the huddle and perform the necessary adjustments at the line of scrimmage.

  • Now that responsibility falls on someone else.

Farrior departs Pittsburgh with no obvious heir apparent. Foote will likely take his place in the starting line up, but Foote is not a long-term answer.

Stevenson Sylvester showed promise as a rookie in 2010, and while he continued to shine on special teams in 2011, he failed to impress in his limited appearances at linebacker in 2011.

Prior to Farrior’s departure, the Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac commented on Twitter that: If Farrior goes, start fitting Steelers uniform for Dont'a Hightower.

Top Steelers Free Agent Pick Up Ever?

The Steelers will never be known for the free agents it signs, but perhaps it should. When the Steelers do go out to sign a high profile free agent, they rarely miss.

  • In the 1990’s Kevin Greene, John L. Williams, Ray Seals, and Wil Wolford were all free agents signings that delivered handsome dividends.
  • In this decade, impact free agents pick ups came in the form of Ryan Clark, Flozell Adams, and Jeff Hartings.

Bill Parcells used his first pick with the Jets to select James Farrior in 1997, and played the James Madison University graduate at right outside linebacker for 5 years. Farrior played well enough in that role, but Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher saw something that Parcells and his successors missed.

  • The Steelers signed James Farrior as a free agent in 2002 to replace Earl Holmes and neither side ever looked back.

Farrior immediately established himself as a leader of the defense, leading the team in tackles in ’03, ’04, ’06, ’07, ’08, and ’09. Farrior earned Pro Bowl honors in 2004 and 2008, and incredibly only missed two games to injury between 2002 and 2011.

During that entire time, whenever a tackle was being made, regardless of where it happened on the field, if Farrior wasn't making it you were almost certain to see number 51 coming into focus before the whistle blew.

As important as those measurables were, Farrior’s contributions in the huddle and off the field were indispensable. Farrior was a team leader who not only set the tone on the field but also functioned as a player who enforced discipline in the locker room.

  • Farrior also set an example with his dedication and ethic of responsibility.

Farrior was a second late on two key plays late on the Bengals winning drive at home vs. the Steelers. Farrior seemed to take those plays, as well as other mishaps as a personal affront.

Accordingly, he redoubled his off season training regime, reported to camp in the best shape of his life, and rebounded in 2010 with a 109 tackle, six sack, 5 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery performance.

James Farrior’s Last Stand

Longevity is one of the signs of greatness in the NFL and Farrior had his share. Even the great ones can cheat father time for just so long.

Age began to impact Farrior’s game in 2011, evident in his declining production and increasing difficulty in covering receivers downfield. Farrior’s age, his salary for 2012, and the Steelers salary cap woes prompted the team to decide to move on.

  • Like his counter part and fellow captain Hines Ward, Farrior must make way for younger, and cheaper, players on the roster.

And just as is the case with Hines Ward, Mike Tomlin will not easily replace the leadership void created by James Farrior’s absence.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Steelers to Part Ways with Aaron Smith, Chris Kemoeatu

One day after saying good bye to Hines Ward, their franchise leading and future Hall of Fame wide receiver, the Steelers also decided to part ways with the best 3-4 defensive end in franchise history.

Ed Bouchette is reporting that Aaron Smith will not be back with the Steelers in 2012. Unlike Ward, Smith will likely begin, in Chuck Noll's words, his "life's work" as he has indicated that he has zero interest in playing elsewhere, which is most likely a sound decision, given his history of injury.

Smith finished the 2007, 2009, and 2011 seasons on injured reserve. Likewise he sat out most of 2010 injured.

2008 was the last full season where Smith played healthy. Its no concidence that that was season in which the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII that year.

Chris Kemoeatu Also Cut

Ed Bouchetee is also reporting that the Steelers will cut Chris Kemoeatu. Kemoeatu was as sixth round pick in the 2005 draft. Possessing incredible size, Kemoeatu always tantalized.

However, he did not start until the 2008 season, after Alan Fanaca’s departure, and did a serviceable job as a starter over the next four seasons.

However by 2011 poor play and inane penalties landed Kemoeatu on the bench, and his release was widely anticipated.

With these latest moves, the Steelers have freed between 8 and 10 million dollars from the salary cap, which will allow them to sign their draft picks and give them a shot at resigning their own players and perhaps players from outside the organization.

Casey’s Turn at Bat?

If reports are correct, the Steelers have yet to finish their house cleaning. It is generally assumed that either James Farrior or Larry Foote will be waived in the coming days and, although Kevin Colbert’s comments at the scouting combine might indicate otherwise, Casey Hampton’s name has been mentioned as a possible cut.

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