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Important News During Down Time in the NFL

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Normally not much happens now. We are less than a week away from the beginning of free agency and more than a month and a half removed from the draft. We content ourselves with speculation concerning attractive free agents, who might be available to us in the draft, we mourn the releases of old favorites and breathe a sigh of relief when we rid ourselves of those whom we view as liabilities. And that’s pretty much it. But some things are happening right now that will have repercussions into the regular season regardless of what happens on the player personnel front. At first blush the news might not seem to concern us too much, but look a little closer.

The Peyton Manning release. Why should Steeler Nation be concerned? We are certainly one of a relative handful of teams with a reliable franchise quarterback who has absolutely no interest in the Manning sweepstakes; though I am sure that there is someone out there prepared to argue that we should dump Ben for Peyton. If Manning lands with an AFC team, which I believe likely, then the balance of power in the conference will be affected. This will be especially true if he ends up in some place like Houston.

They’ll be losing sleep in Boston if he lands anywhere in the AFC East. And do you really want him in Denver? Pittsburgh has to play there this year, meaning among other things, that once again we will likely do so without the services of Ryan Clark.

In my own mind I admit to a bit of creeping complacency. The conference has been living on its reputation of late. We haven’t won a Super Bowl in the last three tries. ‘Strong’ teams like New England and Baltimore are sufficiently flawed as to not be frightening. The Texans and the Bengals were too inexperienced, the Jets were imploding. There was nothing to fear from the West Division, even if we did lose to their entry in the playoffs. And so we could be somewhat casual over whether we could afford to part ways with a Mike Wallace. It seemed like a good time to load up on young, unproven talent in the belief that little or no penalty would be paid for doing so.

However the Manning issue is resolved will probably raise the bar for the entire conference, and particularly for any teams who have serious aspirations for contending for a championship.

The Bounty Issue. There is so much significant and uncharted territory associated with this that I think that it may be hard to imagine the full impact until we have to live it. Suffice to say that the Saints franchise may be effectively crippled by it in both the short and long term.

Why it is relevant for Steeler Nation is two fold. First, and perhaps most positively, our defensive players will likely be relieved of their roles as poster children for mayhem in the NFL, at least for the near term. On the other hand, how all this combines with the other safety issues that we have been discussing lately on site is yet to be determined. The legitimate concerns expressed over the manner in which the league has approached this matter will be buried in the wake of an understandably severe response to the Saints. The methods and motives of defensive football may well be under trial everywhere as part of that response. And, of course, once a precedent has been set in terms of higher levels of punishment, it will be easier to visit that kind of treatment across the board. Watch out James!

Impact of the new CBA. The full effect of this will not be known until after the draft, but as maryrose pointed out earlier in the week it has already influenced how the Steelers are conducting business in this cycle. The important long term question will be whether the team can continue its stellar record of drafting and free agent decision making under the new rules. Just an important a short term concern is surviving the peculiar challenges brought on by the lockout and the uncapped year.

What is pretty amazing is that we know a lot about how this season may unfold before one free agent has been signed or one player drafted. Pretty interesting year already.