My oh my. The Santonio Holmes era in Pittsburgh comes to an abrupt halt as the six time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers traded away the talented but troubled wide receiver to the New York Jets. That's not entirely shocking in and of itself, but some might be scratching their head wondering why the Steelers were only able to secure a 5th round draft pick in this year's draft in exchange for the former Super Bowl MVP.
Couple thoughts from me on this...
First of all, before I share my thoughts about Holmes specifically, a few thoughts from me about the compensation we received from the Jets in return for the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, as well as my long overdue evaluation of the Steelers draft situation. I suppose I'm glad I waited to do so as some might believe that everything's been thrown into a tizzy by this trade. Not so fast. That's not how the Steelers have ever conducted business and it's pretty damn foolish to think that they suddenly lost their sense and made any sort of rash decision here.
To begin, I've read an amazing number of comments that echo this sentiment: 'a 5th rounder? That's practically just giving him away!'
I've heard people wonder why they didn't get at least a 2nd rounder for Holmes. I challenge you to find me an even remotely long list of WRs that have been traded for a 2nd round pick in the history of this great league. I'm sure there's a few, but I highly doubt that any of them had red flags attached to them like Holmes now does.
In my mind, here's all you need to know about the trade value of wide receivers that have negative baggage - the New England Patriots gave up a measly 4th round draft pick to acquire Randy Moss in 2007. He was 30 years old at the time, and though he dogged it in Oakland, he had proven himself capable of staying out of trouble off the field. Moss had always been oustanding when skies were blue. When his teams were winning, he was an unstoppable force on the field and a legitimately solid locker room guy. That's the way it was when the Vikings were winning, and that's the way it was when the Patriots were stomping all over the league in 2007, Moss's first year in town.
Anyway, a first ballot Hall of Famer with no injury history; an unstoppable playmaker down the field and in the redzone; and ahem, no four game suspension looming on the horizon - and all it cost to get him was a 4th rounder.
How about a more recent example? The Arizona Cardinals packaged Anquan Boldin and their 5th round pick in this year's draft in exchange for Baltimore's 3rd and 4th round picks later this month. That's not a whole lot more than what the Steelers got for Holmes. Sure, Boldin may have been a bit of a malcontent in Arizona, but rightfully so. He was treated like dirt by the Cardinals. Boldin played his guts out every week and was as productive as anybody in the league when he stayed healthy.
Anyway, wide receivers aren't franchise quarterbacks. They're important cogs in any successful team, but they're not worth breaking the bank for like quarterbacks are. Donovan McNabb was recently traded to the Washington Redskins for a 2nd round pick in this year's draft and a 3rd or 4th rounder in the '2011 Draft. Seems like a lot compared to what the Steelers got for Holmes when you consider where the two are at in their respective careers. Holmes has his best years ahead of him while McNabb probably only has a couple more opportunities to make a run at his first Super Bowl title before his body betrays him. That's the thing though. McNabb most definitely does have something left, and the upgrade he provides at the QB position makes Washington a very intriguing team next year. Their defense can flat out play, they've got a stable of hungry running backs including Willie Parker, a new head coach in Mike Shanahan that knows how to coach up an offensive line, and now, a quarterback that has the arm and the leadership skills to perhaps elevate the play of their offense to a point that allows them to contend in 2010 and 2011. This gamble's well worth the 2nd round pick here.
We've seen it time and time again with what teams are willing to part with in exchange for WRs in trades. The NFL is already a funky league in regards to trades. I've never quite understood it quite frankly, but with wide receivers - a position dubiously well represented by me-first type demeanors - it's particularly strange. The fact that there have only been two WRs ever drafted first overall in the first 74 years of the draft is also telling.
And of course, all of that is said before even taking into account the fact that Holmes is reportedly facing at least a four game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. And oh yeah, there's still the possibility that charges will still be pressed against him for allegedly assaulting a woman in an Orlando nightclub last month. So if you're the Steelers, you're giving up perhaps 12 solid games for Holmes by trading him. If you think it's absurd to not just wait a year and let him leave in free agency for a higher compensatory pick, I'd say again that it's foolish to question the Rooney's determination on this one. The men know how to assess risk and clearly they thought it was dangerous to keep Holmes around the squad next year if they had no intentions of re-upping him for the long term.
Bottom line is this - relax about the fact that the Steelers only got a 5th round pick in return. It's not all that incongruous from historical trends. Furthermore, the Steelers don't need tons and tons of picks this year like they did last year. The roster is filled to the brim as is right now and there's absolutely no way that more than 2 or 3 guys make the 53-man roster this year coming out of camp. You say we need depth? I disagree. Could we stand to add another talented body in the secondary and along the offensive line? Yes, no doubt. A bigtime CB or S would be a welcome addition; so would an OL that has the talent to be a mainstay on the line for the next 10 years. A reserve safety to take the place of Tyrone Carter might also be a priority.
Other than that though, this roster's just about set. Another RB would be nice, but that can be found late in the draft or in the vast pool of undrafted free agent rookies. Between the quartet of Joe Burnett, Keenan Lewis, Will Allen and William Gay, there's plenty of #3-6 type DBs. Like I said, another #1 or #2 CB would be nice, but it's not depth that's lacking. Same along the offensive line. A top tier talent is needed, but there's plenty of capable, if not outstanding, bodies already on the depth chart. It's quality - supreme, Steelers type quality - that we need, not quantity. We got quantity last year when we retained every last one of our draft picks.
What about at the linebacker and defensive line positions? Well, we're stacked at ILB. In fact, one of the many subplots I'm already fascinated by for the 2010 season is how Dick LeBeau will rotate Farrior, Timmons, Fox and Foote. That's a rowdy foursome of hard hitting athletes clogging gaps and patrolling the middle of the field. At OLB, yes, an extra body might be nice. The Steelers have been fortunate that both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have remained injury free for almost all of the past two seasons. An injury to either one of them would hurt, for sure, though perhaps LeBeau plans to at least prepare Timmons for such a situation by rotating him in sparingly on the outside. That said, it's ridiculous to think that the Steelers will use a 1st or 2nd round draft pick on an OLB in the next two or three years while Woodley and Harrison are balling all over the place in tandem.
The defensive line? Do we need depth? I'm not sure we do really. Let's start with what we know. The triumvirate of Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith are all returning in 2010. All are over the age of 30, but Keisel in particular showed that age is no thing with him. He was lively all season long, and in my opinion, had his best season as a pro on defense (his 2006 season was arguably better if you consider his contributions on special teams that year; he didn't appear on many ST units in '09). We know what to expect out of Hampton and Chris Hoke. Between the two of them, it's a slam dunk that it will once again be next to impossible to run up the middle against the Steelers defense. Aaron Smith is a bit of a question mark. On the one hand, it's impossible to ignore his track record of durability. Only twice has he not played in all 16 games since 2000, his second year in the league. In 2007 and 2009 though, Smith was lost for the season with arm related injuries. In 2007 he tore his bicep against the New England Patriots. A somewhat fluky injury for sure. Last season he tore his rotator cuff and was shelved for the year after just five games. Rotator cuffs can be tricky to recover from, but I suppose it's good he sustained the injury as early as he did last season, giving him ample time to recover and rehabilitate before putting ridiculous levels of pain and discomfort on it again come opening day next fall.
Ziggy Hood gave fans a glimpse down the stretch of why he was selected with the final pick of the first round last April. His fresh set of legs and exuberant 'go get 'em' attitude should help keep the veteran starters fresh in the later months of the season. As I mentioned before, Hoke is what he is - a rock solid backup that's as good as anybody banging heads in the trenches. Nick Eason had his best season as a professional last year in my opinion. In years past, I viewed Eason as comically inferior to his colleagues in terms of athleticism. Not anymore. He's not a guy you game plan for, but he's developed into a player capable of capitalizing on opponents heeding him no attention. His motor is much improved since he joined the Steelers in 2007. Same with his strength. That's what three years with DL coach John Mitchell will do for you.
While we're on the subject, let's mention Ra'Shon 'Sonny' Harris, another 2009 draft pick that managed to hang around last summer. Harris, unlike the rest of last year's draft class, didn't break camp on the 53 man roster, but reports out of Latrobe mentioned how Harris had impressed his coaches and was an asset well worth stashing away on the practice squad. Another year with John Mitchell and I'm guessing Harris is ready to occupy the roster slot previously occupied by veteran reserve Travis Kirschke who's yet to be re-signed by the Steelers or been courted by any of the other 31 NFL teams as of yet.
Hood, Eason, Hoke, Harris - sounds like a good enough set of reserves to me. Who knows, the Steelers might use their 1st round pick on a stud DL that they're confident will be a Casey Hampton like player for the next decade, but I really don't see them grasping at mid-round talent along the DL this year.
Some of you might think that this opens the door for the Steelers using their 1st round pick on a WR this year. I don't see it. Even with Holmes' departure, the depth chart at WR is still fairly crowded. Hines can be relied upon to play at a solid level for at least two more years; Mike Wallace looks like he's the real deal and wholly capable of being as dangerous as anybody in the league out on the perimeter; Antwaan Randle El isn't going to burn anybody anymore, but he's sure handed, unafraid of the spotlight and big moments, and may very well have a little career rejuvenation now that he's away from the malaise of the Redskins organization. Tyler Grisham and Arnez Battle meanwhile are just fine #4/#5 type guys. Heck, Battle has proven himself to at least be capable of putting up some nice numbers, so if he were thrust into say a #3 type role next year due to an injury or two, then that hardly means the team is doomed. Who knows, but I just don't see the team going after a WR in the first round. Not this year at least, and perhaps very rarely, if ever, again in the future. The last two times the Steelers have used a 1st round pick on a WR they've been faced with quite a few headaches. Both Holmes and Plaxico Burress were 1st rounders and both seemed to have a me first attitude that didn't mesh well with the culture of the organization.
Wow, I actually had originally begun this post with what follows below. I just decided to go back and mention the part about what seems to be the historical norm in recent years for trading troubled wide receivers. Turned into quite the digression. Anyway, some thoughts on Holmes.
One, no one player is bigger than the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. The Rooney family has proven that time and time again over the years. One might argue that it's worth retaining players with character problems so long as they produce in a big way on Sundays. Holmes certainly qualifies as a special talent, and I think it's safe to say that he's yet to play his best football. Still, the Steelers didn't magically become one of the model franchises in all of sports. They did so by staying true to a certain set of standards in the way they comport themselves on and off the field.
I shouldn't need to remind you that the Steelers have found a way to excel in the win column while still doing things the 'right way'. Six Lombardi Trophies. Enough said. So, despite the fact that this greatly diminishes Pittsburgh's chances at adding a seventh piece of hardware to the already crowded display case at team headquarters, it's safe to say that the team will be just fine moving forward after they've had a year or two to make adjustments to their draft, salary cap and roster strategies.
Here's another important thing to remember - obviously the Steelers planned to let Holmes walk at the end of the 2010 season once he became a free agent. It's probably safe to assume that the organization planned to let Holmes walk at the end of this upcoming season before his recent screw ups. Why? I'm just making as educated a guess as possible here, but for several reasons. Firstly, there's only so much money to go around and the Steelers surprised us this past year by finding a way to re-sign just about every one of their high-priced veteran players - Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Hines Ward, James Farrior, Ryan Clark, Heath Miller and Jeff Reed. Now's not the time to try to project the team's cap situation in 2011 and/or 2012, but suffice it to say, there already is, and there will continue to be, a big piece of the 'pie' allocated to just a fraction of the roster.
Here's the main reason though that I believe that Holmes was shipped out of town rather than trying to get a very productive final year out of him before he became a free agent. Holmes, as confirmed by none other than himself, clashed with head coach Mike Tomlin at various points during last season. To what degree and in what fashion did he butt heads with Tomlin? I'm not sure, but if I had to guess, it most likely had something to do with him unnecessarily lobbying for more attention and recognition of his talent (read: more passes thrown his way), and him not doing the little things each and every day when he came to work. Again, just speculating, something I try to not do too much of when it concerns the thoughts or emotions of individuals that I don't know personally.
Let me say though loud and clear that whatever went on behind the scenes with Holmes - be it with his interactions with Tomlin or anyone else in the organization, to his poor judgment off the field - the dude brought it every week. In fact, I thought he was one of the most consistent performers last year for the Steelers. Anyway, games are only 60 minutes for 16 days a year.There's a whole lot of other time that you've got to represent yourself and the organization with dignity and class.
Holmes did so most of the time, but that's not quite good enough in Pittsburgh. You're not expected to be perfect in order to wear a Steelers uniform, but you can't clash with the man the Rooneys put in charge of the show. Pittsburgh No one player is bigger than the organization as a whole. It's remarkable how players donning the black and gold have fallen into line and legitimately respected the privilege of playing in Pittsburgh. Holmes did what I thought (from afar) was a fairly good job of that himself. He played hard every week, you could tell he wanted to perform sometimes to his own detriment (see: Baltimore game in '08 when he muffed a punt). That same competitive flare also cemented his permanent place in the annals of Super Bowl lore two February's ago when hounded Big Ben prior to that final game-winning drive, yapping in his quarterback's ear to get him the ball no matter what.
I'll conclude with this - don't assume that this trade was made overnight after reports surfaced that Holmes would be facing a four game suspension to start the 2010 season. I'm not entirely clear at all about how protocol here, but I think it's ridiculous to think that the Steelers found out about this from Mike Florio and ProFootball Talk this weekend. No, instead they probably knew about this some time ago and were simply adhering to the legal stipulations attached to the CBA that protected the privacy of the players until the very last possible moment.
Bottom line is it's ridiculous to think the Steelers found out about this on Saturday, then frantically traded away Holmes the next day for the very first offer that they could get. That's not how things are done in Pittsburgh - never have been, never will. It's unfortunate things didn't pan out the way we might have hoped with Santonio Holmes, but as history has proven time and time again, the organization will be agile, adjust, move on and thrive. This isn't about race, that's for sure, and it's not about making somebody take the fall publicly in place of Ben Roethlisberger, the team's $100+ million dollar franchise quarterback. Columnists looking to stir the pot will say as much but don't pay any attention. If they did their history on the Rooneys and how they've been at the forefront of pioneering a new era of equality when it comes to race and opportunity in the NFL, then they'd surely realize that race has nothing to do whatsoever with this decision.
Instead, it comes back to one simple fact that has yet to be compromised by the organization - and I highly doubt that will change, even in the case of Ben Roethlsiberger if he were to exercise poor judgment yet again at anytime in the future. No one players is bigger than the organization.