Steelers President Art Rooney II recently discussed a wide variety of topics, and you can find accounts of it almost anywhere you look - Steelers.com, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (the Trib's Scott Brown chose to spin two articles out of it - one and two).
Most all of them covered Rooney's thoughts on the following topics in some shape or form:
Salary cap - The Steelers are about $25 million over the $124 million salary cap that is projected for next season, and have until March 13 to rectify the situation.
Quotes to note (I tried to take out most of the word-for-word overlap without butchering how they were written in the articles):
"I would say it's probably as big an issue as we've had to face," Rooney said. "There will be some tough decisions. There will probably have to be some contracts that get restructured and things like that. No question, there's a lot of work to be done."
"There are a lot of key pieces to the puzzle and young players on offense that I think will get better, the receivers being a particular bright spot. We have a couple good young offensive linemen. We have our franchise quarterback. So, I think the pieces are there to get better. We just have to do what we need to do to build on that." (PPG)
"It's not a situation where we're looking to tear things apart and start over," team president Art Rooney II said Tuesday in his first interview since the Steelers were upset in Denver on Jan. 8. "I think there are a lot of pieces in place. Getting younger on defense is a process that's already started. Obviously, we have some decisions to make with certain players and their contracts." (Trib)
We've all known and expected this to be coming, but what Rooney said in the Trib quote is especially interesting (to me). My interpretation is that he's saying that the front office has not been ignoring the age and declining team speed on defense, and has certainly been drafting to try to account for it. Tough decisions have been a long time coming - with regards to guys like Hampton, Farrior, Foote, etc. - and it had been planned to address it sooner or later. The salary cap issue makes it very soon.
To echo one of Ivan's sentiments from his State of the Steelers editorial - rebuilding on the fly while simultaneously remaining competitive is a tough balance and very difficult to pull off.
Hines' Future - He's a Steelers legend, but the $4 million he's slated to make next year needs to be brought more in line with his declining role in the offense
"The overall story on Hines is that he's one of the all-time great players we have had. Hopefully, he is a Hall of Famer. I sure think he is," said Rooney. "We are just in the beginning stages of the process of evaluating what our roster will look like next year. We'll be having some conversations with Hines as we go through the next few weeks about where he fits and how he fits and whether he fits. We have a lot of decisions to make. He had decisions to make. I don't want to speculate on it because the minimum we owe him is to have private conversations about that." (Steelers.com)
"All of those things, you want it to end the right way whenever it ends. But it's a two-party decision. We'll evaluate how we feel about it over the next few weeks, we'll talk to Hines -- I've already had one conversation with Hines, so the communications are already started. We will all get to our decision in due time." (PPG)
However it works out, both sides need an amicable and agreeable resolution to this. It'd be a blot on Hines' legacy if he went elsewhere to finish out his storied career, and it would reflect poorly on the Steelers if they mishandle a man who's been a consummate Steeler for the past 14 years.
Big Ben and Sacks - The best way to keep Ben healthy and effective is to keep him and his loose extremities from getting consistently caught between a 265-300+ pound pass rusher and the ground.
"I don't think we should want or expect a dramatic change in Ben. 'A little bit' is probably the key phrase," said Rooney. "He has been pretty darn successful in a lot of what he does. He's different from other quarterbacks. We don't want or expect dramatic changes in Ben. We need him to be healthy. We need him to continue to be healthy. He is turning 30. Taking fewer sacks, fewer risks here and there is something he needs to think about. But not a dramatic change." (Steelers.com)
"Roethlisberger was sacked 40 times this season. When asked if keeping him more upright in 2012 is tied to upgrading the offensive line, Rooney said, "For the most part, I would say we feel like we have the people in the building that can do the job. That's not to say that we won't try to get better as we prepare for the offseason, and the draft is always something that we look at as an opportunity to get better." (Trib)
Whether you think it's a big or a small change, Ben does need to learn to throw the ball away more often. I find the Trib quote to be particularly interesting again, since you could possibly interpret it in a few of ways:
1). The simplest - Rooney doesn't want to publicly malign the personnel on the offensive line because that is not good team-building.
2). We had the personnel for it, but injuries and other factors out of our control kept the same five guys from playing together week-in and week-out and they never had the opportunity to form good chemistry.
3). There's a difference between pass protecting for your average QB, who ideally gets rid of the ball when the play starts to break down and the heat is getting close, and pass protecting for Big Ben, who usually views the end of the designed play as just another opportunity to exercise his improvisational abilities.
I'm not throwing out the third possibility as an excuse for poor performances in pass protection - like getting lit up by Aldon and Justin Smith against the 49ers, for example. It also does not excuse substandard blocking for the running game. I just think there is a difference between developing offensive linemen to the point where they can pass protect for your typical pocket passer, and getting them to learn the nuances and idiosyncrasies of how to keep Ben alive when he decides he wants to run and touch both sidelines before throwing the ball.
Free agency - We need to get under the cap first.
"It's unlikely that we'll be a big player in the free-agent market, I think that's fair to say. I think it will be similar to how we pursued it in the past. Our key interest will be to keep the players we have, to see if we can sign some of our younger players to longer-term contracts, that will be our key goal. If we have an opportunity to fit in a piece here and a piece there, we'll look at it." (PPG)
Again, we need to get under the cap first. Once we do, we have quite a few free agents in a variety of flavors that we would like to retain (see: Wallace, Burnell "Mike"). Once that is also resolved, there's not going to be much of a slush fund to outbid anyone for an instant upgrade at most any position.
Free agency starts on March 13 at 4pm - same day as the salary cap deadline.
Heinz Field Expansion - 3,000 seats will be added for the 2013 season
"We made the decision that we weren't going to go forward with the project once we got past a certain point last year, last summer," said Rooney. "The uncertainty of the lockout is what really pushed us into next year, because we really had to pull the trigger on the project last June. We wound up in a situation where we had to put it off." (Steelers.com)
The new seats will be located in the open end - South end zone - around where the temporary seating was constructed for the Winter Classic. Those seats will then be offered to people on the team's season ticket waiting list.
Interesting tidbits (to me) that were not mentioned in all of the sources:
Senior Steeler Assistant retiring?
"The coaching staff, I don't expect any major turnover on this coaching staff. We think we have a good staff. That's not to say there won't be any turnover. We have guys on the coaching staff who have talked about retiring, are senior-type guys and I know Mike [Tomlin] is going through the process of having those conversations as we speak. But I'm not expecting wholesale changes on the staff."
Expect the coordinators back?
"At this point, yeah."
Smizik went on to speculate that it could be special teams coordinator Al Everest (in his early 60s), assistant head coach and defensive line coach John Mitchell (58), tight ends coach James Daniel (56), or maybe even Bruce Arians (gasp!) that have considered retiring (and the rumors that it is Arians are intensifying).
Quarterback coach Randy Fichtner has been bandied about as a possible in-house successor should Arians decide to retire. If Arians does retire but the Steelers want to bring in someone from outside the organization, Smizik thinks recently fired Colts head coach Jim Caldwell could be a candidate.
The way Rooney worded it, I can easily see the arguments for and against the mystery coach being Arians. The argument for it being Arians is that he is a senior-type guy in both age and rank on the coaching ladder. If Fichtner has been designated the successor at offensive coordinator, and intends to continue this evolution to a pass-centric attack that Arians started, you could argue that the change does not constitute a "wholesale change" or a "major turnover". Rooney's final response is undoubtedly truthful as of this moment, but far from set in stone. And Arians apparently took time to mull over this very same decision last year.
The argument against the mystery coach being Arians is changing offensive coordinators usually comes under the heading of a "major turnover". Granted, there's not likely to be "wholesale changes" given how entrenched Ben is and how this is his show, but I find it hard to believe that the change to a new coordinator would not be noticeable - especially if we went outside the organization for one.
Hopefully the rumors will either be substantiated or discredited and this will all be clarified soon.
Mendenhall in Long-term Plans
"Whether we sign him in advance of this season or not; I think Rashard has demonstrated that he can be a major contributor for us," Rooney said, "So we'll more than likely be trying to sign him to a contract at the appropriate time, whenever that is." (Trib and within PPG's transcript)
Mendy will be going into the final year of his contract, but the vote of confidence in him from Rooney right now is notable since Mendy just underwent surgery for his torn ACL. I'm sure the Steelers will undoubtedly wait to see how his recovery has progressed before starting to address a new contract though.
What do you think is most interesting from Art Rooney's discussions? (Though I did neglect to discuss what he specifically had to say about the disappointing way the season ended)