DENVER, CO - JANUARY 08: Jerricho Cotchery #89 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a touchdown pass to tie the game in fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
After I spent much of last week lamenting the fact that there wasn't much going on in April; events have conspired to make a liar out of me. I wouldn't say that there have been many really big stories since last weekend, but there has been a lot of news, much of it pretty encouraging for Steelers fans. Most importantly, like clockwork the Steelers started swinging in free agency and they did it in an efficient manner.
For me this was the biggest and best news of the week. Cotch well represents the type of free agents the Steelers select. They almost never are the player that folks think about or wish the team would court, but once on board cause people to say ‘that makes sense'. There are a lot of things that recommend Jerricho as a player, but one of the things that stood out to me was an interview conducted on a local Pittsburgh radio program where he was asked about who he favored to win the AFC Championship Game between the Ravens and the Patriots. He said he couldn't respond because he didn't like either of the teams. In Steeler Nation this is what would be called a politically correct statement. And I can say that it was the moment when I began to fervently hope that some way, somehow the team could retain his services.
Other reasons are that he is a fine receiver and an important veteran presence. This latter point is particularly important given the loss of both Hines Ward and Arnaz Battle. And it was reassuring because of the uncertainty surrounding the contract situation of Mike Wallace and the health concerns relative to Emmanuel Sanders. Because of injuries we only got a taste of what Jerricho could do on the field, but it was impressive.
The team, players and coaches, seemed equally impressed by what he brought to the locker room as well. While that probably had nothing to do with the team's decision to cut ties with Ward, it may have helped make it an easier thing to digest. By all accounts this is the outcome that Cotch wanted for himself and his family. When compared to the circus, zoo, whatever you want to call the New York Jets locker room, this isn't too difficult to believe or understand. So it's good for him and good for us. But from a business perspective maybe not so good for the agent of...
Seemingly minutes after the announcement of the signing of Cotchery, information was leaked that Wallace would not be signing his tender offer from the Steelers. This bit of news concerned and maybe even upset some folks and it has led to some conversation about trades, holdouts and the like, but I'm not buying.
What our amateur GMs are not taking into account is that the Wallace camp is in a situation of rapidly deteriorating leverage relative to the Steelers camp. As you read this it will be less than a week before the deadline for other teams to make an offer, and if you've noticed those offers haven't exactly been rolling in. Holding out? I see three problems with that strategy, though I won't rule out the possibility that they may go down that road. First, historically speaking using this method to sweat this particular franchise hasn't been much of a winner.
Second, the signing of Cotchery turned a somewhat precarious situation into something much more stable.Last season Pittsburgh had an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. Before the Cotchery signing all that was in the fold was Antonio Brown and Sanders. Advantage Wallace. Now if nothing changes the team has a very solid receiving corps (the factor that might have precipitated the ‘leak').
Finally, and most importantly, if Wallace wants to have the option of being an unrestricted free agent next year given the questions being bandied about concerning him being a ‘one trick pony', among other things, he needs to have a strong audition year to put himself in the best position possible. With a new offense being installed can he afford to place himself being the curve? The only rationale for holding out would be to try to get the best possible deal on a long term contract, IMHO.
These are some of the reasons I part company with Neal and others who feel that a trade at this time would be advantageous to the Steelers. For one thing there has been something of an undercurrent on this site at least, that the Pittsburgh front office (Colbert/Khan) have been somewhat overmatched by the new financial realities of the league.
Still believe that? I could certainly be wrong but so far they look like they're in control to me. More to the point, trades aren't a big part of the MO of this team. Speaking specifically to the Holmes trade, while there are similarities as far as the contract status of Holmes as compared to Wallace, two other factors were probably what was critical for the Steelers to pull the trigger on that move. First were Holmes' seemingly intractable character issues, second was the level of vulnerability caused by the circumstances surrounding Ben's suspension.
Right now the worst possible scenario, besides some team making an offer at this late date that Pittsburgh can't match, is for Wallace to sign his tender and decide to leave via the open market next year. Wallace, in turn, has every incentive to have a career year, which will cascade down to Brown and the others, meaning a banner year for the receiver corps. By all accounts this will be a deep year for receivers so no unnecessary manipulation is likely to secure a quality prospect if it comes to that.
And it's not just the signing of Cotch that bolstered the Steelers position. It didn't hurt that they acquired...
Pope was the week's first free agent signing, and it's worth remembering that tight ends are also part of the receiving corps. Besides being a six year veteran and 6'8" tall, Pope has played for new offensive coordinator Todd Haley at both Arizona and Kansas City. In addition with his familiarity with the new system being installed by Haley, Pope will provide support for group of tight ends thinned, at least temporarily, by the upcoming suspension of Weslye Saunders and the fact that David Johnson, who also resigned with the team this week functions mostly as a blocking H Back. But it wasn't just receivers that were signed this week.
Normally very good news concerning a group of veteran linemen; but the enthusiasm was muted given the maligned status of the O line. Many are looking past these solid contributors in search of salvation in the form of other (outside) free agent pickups or (preferably high) draft choices. We like to talk about a sense of history in these parts. Perhaps it's time to inject some history into the ongoing discussion and hand wringing surrounding the offensive line.
A year ago similar hand wringing was going on concerning the defensive backfield. The consensus solution was an infusion of new talent via the draft or free agency. The team did obtain two talented new dbs in Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, but their contributions were not sufficient to explain the turnaround that led to this group being ranked among the best in the league. It was the improved performances of William Gay and Keenan Lewis, players largely written off by Steeler Nation at the time.
At least two things seem to be forgotten in a discussion of what is wrong or how to fix the offensive line. First, the work at ‘fixing' the offensive line is ongoing. The team has invested high draft choices during the last two drafts (Pouncey and Gilbert) already. Second, nothing could have mitigated against the injury woes this group suffered last season. The list included Pouncey, Gilbert, Starks, Colon, Legursky, and that's the short list of players that suffered significant injuries during the 2011 campaign. Any solution of significance will involve experience, depth and position flexibility all of which are met with this group. Pretty good news.
Neal turned us on to the interview of Zierlein on Steel Curtain Radio with links his two part series The Steelers Project. This is a must read for those seeking insight into the values and methods that drive the Steelers draft strategy.
Coach Mike was selected this week for induction into the William and Mary Athletics Hall of Fame.
Heinz Field to Expand
The Steelers will be bringing a proposal to the league seeking to expand Heinz Field by about 3,000 seats. The new seats would be in the open south end zone area.
The Bounty Issue
Chief among non-Steelers news, Roger Goodell upheld the suspensions of Sean Payton and two other members of Saints management. And Bill Parcells is not coming to the rescue. He decided against coming out of retirement to replace Payton for the 2012 season. Drew Brees is still in contract limbo. The drama continues.