Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Jared Wickerham

The Combine is done and the Cap seems under control. Next up free agency.

The Steelers have managed to remain in the news due to lingering fallout from reports of internal strife and a series of maneuvers involving contract restructuring that appears to have brought them into salary cap compliance. As we move into March free agency comes center stage and the shaping of rosters for the 2013 season begins.

The Salary Cap

One of the dominant stories of the off season, and even before has been that the Steelers were slated to slide into salary cap hell, and that, consequently, there would be a resulting bloodbath where any number of veteran salaries would have to sacrificed in order to achieve compliance. As of this writing the team is now under the projected cap limit (which has been altered upward) and have done so through the restructuring of three contracts. No players have had to be released. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (here), linebacker Lawrence Timmons (here) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (here) all agreed to restructuring of their contracts. It is expected, or at least possible, that linebacker LaMarr Woodley will also agree to a contract restructuring shortly as well. It is now generally understood that the team is in compliance without having to resort to more drastic measure of having to unload salaries.

This is very good news of course, though you can now expect some spirited conversation as to whether these moves constitute just a matter of kicking the can down the road and facing a reckoning in 2014, or...whenever (gotta worry about something, right?). Perhaps a more interesting question is why we find ourselves continually going through this disaster dance year in and year out. It seems, at least to me, that far too often that we are subjected to dire predictions about the financial situation of the team, and then its, 'Oh, never mind'. I'll leave it to the reader to contemplate the details, but I think there are two truths that we have to deal with here. First, we overestimate our knowledge of the financial situations that we are discussing. Second, I believe that we seriously underestimate the business savvy of the Steelers, and in particular their ability to think and plan ahead in complex terms.

Why, for example, would we think that contingencies that may come into play a year or more down the line are not part of the current decision making process? Even if you don't subscribe to the notion that the Steelers front office might be a bit smarter about all this than you or I, wouldn't it be prudent to believe that they are privy to better information? Do you believe they didn't know until you and I did that the cap number would go up to its projected level? Might contracts have been structured in such a manner to permit these types of maneuvers under these circumstances? I mean, what do you think Omar Khan does on a day to day basis? And wouldn't he be a bit better at it than the accountants and economists that write in the sports pages?

There have been a number of writers and commentators who have been quietly opining that the projected bloodbath was premature and overblown. Most recently, Dejan Kovacevic of the Trib has suggested that the only losses that Pittsburgh will suffer will be due to players who leave because they can make more elsewhere and choose to do so. That is a very different scenario than having to release players in order to gain cap relief. Currently, in theory, every player who was on the roster last year could return, though it may not make business sense for them to do so.

Free agency

A lot of Steeler Nation gets a bit frustrated at this time of the year. The accepted truism is that the team doesn't do free agency in a big way. For those who think that the path to championships are paved with lots of change and quick fixes it is disappointing that the Steelers don't embrace more enthusiastically one of the three major tools available (the draft and undrafted free agents being the other two).

I think there are two truths that we have to deal with here. First, we overestimate our knowledge of the financial situations that we are discussing. Second, I believe that we seriously underestimate the business savvy of the Steelers, and in particular their ability to think and plan ahead in complex terms.

In fact, the Steelers do participate in free agency, but in a more low key and efficient manner than many other teams. Most importantly, they try to the win the battle of signing their own free agents. They also pick up players from the outside as well, but usually not the high profile marquee players that tend to get fans' blood boiling. Players such as James Farrior, Jeff Hartings and Jerricho Cotchery don't elicit hoots of excitement, but to knowledgeable fans not exactly yawns either. Hombre de Acero provides a listing of the best offensive free agent pick ups by position in this post. Fox Sports provides us with a reminder that there is a rich history of free agent busts. Peter King predicts that free agent activity may not be as robust this year as in others because of factors like the flatter salary cap.

Finally in this regard it bares mentioning that in spite of the 'good riddance' attitude by many in the Nation, Mike Wallace is viewed as the number one free agent target in some circles. Will there eventually be regret associated with his moving on?

Fractured?

A number of people, particularly in the Pittsburgh media weighed in on the issue of whether the Steelers were in disarray, and if so (or not) what it might mean. If there has been a consensus that has developed about anything related to this issue it is that the recent comments by Ryan Clark, Antonio Brown, Larry Foote and Hines Ward have probably not been helpful, and that the situation would be best served if folks just shut the hell up. Of course its hard to do that when people keep bringing the subject up. The latest to be heard on the matter is Ben Roethlisberger who, like many others, claims that the situation is overblown. I think the most accurate and concise statement was made by head coach Mike Tomlin.

Q. Is your locker room in disarray?

A. No. (Laughs). We’re 8-8.

The Combine

Steelers.com had a couple of interesting pieces related to the just completed NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Bob Labriola does a piece on his own observations of the Combine and then adds an interview with Mike Tomlin that begins with the Combine but ranges over other subjects as well. There is also a piece that focuses on Carnell Lake and his transformation from a college linebacker to an NFL safety. Finally, there is profile focusing upon new Steeler special teams coach Danny Smith.

Seton Hall and Steelers provided a helpful summary of some of the winners and losers among the hopeful participants.

John Parker Wilson

Who? That is the new roster addition. A quarterback that has been pick up on waivers. Learn more about him here.

Steve Breaston

The former Woodland Hills High, Arizona Cardinal, Kansas City Chief wide receiver is still in the conversation a week after we first noted him. He left Pittsburgh without signing a contract but the door is still open, writes Ed Bouchette.

Players

There were a number of stories featuring individual players this week. Willie Colon is in a waiting game to see what his fate will be with the team during the coming year. Charlie Batch is confidently lobbying for his return to the team for the 2013 season. Emmanuel Sanders has announced his engagement and now has additional incentives to achieve a breakout year. Keenan Lewis has hinted at having a "secret" presumably having to do with his free agent status. You may know what it is by the time you read this. Former Steeler fullback Carey Davis is pursuing an acting career.

Terrell Suggs

As much as I hate to acknowledge that there can be pleasure derived from negatives, I couldn't resist including this little acidic piece where the Ravens linebacker makes the claim that 'every NFL team hates the Patriots'. Ravens and Pats trading insults? What true Steelers fan doesn't derive some measure of satisfaction from that spectacle?

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