Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Dilip Vishwanat

The Browns organization implodes. And should we be concerned about the Pouncey twins?

I don't  find myself feeling this way so often, but I actually have some sympathy for Rodger Goodell as two story lines are coming together that might create a perfect storm for a controversial narrative that could dog the league in a manner similar to that of CTEs. The Steelers GM is now beginning to engage in some detailed talk about free agency and the upcoming Combine. So, soon it will be about forty times, bench pressing reps, contract adjustments, terminations and the like. It would seem that Cleveland has lost its mind. The feel good season of new additions to the coaching staff continues, but Steelers head coaches both past and present can't seem to get any respect.

Joey Porter

Let's start on an upbeat note. I wish we could say definitively that there is a positive correlation between the perceived quality of a team's coaches and success on the field. If so we could start making our Super Bowl reservations now. Just when you thought that things couldn't get much better after the hiring of Mike Munchak, Mike Tomlin brings Joey Porter back into the fold. This continues the theme of crafting a group that has either Steelers or Pennsylvania ties. Perhaps its because its February, but I can't recall getting this excited over a coaching staff.

While the initial emphasis in the media was how the addition of Porter could positively impact the ongoing development of Jarvis Jones, this thought was later amended to include a benefit for the entire linebacking corps; an emerging group that could take the lead in returning the Steelers defense to greatness. Besides having been remarkably effective as both a pass rushing and coverage linebacker during his own career, it is hoped that Porter would also be able to convey some of the intensity, and yes, nastiness that also characterized his play to a group of talented, smart, players who are, perhaps a bit laid back.

It hard for me to imagine that if the team can manage to retain enough of the core group of players and make a few key additions, that a teaching and developmental group that includes the likes of Porter, Butler, Mitchell, Lake, LeBeau, Munchak, Haley, Mann, Smith and, of course Tomlin couldn't generate a frightfully competitive team in relatively short order. If true don't expect the national media and punditry to catch on until after the fact. But, regardless of how things turn out it's nice to have Peezy back.

More linebackers

In addition to the return of Porter there is some additional news related to this position group that I view as encouraging. Kevin Colbert held court with the media this week to talk about, among other things, the Combine and free agency. His statements challenged the current perceived wisdom that the organization having to make a choice between retaining LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds was some sort of fait accompli.

I have been uncomfortable with this idea because of the history of pessimism at this time of the year concerning the organization's cap management skills, and, perhaps more importantly, a glib perspective on the part of many fans as to how easily it should be to replace top tier talent. Too often one is left with the impression that some in the fan base believe the absurd notion that replacements of the caliber of a Woodley, Troy, Ben or Casey Hampton are just hanging around by the bushel at the Senior Bowl or the Combine.

The knock on Woodley besides the size of his contract is his injury history. But besides the fact that one good season does not make a star, Worilds hasn't exactly been an ironman himself. So, you get rid of Woodley, then Worilds gets hurt. That leaves your experienced outside linebackers as Jones and Chris Carter. The likely solution given that a newcomer is probably not able to contribute in a quality manner immediately in the LeBeau defense is to, once again, make Lawrence Timmons play out of position, with cascading effects being felt throughout the defense. I'm not saying that things won't play out as many say they must, but I think folks are a bit too casual about the possible consequences. If there is a practical way to retain both Woodley and Worilds that would be the preferable option in my opinion.

The other positive development was a some encouraging news about Sean Spence. While stopping short of an ironclad guarantee that he will return to play at a high level, the impression that was made was that what prevented him from returning this past season was not the football readiness of his knee but that of a broken hand suffered at the time that a decision had to be made about his readiness to participate. Now consider Keith Butler and Porter working with a group with includes the options of Woodley, Worilds, Jones, Timmons, Larry Foote, Spence, Vince Williams and Terence Garvin. Intriguing.

Cleveland

What the hell is going on at the shores of Lake Erie? The Cleveland Browns organization would seem to have gone off the deep end. Besides the normal incompetence on display day to day, year after year, the Browns outdid themselves this time. It began by shipping Trent Richardson off to Indianapolis in mid season. Then they seemed to be in some sort of race with the rest of the league to be the first to fire their head coach at the conclusion of the season. Okay, get a jump securing one of the better candidates? But no. Turns out they were the last team to hire a replacement. Then they top things off this week by firing team president Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi.

After you finish laughing your ass off, you're left to wonder what they are thinking in Cleveland. So far Jimmy Haslam is making Dan Snyder look like Dan Rooney. Is the answer as simple as new NFL owners don't have access to a road map as to how to run a franchise? Is it possible that Haslam is taking the better course of doing the right and necessary thing even if it means enduring a very public humiliation as he avoids the temptation of perpetuating team dysfunction for the sake of saving face? Peter King would certainly acknowledge the timing to be terrible, but that the team did the right thing. In my own way I challenge the idea that what is bad news for the Browns automatically becomes good news for the Steelers.

Michael Sam

If the NFL didn't have enough troubles, the top defensive player in the top college football conference in America comes out and declares to be gay. Ready or not, the league now finds itself front and center on the issue of gay rights in the work place.  I wouldn't consider that to be the strong suit of professional football. So, what do you think is about to happen? What if the league's PR machinery handles things with the same level of competence as player safety? Uh huh. So, what do you think the Combine will be like for Sam? Does it even make sense for him to show up to that? Now all this taken by itself would be challenging enough, but we're not done yet, because there is also the matter of ...

Richie Incognito

Remember I mentioned at the beginning of this piece of a perfect storm? Michael Sam, meet Richie Incognito. The Wells report released this week is damning of the bullying culture that was tolerated in the Dolphins' locker room. And only wishful thinking would persuade one to believe that Miami is some sort of outlier such that it couldn't be expected to find similar behavior in other NFL cities. This would not be what you might think of being a gay friendly environment. Taken individually each of these issues would be a considerable challenge to resolve in a satisfactory manner. But taken together? And make no mistake, the media has already connected the two issues.

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to figure out that Sam is likely to be picked up later than his measurables and other qualities might dictate. There is no getting around the fact that he will be a major distraction in the best of scenarios, such as coming to a organization like Pittsburgh with strong leadership at all levels of its hierarchy. Given a sicker organization such as Miami the locker room could possibly be undermined.

And what about the Pouncey's?

As you may or may not know, Mike Pouncey is in the middle of this Incognito mess. That, along with Chris Rainey and Aaron Hernandez makes three instances of severe player dysfunction that you find some level of involvement of the Pouncey's. I like to think its just some kind of thing involving the state of Florida. Not saying they're guilty of anything, but Maurkice and Mike might want to remember that old saying about being judged by the company you keep.

Colbert

With the Combine and the commencement of free agency looming, Kevin Colbert moves firmly into the spotlight. He mentioned that the rookie class was as deep as he had seen it, but it also had many undergraduates coming out, many of whom may not be ready to make a successful transition to the professional level. He echoed the sentiments expressed by Art Rooney II weeks ago in disputing that the cap situation is as dire as some would contend. And the process of determining who will be resigned, renegotiated, or released is not complete.

Free agents

Bob Labriola gives his take on the various position groups on the team and the status of free agents. The link here is for offensive tackles with links to other position groups embedded in the article. Rebecca Rollett also takes a shot at some of this

The Combine

Three current Steelers, Landry Jones, Maurkice Pouncey and Markus Wheaton share stories of their experience at the NFL Combine.

Dissing Steelers head coaches

There is something about how the Steelers do their business that causes many outsiders (and a depressing number of those who supposedly bleed Black and Gold) to diminish and sometimes flat out disrespect the contributors to the team's championship success. As best I can explain it some see the success of the organization as being system driven. Therefore, individual participants, be they coaches, players or others in  management are marginalized as being mere beneficiaries of the outsized efforts of others within the organization. Three major contributors fell victim to this phenomena this week.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ranked eighth among active quarterbacks. He was rated behind Cam Newton and Phillip Rivers, and on par with Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. How did he ever managed to win two Super Bowl is beyond my comprehension.

Chuck Noll was flat out excluded from consideration of being included on a 'Mount Rushmore' of NFL coaches. Bill Belichick made the cut though. I have no words.

Finally, Mike Tomlin was ranked sixteenth among active coaches, Ahead of him are coaches who, I swear to God, you've probably never heard of and who have never accomplished anything other than having a winning record this year. Even some within the ranks of Steelers Nation consider never having a losing record and two Super Bowl appearances with one Championship as being a pedestrian accomplishment.

Apparently, the bar is much higher for these people. When Tomlin or Ben feed the multitudes at Heinz Field with a hot dog and a slurpee then maybe they'll be deserving of some higher level of consideration.

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