PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 23: Mike Wallace #17 and Keenan Lewis #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrate their 24 to 19 win over the New York Jets in the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
We are making our way out of the desert now. Teams have begun voluntary workouts, the regular season schedule has been unveiled, and the draft is less than a week away, among other news. But we begin with ...
Unless something drastic and unexpected occurs over the next few hours (I am writing this on Friday), the free agent phase of the Mike Wallace Watch will soon come to an end. The Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette wrote an enlightening piece putting this process in a different perspective. According to the article the market for restricted free agents has always been anemic and under the terms of the new CBA players in the situation of Wallace will phase out within a year. Apparently, this was much less of a gamble for the Steelers than many have believed. Unless there is a holdout or a trade Wallace will be in a Steeler uniform for another year at least.
You would think that this development would be the cause for a sigh of relief and maybe even joy in Steeler Nation. You would be wrong. Something of a firestorm has developed around BTSC and elsewhere with folks polarizing over what to do about Mike Wallace. On one side are those who want to see Wallace back in the fold, preferably after signing a long term deal, and moving on. On the other side are those who want to cut ties, preferably through a trade. The reasons this second group cite range from what some believe is the impracticality of forging a deal acceptable to all parties given current financial realities, to those that think that Wallace is a greedy, self-deluded fraud who could be easily replaced by someone with real talent. Mike Wallace posts are popping up all over the place and for good reason. I intend to weigh in on this myself with a later post. Let me just say that I am siding with the first group. I believe Wallace will eventually sign with Pittsburgh and this will mostly be forgotten by the 4th of July, if not Mother's Day. Plus, generally speaking, I'm a ‘bird in the hand' kind of guy.
Somewhat obscured by all the heat surrounding Wallace is that the Steelers managed to sign...
Charlie Batch and other free agents
Quietly, Batch, Isaac Redman, Ryan Mundy and Keenan Lewis re-upped with the Steelers meaning that besides Wallace, Byron Leftwich and players that were anticipated to move on like Dennis Dixon, the team began voluntary workouts with most everyone on board. This means that in spite of expressed concerns involving the salary cap and the new financial realities of the league, the Steelers have pretty much managed to accomplish most what they normally set out to do; retain as many of their own players as they can. Like Wallace, the resigning of Batch brought some mixed reviews, but this has been normal for Charlie for the past several years. For Steelers fans the quarterback controversy involves the backups.
There was very little coverage of this positive event as across the league teams welcomed their players for conditioning, weight training and related activities. Nationally, there was a great deal of attention paid to, whom else, Peyton Manning and the Broncos as well as Tim Tebow and the Jets. Prominent stay aways such as Drew Brees of the Saints and Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars also attracted some notice. What we know about the Steelers has been provided by Steelers.com here
In these two reports players such as Jerricho Cotchery, Antonio Brown, Charlie Batch, Ziggy Hood, Trai Essex, Jonathan Dwyer, Keenan Lewis and Baron Batch were quoted. Among the interesting tidbits revealed is that Big Ben was present from day one, and, even more importantly from my point of view, Running Backs Coach Kirby Wilson was in his office on day one as well. I can't get enough of this kind of stuff.
Regular Season schedule release
I thought it was a bit much, but NFLN and ESPN made quite a deal of the announcement of the 2012 regular season schedule on Tuesday. I can understand the NFLN somewhat, after all what else do they have to do at this point in the year. But ESPN is another matter. In this regard I'm in agreement with Jason Whitlock who argues that the saturation coverage of trivial aspects of the ‘big' sports, such as football, has led to circumstances that have diminished the visibility and impact of events such as the Olympics. Do we really need a schedule release show? I think not.
As for the schedule itself (as it relates to the Steelers) the big news was the confirmation of the rumor that Pittsburgh would be opening at Denver on Sunday night against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. To complete the theme of revenge and unfinished business, their home opener a week later is against Tim Tebow and the Jets. Other features of note are a total of five prime time games (the maximum allowed by the league), an early Bye week and the two matchups against the Ravens occurring within a three week span. The prime time games are particularly good news for Steelers fans in Diaspora who want to see the team play without having to retreat to a bar or purchase a satellite package in order to do so. There are a number of late Sunday afternoon games that may likely be national telecasts as well.
The schedule itself is not without some elements of controversy. A piece written on Wednesday by Maryrose and the accompanying thread covers a number of those issues. However, I have some concerns about one aspect of the schedule that I haven't seen much discussion about so far.
This year the number of Thursday night games has been increased dramatically. NFLN will broadcast fourteen weeks of these games. I have two problems with this. First there is the issue of saturation. This season there will be at least one NFL game broadcast on every day of the week except for Tuesdays and Fridays. This may seem a silly argument to make, especially at this time of the year when I might make room in my schedule to watch a live broadcast of a sled drill. But you have to look at this in a larger context; because once you reach the saturation point it's pretty hard to roll it back. On a normal football week there will be a minimum of six games (assuming no blackouts). And on special occasions such as the nine day period bracketing Thanksgiving we will be treated to thirteen. Add college games and I am willing to bet that people may begin to opt out of watching some games that they might otherwise be intrigued to watch. I already do that for the college games.
The second issue is more serious. Every team in the league will play at least one game where they are playing on only three days rest. How does this jibe with a greater concern for player safety? I certainly understand the business reasons behind this, but in some respects this reminds me of some of the concerns that were raised by the proposed eighteen game schedule. In fact, it could be argued that this accomplished the same goals (increased broadcast/ad revenues) by other means. We'll see what the reaction to this is over time.
New throwback uniforms
Also on Tuesday in celebration of the team's 80th Anniversary, the Steelers unveiled a new throwback uniform. Modeled by Isaac Redman, the new duds went over like a lead balloon. Likened to prison garb, public reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Player reaction was more mixed, but you have to remember that many of these guys, like Redman had just signed new contracts. What did you expect him to say standing next to Art Rooney? As for me I am finding the new uniform is starting to grow on me; sort of like camp, so bad that it's good. I have a feeling that ultimately sales may be better than they might seem today. And when the team actually wears these things they may be so distracting to opponents that it may provide a competitive advantage.