The draft is just two weeks away. Professional football is about to move back to front and center on the news front. In the meantime, as expected, draft speculation is really heating up. But the big news in Pittsburgh is on the free agent front.
The New England Patriots made an offer and Sanders signed it for real this time. The conversation has focused upon the motives of the Pats who only offered the Steelers wideout a one year contract, and whether or not Pittsburgh should decider to match the offer or let him walk. The thinking concerning what the Steelers ought to or will do is split, but at least at BTSC two thirds of those participating in a poll believe that the team should let him go and take their chances with the 91st pick in what is believed to be a good draft for wide receivers. A possible departure of Sanders would be a blow but the cupboard would still not be bare regardless of what happened in the draft as Antonio Brown, Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery would still be on board. On the other hand the team would be letting a talent who could be just as prolific as Brown go, and along with Wallace would be a significant deletion from the team as well as something of an additional shock for a group that gives the appearance at this stage of hemorrhaging talent. But let's be clear; public and media opinion is one thing, what the team will actually do is something else altogether. As of now the handicapping seems to be that the chances are 50/50 as to what the Steelers will do. What we do know is that it will be resolved before the end of the weekend, so stay tuned.
Another name who is popping back up in the news is the former Giants running back who has resumed conversation with the Steelers. The speculation is that money may be the leverage point and some are making a possible connection to the resolution of the Sanders matter as key to whether or not the team decides to go after Bradshaw. However, it should also be noted that a consideration of equal or greater importance is the assessment of Bradshaw's health which was given as one of the possible reasons that the process has been spread out over the past several weeks. With other teams expressing interest it is certainly possible that we'll know where this issue stands shortly.
The Pittsburgh head coach was named this week to the NFL's Competition Committee. Besides the honor of the selection questions are being raised as to whether the choice of Tomlin will have any beneficial impact on what has been perceived as an anti-Steeler bias in the decision making coming out of the league offices over the last few years. It would be hard to imagine that a Steeler presence on the committee at this critical period in the evolution of the league not being a huge plus.
There have been a few pieces on the upcoming draft that addresses the Steelers and might provide some insight going forward.
Gregg Rosenthal of nfl.com raises the question of whether the Steelers can remain patient in their draft and development strategy given their losses in free agency as well as some disappointments in recent drafts.
Tony Villiotti of the National Football Post contributes a piece on the draft tendencies of NFL teams. Revealed is the bias of the Steelers toward drafting player from the Big Ten Conference with the least amount of activity taking place with the category of small colleges. What I find interesting about this is that what set the Steelers apart from their competition in the 1970s was the sophistication the organization demonstrated in identifying and obtaining high quality talent from small, relatively obscure colleges, leaning heavily on the talent and connections of scout and talent evaluator Bill Nunn. Of course, the landscape has changed significantly over the years. Football talent in the South is not racially segregated as it was at that time. Villiotti also did this expanded piece on the small colleges.
Peter King in SI.com makes the case that the real value in this year's draft will be in the middle as opposed to the top. If true this is obviously good news for Pittsburgh.
Steelers.com announced that a season ticket holder had been selected to announce Pittsburgh's fourth round pick at Radio City Music Hall on the third day of the draft. Jamie Bayer is the lucky fan, though he will not be able to attend due to another commitment. His daughter Alexis, also a rabid Pittsburgh fan, will be pinch hitting for him in New York.
Regardless of who comes and goes via free agency and the draft the team's chances will hinge to a large degree on players who we know will be around next fall barring injury or other unforeseen development. In a selection that couldn't have been much of a surprise to any fan paying attention over the past several months, ESPN announced their choice of cornerback Cortez Allen as the likely breakout player of the year for the Steelers. The Bleacher Report published a list of Steelers players who would have to take on expanded roles with the team team due to permanent losses or injury. Allen, of course, also made that list as well as wide receiver Plaxico Burress who also has gotten attention from this site as well given the situation with Sanders. Plax's return, considered an enhancement earlier, is beginning to have the appearance of an essential piece to the puzzle if Sanders departs to Boston.
Are the Steelers still relevant?
If I were to channel Tomlin I would classify this under the category of April talk. Nationally, there is now some open conversation as to whether the Steelers remain a team to be feared given the popular interpretation of current events. Call me crazy but I think this is nice problem for Steeler leadership to have. I base the thought on my belief that a lot of people are seriously misreading the team's predicament. The desires of the ego aside it is always an advantage to be underestimated, or even dismissed. And motivation internally, perhaps not a problem in any case, will definitely not be an issue for an organization as proud, and justifiably so as Pittsburgh.
While we can debate whether the team is still relevant, there is no doubt that they are still popular. Pittsburgh came in fifth in jersey sales this year. Not bad for a small market team that had a sub par year competitively.
The showdown between the league and some of its former players continues. A hearing was held in Philadelphia this week on the issue with 4000 former players joining in the litigation against the league. If you were wondering about a time line, it is expected that several months will pass before the judge makes a ruling. Whatever the decision an appeal is expected meaning that resolution is unlikely for years.
Locker room cameras
In the meantime the league is attempting to enhance the experience for fans who come to stadiums to watch the games. Commissioner Goodell is ordering that all teams have cameras in their locker rooms the images of which will be shown on stadium scoreboards. I can see where there would be some interest in this sort of thing, but it begs the question in my mind how far they are willing to go. Would Rebecca lobby for a shower cam? If things were going badly for the league with the concussion litigation would they consider it?
The league is also requiring that teams play all relevant replays of reviewed plays within the stadiums instead of just those that may favor the home team's point of view.
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslem has sold his stake in the Steelers. Scott and Russ Swank have purchased the shares. As Neal Coolong has pointed out, will this transaction at long last mark the end of the Steelers' ownership of the Browns. Time will tell
The former Steelers outside linebacker is meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals. I find the thought of Harrison playing for a division rival unsettling on so many levels.
Football's Worst Nightmare
Robert Weintraub's piece in Grantland.com addresses the possibility of a death occurring in a NFL game. This scenario has already played out in an Arena Football League game. What makes this particularly relevant here is that the deceased player, Al Lucas who played for the Los Angles franchise, had ties to the Steelers.
Keeping players from going broke
Jack Bechta does an interesting piece on how the financial community has developed some strategies to help prevent professional football players from going broke. The link to an earlier piece that lists the top ten reasons that players go broke should be worth the look alone.
In a nod to the realities of the football dog days you shouldn't be surprised to see a number of human interest type articles being generated by team websites. Baron Batch is featured in a piece by Teresa Varley on Steeler.com, but dare I say that it is somewhat more than your garden variety puff piece. Batch has been named the feature artist in the 35th Annual Lubbock Arts Festival that occurred this past week. Some of his work is displayed in the piece and its impressive for what has been described as a "hobby".
Heinz Field job fair
Finally, if you happen to live in the Pittsburgh area and are reading this on Saturday morning you may still have time to drop over to the Heinz Field job fair. Hiring is occurring for part time game day jobs at the stadium. It will be taking place on April 13th from 9am to 1pm.