OTAs start on Tuesday, thank God! We are about to reach our next little oasis in the Death Valley that is the offseason. You would have thought that this would be a particularly slow news week, but there actually have been a few noteworthy developments, including some continuing encouragement coming out Steelers camp. But we begin with...
Jonathan Vilma sues Roger Goodell
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma received the harshest punishment leveled against a player by Commissioner Goodell as a result of the Bountygate debacle, a one year suspension. Instead of just slinking off in disgrace, Vilma struck back this week by suing Goodell for defamation, creating yet another interesting twist to this ongoing soap opera.
If you are a Goodell hater (and I know you're out there) then the good news is that the suit is targeted specifically at Goodell, not the NFL. What I like about it is this action contains the promise that the arbitrary nature of some of Goodell's decision making and the relative lack of accountability that accompanies it may be curbed somewhat. Goodell has managed to make himself the poster boy for doing the wrong things for the right reason. It would be difficult for a rational person to argue against the need for something to be done about player safety relative to the legal issues the league is confronting in this regard. His actions seem to reflect more of a cover your ass (CYA) mentality than a fair, well thought out strategy to change the league culture. Not surprisingly some players are balking at being thrown under the proverbial bus for the good of the league and its sponsors. Some change is absolutely essential if the NFL is to survive long term in any way closely resembling its current form. But a course correction from the current strategy is necessary, and if this lawsuit is the catalyst then it is a very good thing.
On the other hand it is worth asking the question whether the suit has any validity in light of the absence of clear evidence concerning what actually happened. Vilma doesn't really have anything to lose by doing this and could conceivably gain regardless of the eventual outcome. The players in general will benefit as well. Now, in spite of the relative impotence of the NFLPA (so far) this action demonstrates that the players won't just be punked by the league office. Steelers players are looking better and better as it becomes clearer by the day that they were way ahead of the curve on all of this in their response to similar treatment by Goodell in the past and their rejection of the CBA based on accountability concerns. James Harrison and Ryan Clark don't seem so surly today. Before leaving the Saints let's devote a line or two to...
Folks are starting to get a little nervous in Louisiana over the relative lack of progress on securing a new contract for Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In light of the leadership vacuum that has occurred in the wake of Bountygate, Brees was being counted on to step into the void. While it would be considered too early to be worried about such things in most precincts in the NFL, it feels awfully late in New Orleans. It appears that instead of expediting negotiations the bounty situation may have complicated matters. And speaking of contracts...
The Patriots receiver signed his tender this week, though he has since expressed some regret as to how things have developed since he made the decision. Of course, being Steelers fans, it is difficult to generate much sympathy with anything concerning this particular franchise. However, at least in my mind, every action of this sort brings us one step closer to signing Mike Wallace.
But all of these things are just prologue to what, if you are part of Steeler Nation, was the big news of the week...
Willie Colon moves inside
Steeler Nation generates a lot of dreams. Some of them are pretty half baked, based upon a lack of information or faulty assumptions on who to start, who to sit, who to trade, who to cut and so forth. Usually (often fortunately) these dreams remain just that, dreams. Well, this spring, surprisingly, in some cases amazingly, some of the fantasies have come true. Many wanted the team to make a heavy investment in upgrading the offensive line, and not only did they get their wish, they got a talent (DeCastro) that most didn't have the nerve to even wish for. This week they received fulfillment for another dream, held for years, when during the course of an interview conducted at Steelers.com Willie Colon revealed that the team asked him to move to guard.
Last year the talk in Philadelphia was about a Dream Team. This year, while it has not been titled as such (so far), Steeler Nation is contemplating a Dream Offensive Line; LT Smokin' Mike Adams (just kidding), LG Colon, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Marcus Gilbert. Of course cooler heads or the more cynical will quickly point out that only Pouncey has accomplished anything in this league at his projected position. There are some reasons for optimism. The timing of the move is such that it is clear that it is directly related to the acquisition of DeCastro. This says to me that team leadership is confident that DeCastro will step in immediately and be a force. Some predict similar success for Adams as well.
Colon also provided another tantalizing glimpse into the new Steelers offensive playbook by revealing that the running attack will be balanced to the point that we should anticipate both guards will be pulling. We can also anticipate that the shrinking, but still present anti-Colon faction will back off for a while as we wait and see what the results of this great experiment will be later on this summer. Meanwhile a lively debate has begun as folks argue over who among the other offensive linemen should be shoved out the door first. The clear early favorite is tackle Jonathan Scott. We'll see.
The 7th round draft choice from Southern Methodist has been overshadowed twice so far in his brief career as a Steeler. First, he is an afterthought to higher round draft mates David DeCastro and Mike Adams. And he has been virtually ignored as attention and debate has focused upon more controversial first year players Sean Spence, Chris Rainey and Adams. So not much has been made of the fact that Beachum not only received his Masters Degree this week, but he also was honored by being chosen to give the commencement address to his fellow graduates. This cuts little ice with many in the Nation who see him being thrown on to the street right behind Scott. We'll see.
2011 Steelers Highlights
Hopefully, enough time has passed for us to realize that in spite of the disappointing ending the 2011 season was a pretty good year. The Steelers premiered its 2011 highlight film at Heinz Field revealing, among other pearls, that this marked only the second time in team history where they managed back to back 12 win seasons. The film will be available to the public in July.