March has arrived (though it is still cold in my part of the world). The reality TV spectacle of the Combine is now behind us. The salary cap has finally been set. For now we are still in speculation mode, but real, tangible decisions concerning terminations, extensions and franchising are beginning as teams have just a week to decide what to do about their current stable of talent. For fans its the last week of open ended fantasizing and debate about the direction the team will take with the established roster. As the results start to come in this week a better picture will take shape concerning where the priorities will lie with free agency and the draft.
The 2014 salary cap
Every year over the last several has been the year that the bill will finally come due and the Steelers will go into the salary cap apocalypse. Maybe this year those fears will be well founded. But its worth noting that in a surprising number of instances the Steelers end up doing what a lot of folk say they couldn't possibly achieve.
So this spring the walls may indeed be falling down for the Steelers. But based upon what has transpired before I would say let's just wait and see.
January 9, 2014
The final number on the salary cap has been set at 133 million dollars. The Steelers can achieve compliance by cutting Levi Brown. Yes, it would be so much better if Pittsburgh had a cushion of, say, 50 million. But I think they can survive the loss of Levi Brown.
Obviously, the situation isn't ideal, but what appears likely is that the next couple of months will be 'normal'. Some popular long time veterans will be released short of their expiration dates and their passing will be mourned. Other veterans, currently too valuable to release will be retained and/or adjusted. Some will leave because their market value is too high, others because they are not valuable enough. The organization probably will participate in free agency in a focused, understated manner. The moves are not likely to elicit wild celebrations, but something more along the lines of 'Oh..that makes sense'.
Of course, the real story will be contained in the choices; Woodley or Worilds, Hood or Keisel, Velasco, Wallace or someone else. Definitive answers will come soon enough, but in the meantime..
Channeling Colbert (free agency)
If you can't wait that long, and face it, if you're reading this its a good bet you're one of the ones who can't, then we got plenty of folks in these parts that are more than willing to come forward with educated and entertaining guesses.
Freshly armed with a solid cap number, Neal Coolong attempts to inhabit Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert. As of this writing he has given us two installments that illuminate how the team gets to cap compliance (Spoiler Alert! Levi Brown is involved) and beyond.
Bryan DeArdo (or based upon his rate of production has Neal simply cloned himself), provides a history lesson to advance a theory that allowing star players to walk can have favorable consequences.
Rebecca Rollett continues her series on free agency questions with a focus this week on wide receivers.
SI.com's Greg Bedard presented the Steelers' off season challenges through a national lens
Channeling Colbert (the draft)
While free agency is currently the more urgent matter, the draft has not disappeared from the forefront of the collective consciousness.
The National Football Post issued a timeline for what will happen with draft preparation extending from the conclusion of the Combine.
The collective wisdom of the BTSC community was tapped in addressing the question of whether the team should bite on Combine darling Aaron Donald from the University of Pittsburgh. You also weighed in on the question of whether making trades to enhance the number of draft choices is the way to go.
Earlier in the winter it appeared that LaMarr Woodley would be the odd man out among the outside linebackers in 2014. But as Jason Worilds' stock continues to rise among various suitors it may be that the Virginia Tech alum may price himself out of Pittsburgh. Jason LaCanfora is spinning the logic behind sticking with Woodley and letting Worilds walk.
Ketterlen Super Scouting
The BTSC community was introduced to Rodney Ketterlen and his somewhat out of the box methodology of player evaluation. He provided his expert commentary during this week's Combine, climaxing with a live chat with the collective. The fact that so many were confused as to whether or not this was an exercise in satire pretty much speaks volumes about the process of talent evaluation in the NFL. I was partial to the baby toss drill myself.
Jerome spoke out on the Wells Report and the Incognito fiasco, indicating that the problem in the Dolphin's locker room may have been a lack of responsible veteran leadeship. Beyond the commentary and critique of the Miami organization, his perspective served as a not so veiled warning to teams that indiscriminately strip their rosters of veterans without accounting for the stabilizing influence that they have on less mature players. Of the various factors that may have contributed to the Steelers' struggles over the last couple of seasons, little has been mentioned concerning the impact of the loss of players such as Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Chris Hoke and James Harrison in terms of leadership lost.
Pittsburgh enjoys what, in my experience is a unusually high level of support and cross pollination among its three major sports franchises (Penguins, Pirates and Steelers). This includes not just what is essentially a shared and largely interchangeable fan base, but also the fact that the organizations hold much in the way of admiration for each other. The Pens goaltender will honor the Steelers when he takes the ice in Soldier Field against the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Stadium Series wearing a mask that resembles a Pittsburgh Steelers helmet. Though not precisely at the pinnacle of their sports at this time, all three are enjoying a period of competitive success sufficient to being playoff capable. This is also not necessarily common for all the franchises to be experiencing this at the same moment in time. I believe the time may come in the future when Pittsburgh sports fans will look fondly upon the Andrew/Ben/Sidney era and recognize it as good times indeed.
Shaun Suisham and Plaxico Burress are scheduled to participate in an NFL Boot Camp: Consumer Products which will be conducted this coming week in Baltimore. This program, the first of its kind, is designed to introduce players business opportunities.
Dr James Bradley
the Steelers team doctor was the recipient of the Jerry "H awk" Rhea Award with means that he represents the top of the line among NFL team physicians.
When it first broke last week this story seemed to stretch the limits of what was believable. But what denials there were have beensufficiently tepid that it would suggest that the AFC North came perilously close to being a two Harbaugh division, a development that I am happy didn't come to fruition.