BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 11: Offensive lineman Jonathan Scott #72 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on from the bench during the closing minutes of the Steelers 35-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens during the season opener at M&T Bank Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The release of Steelers OT Jonathan Scott in itself wasn't a surprise, but the timing of it suggests other factors were at work.
It came one day after the signing of OT Max Starks, the player who replaced Scott in Week 5 last year, after just a few days of practice. Scott's play at that point hadn't been up to par, and while he wasn't the only reason QB Ben Roethlisberger had been sacked 14 times, he wasn't helping things much either.
This is an opinion column, and I'm just speculating, but it seems logical to assume Scott saw not just the selection of Ohio State OT Mike Adams in the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL Draft as a threat to his role on the team, but the re-signing of Starks as well.
Therefore, it's possible - if not probable - that Scott requested his release, rather than going through training camp on a team that had little chance of keeping him on its final 53 man roster.
Scott's contract was far too high for what would likely have been the 4th tackle on the depth chart, and he could simply have not accepted the role of being the lead horse for Adams in training camp while Starks continues to rehabilitate his knee after tearing his ACL at the end of last year.
This doesn't make Scott a bad person or teammate. He simply wants a chance to fairly compete for a position somewhere.
While Scott hasn't earned Most Favored Player status in Steeler Nation, he is still an experienced and healthy tackle, and odds of him landing somewhere else are very good. But the Steelers clearly were waiting on positive news regarding Starks' knee, which they received, before making a decision on Scott.
His release essentially means the Steelers are comfortable going with Adams as a starter, considering positive reports when Starks is in shorts may not read the same way when he's in pads banging defensive linemen. To release him this early, and risk not having him there to provide depth in the event of injury, suggests either Scott requested his immediate release, or the Steelers felt he deserved time to find another team on his own.
However it turned out, the Steelers saved around $2.2 million on the salary cap, while still yielding quality depth (if not a starter) with Starks.
The contract issue with WR Mike Wallace may come into play with that freed up money. The Steelers' decision to release Scott could represent an effort to get as much room as possible to make Wallace a competitive offer before camp starts. While Wallace is due $2.7 million under the restricted free agent tender he's been offered, and is probably worth more than the $4.9 million (his tag plus Scott's $2.2 million) he may be willing to take a certain amount this year in exchange for larger guaranteed dollars next year and in the future.
The new television rights deals go into effect in 2014, and depending on how the Steelers want to lay it out, a deal before or during camp is possible. For Wallace, it's really a "one in the air vs. two in the bush" situation. Few would argue he's worth less than the $13 million guaranteed he'd get by playing this year with the RFA tag and next year with a presumed franchise tag on the open market. But the Steelers have control over his contract for at least the next two seasons. Something in the ballpark of four years and $28 million with $17 guaranteed in the first three years makes sense. That would give Wallace some money now for the production he's had, and he wouldn't have to play for his future and risk injury before getting a large payday.
Wallace may be worth that, but he's not going to be on the open market for at least one more year. From his perspective, he has to recognize if the Steelers were willing to give him $17 million guaranteed over three years, they'd probably be willing to give him the $10 million value of the franchise tag next year. That's less security and guaranteed money overall, and a tougher cap number to swallow.
It'd be in the best interests of both sides for him to sign now.