Whoops. So much for that theory. Only a few short hours after publishing this, the Steelers announced the release of Flozell Adams. I don't like the decision, but it wasn't meant to be for what I'm assuming are sound reasons. So long big fella! - MB-
Thursday brought great news for Steeler Nation. The six-time Super Bowl champs agreed to terms on new deals with two important members of their offensive line -- Willie Colon and Jonathan Scott. Colon's deal is reportedly for five years and nearly $30 million dollars, a hefty sum no doubt, but a fair rate for a guy that had proven to be extremely durable and one of the league's better right tackles by the end of the 2009 season. Colon, as I've outlined countless times before, had been screwed on numerous occasions in terms of his contract situation -- he was supposed to be an unrestricted free agent after his solid '09 season, but a change in the CBA rules meant his four years of accrued service no longer qualified him for unrestricted free agent status in the winter of '10. When Colon was lost for the entire '10 season with an Achilles heel injury, it sure seemed like he was going to miss out on yet another pay day this free agency period because teams might be able to point to the injury as to why they weren't willing to invest too heavily.
Well, thankfully for Colon and his family, the Steelers did right by him and made an offer that he was willing to accept, even if it was reportedly for $3 million dollars fewer than what the Bears had put on the table. Good stuff by Colon and the Steelers alike, but prorated over the life of a five-year deal, we're talking about only a $600k per year difference. Nothing to sneeze out, don't get me wrong. But this was more about the Steelers paying up than it was about Colon sacrificing to continue wearing black-and-gold.
Soon after that news broke,we learned that Jonathan Scott was re-signed. It was an expected move in the wake of Max Starks being cut. As I wrote on Thursday, I thought it might be prudent to try to sign Scott to a four-year deal rather than a two-year deal. My reasoning was that a long deal would A) diffuse his cap hit in '11 over a longer contract, and B) allow the Steelers to retain Scott for what I imagine would be modest money all the way through the 2014 season, at which time he'd just be turning 32.
Why is that important? In my estimation at least, it's just good risk and asset management. What happens if Scott continues to develop under Sean Kugler and becomes more than just a stop-gap or serviceable LT by the end of '11 or '12?
He becomes expensive on the open market after two years. Don't forget, the salary cap is going to escalate quite a bit this next few years from its current $120 million figure., So what might seem like too much to spend on a tackle like Scott right now, may not seem like such a stretch in two year's time. Speaking in numbers, let's just say that a four-year $16 million dollar deal with, say, $10 million back-loaded in years three and four, may sound steep right now, but ultimately will seem like a bargain if salaries continue to blow up like they've been so far in a few short days times this free agency.
Furthermore, where's the left tackle waiting in the wings to take over in either '12 or '13? I don't see anyone currently on the roster that fits the bill, unless you think second-round draft pick Marcus Gilbert is that guy.
It's quite possible that Scott's agent realized this and decided the best course of action would be to take less money right now and not demand an investment longer than two years, realizing that even if he was just viewed as a serviceable swing tackle, Scott still would be in line for a nice payday two years from now when the cap was higher and teams weren't in quite the frantic scramble that they are in right now. There's also the fact that Scott might be able to put on his resume starting left tackle for a SB winning team in either '11 or '12. Not too many elite teams that Scott could start at LT on after all.
We'll probably never know, but considering the contract negotiators for both parties are sharp as tacks, I'll just assume that the Steelers tried to make it at least three years, and that Scott's representation realized that it wasn't worth fighting for a few extra dollars right now considering the unique position Scott could (and should) be in to cash in even more handsomely two years from now.
With that out of the way, let's turn to Flozell Adams. The common consensus is that Adams will be asked to restructure his ~$5 million dollar salary in '11 or risk being cut. After the Colon and Scott signings, scribes and fans were even more sure that Adams would have to either take a pay cut or risk being cut. Many believe he's now expendable with Colon and Scott in the mix again.
I disagree. You have to keep Adams around in '11, even if it means paying him his allotted $5 million. The Steelers have other options at their disposal to shave some pork off their salary expenditures. Arnaz Battle immediately comes to mind. After hearing that Limas Sweed and Jonathan Dwyer could not finish their wind spring drills during the first day of camp, you have to add them to the list as well. (Cuttng Dwyer wouldn't save much money, but Sweed would as a former second round pick.) There's also Larry Foote's $3-plus million contract to be slashed for savings.
First of all, before we go any further, it's worth noting that we're not quite sure what the Steelers cap situation is. There's a boatload of new provisions in the CBA that allow teams to roll over cap hits on veterans to future years in order to help get under the cap in short notice this season. The Steelers could still need to cut salary to get under the cap, but the amount may be exaggerated. Let's just leave it at that.
More importantly though, even if they are facing a cap crunch, I don't think cutting Adams represents the best approach to cut overhead. I obviously think Scott is a sufficient option at LT for a few years time, but I also have stated all along that he's got work to do before convincing anyone that there's not some substantial risk in going to battle with him as your LT.
This is tricky for Pittsburgh. I mean, in the last decade, I can think of just two men who are so well respected that the entire Steelers team opted to don a throw-back jersey in their tribute -- Dick LeBeau and Flozell Adams. Obviously Adams is no LeBeau having spent just a lone season in Pittsburgh. But I'm sorry, this matters.
Adams has said he would prefer to be released if he's not going to be a starter, so here's what I think are the two best approaches.
Play Adams at left tackle. Yeah, yeah, a 36 year old will have a few bad days against the elite speed rushers on that side, but whatever. The Steelers were awful running the ball off tackle on the left side in 2010. Who cares if Roethlisberger sees some pressure because Adams gets burned a few times a game? It's not as if Roethlisberger is used to Walter Jones or Willie Roaf protecting his blind side. Adams would at the very least make the Steelers run game less predictable because the Steelers would be inclined to run the ball more than just 12 percent of the time off tackle left were Adams playing there. That matters. If he's stinking up the joint, there's Scott to fill in. He only signed a two year deal, so it's not like there's big bucks tied up in making sure Scott is playing and contributing.
Also, was it a long shot that Adams played as well as he did at right tackel in '10 despite never having played the position before in the NFL? Sure. Is it that much more implausible that he hits lightning in a bottle in '11 if he were moved back to left tackle? I absolutely do not think so. He may not be a Pro Bowl caliber LT ever again, but the man might be able to turn in a plenty good season if called upon in a pinch. I'd certainly trust him over any of the other potential options at LT on the roster, and obviously the $5 million dollars he's owed represents just a fraction of what it would cost to bring in even a marginally solid free agent LT.
Move Colon to guard for 2011, telling him, look, we're committed to you for five years, we need you to play guard for one year before Adams is gone. That would allow Scott to play LT, Adams at RT, and Colon at RG. I know, I know, we've gone down this road before, but really I've never indulged in this possibility until now. The circumstances might finally dictate that it makes sense. Who cares if Colon has never played guard? Neither as Marcus Gilbert. Doug Legursky hasn't played much either. Trai Essex is likely gone. Are you really going to argue that Ramon Foster or Chris Scott or any of the other inexperienced and unproven interior linemen is better suited to play RG at a higeher level than Colon might be able to muster in '11? I hope not, because that;s crazy.
After '11, Colon can be moved back to right tackle once Adams' contract expires. Hell, maybe he even excels and you have Maurkice Pouncey, Colon, and Marcus Gilbert manning your right side beginning in '12. Maybe not though, and that's just fine.
But with there being so little depth at tackel in '11 -- a year where the Steelers should again be in contention for an AFC North crown and a playoff run -- it's foolish to try to save on the margins with so little reliable depth waiting in the wings. Tony Hills? No thanks. Chris Scott or Foster at either tackle position? Sew my head to the carpet instead please. Who else you got? Nobody really.
Bottom line is the Steelers can't afford to not have Adams on the roster this year. They already tipped their hand and admitted as much when they cut Starks. And I think they're right.
Spending $14 million on Starks this next two years wasn't worth it to me, but spending $5 million this year to ensure they aren't in a huge bind at one of the most important positions in football this season doesn't strike me as a bad football or business decision.
Finally, let me just say this. The Steelers didn't start Max Starks at left tackle in 2008 until Marvel Smith went down with injuries. That was despite him being paid just a shade under $7 million as the team's 'transition' player in '08. In other words, don't believe for a second that Colon is a lock at right tackle in '11 just because of his new deal. Colon is the ultimate team guy and he just got paid a nice sum to remain in Pittsburgh for the next five years. If the Steelers coaching staff talks to him about potentially starting the season behind Adams at right tackle, you better believe that Colon will be just fine with that. It's understandable that Adams wants to start at his age, but Colon right now is just psyched to have gotten paid and to get to stay in Pittsburgh amongst friends and teammates. He'll be just fine playing behind Adams if need be to start the year. Like I said, if J. Scott struggles or gets injured, you can always throw Flozell on the left side and move Colon into the starting RT slot.
Those options aren't there though if you run Adams out of town.