Coping with an information vacuum
For me this is one of the more annoying times of the year. As we wait for the beginning of the 2015 league year, and with it free agency, most of the questions that were poised in this space last week remain unanswered. There is no word on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's contract. We now know that linebacker Jason Worilds will not be tagged, but little else about whether his future lies with the Steelers or elsewhere. Everybody 'knows' that safety Troy Polamalu is gone, either via voluntary retirement or release but, in fact, they don't. Veteran receiver Lance Moore was released, but it would have been a shock if that had not happened. Meanwhile, the fate of every other Steeler not under contract for 2015 remains unresolved. With nothing else wholesome to keep the denizens of Steelers Nation off the streets we are treated to heated discussion about the relative merits of Landry Jones vs. Tajh Boyd, perhaps forgetting that if either one of them ever had to take the field it would almost certainly mean that Pittsburgh's season had completely gone to hell. Heated speculation over free agent decisions promises to continue until Tuesday and beyond, while draft obsessions will be the elevator music that will play continuously in the background for the next two months.
Its not so much the lack of information that bothers. I really am not paralyzed with suspense as to what Ben's contract numbers will be or whether Brice McCain will be in a Steelers uniform during the first week in March. But with 'I don't know' or 'lets wait and see' being an unacceptable element of so many people's vocabularies, the information vacuum gets filled with crazy hopes and, if possible, crazier fears. You have to give it up to the marketing brilliance of the NFL that anyone is even thinking about professional football given the onset of tournament time in college basketball, baseball spring training and pro basketball and hockey barreling toward playoff time.
The good news is that there really was some news this week that could enhance our understanding and appreciation of the game.
The Forbes interview with the Steelers general manager is really intriguing in that it provides real insight into the inner workings and decision making of the Steelers organization. Most of the coverage of this article focused upon the approach to player evaluation which was good stuff. But what the piece revealed about relationships within the organization said much about the unusual stability and longevity that characterizes the Steelers organization.
the Steelers have had only three coaches since 1969. How important is it to stick with a coach and stick by him?
Colbert: That’s an organizational stability issue that stems from having a stable family running the team for years. It went from the Chief (Art Rooney, Sr.) to Mr. Dan Rooney to Mr. Art Rooney. The first name at the top may have changed, but the second name hasn’t. They maintain the same standards throughout. People like myself, who join at whatever point we do, or Coach (Bill) Cowher or Coach (Mike) Tomlin, we join into the organization. You may lend your own individual ideas and philosophies, but as a whole the organizational philosophy has been there and you’re just fortunate enough to join in for however long you do.
Translation: The key to the success of the Steelers is not based solely upon the individual brilliance of any one actor be it Colbert, Tomlin or any individual player, but is the triumph of a stable system that has proven to be successful more often than not when compared to the alternatives over time. The systemic structure allows long term success for Colbert and the head coaches because it is not solely dependent upon the talents and foibles of the individual. The results? One losing season for Colbert during his tenure, none for Tomlin. Conversely, it speaks to the folly of attempting to attribute failure to any one individual as well. If success is systemic, so to a certain degree is failure. While it may be proper that his job title holds him accountable for, say, a poor draft, the reality is that there were a lot more fingers in that pie than that of the general manager. So how many people do you fire?
On the oft misunderstood 'the standard is the standard'.
The standard is you want to win a Super Bowl championship every year. The reality is that won’t occur every year. The standard is you want to be able to compete for a championship every year and by that the expectation is to make the playoffs every season. The ownership understands that the chances of you sustaining that from year to year for 15 years is difficult, but that’s the standard and they understand there’s going to be a blip here and there. The one losing season that we had, that actually put us in a draft position that we were able to draft a franchise quarterback that helped us sustain success.
Translation: Earlier in the same article Colbert uses a baseball metaphor of attempting to go 'three for three' as it relates to drafting. But this is aspirational. Practical reality is that 100 percent success isn't going to happen. Trying to go three for three might occur occasionally, but even if you fall short and go only one for three you're going to the Hall of Fame. The naïve actually believe that winning the championship every year is practical. Maybe in the Big Ten, certainly not in the NFL. Needless frustration ensues as fans attempt to hold the organization to hopelessly unrealistic expectations.
On the idea that problems are solved by scapegoating and firing individuals.
Understanding that it’s not you. There are a lot of reasons that people are successful and it’s not you. Of course that’s part of it. You have to be able and willing, and fortunate enough as an individual. As a successful organization it’s never one person and if you understand that, you’ll always appreciate others’ efforts going toward that common goal. It will always be bigger than an individual.
One of the things that is tracked with trepidation from OTAs through the playoffs is the injury situation of the team. While 'officially' we bravely dismiss injuries as being a part of the game that we cope with, and not an excuse for results, the reality is that the number, timing and individuals injured can play a critical role in the success of a season. Think Le'Veon Bell. So Matt Steel's account of how non contact injuries can be avoided is a fascinating read.
The salary cap
Is there any more important topic at this time of the year? Andrew Brandt presents a primer on the workings of the cap.
One of the things I remember about visiting training camp in Latrobe for the first time several years ago was to observe what player's jerseys were most popular among the fans. It was basically a two person race as, by my unofficial count, Hines Ward edged out Troy Polamalu. It was a no brainer that these two were the most popular Steelers. Consequently, the release of Ward was a traumatic event for Steelers Nation. It appears, if the speculations are correct, that similar is in store as we seem to be in the midst of a Polamalu death (professional) watch.
Tuitt and Keisel
Staying on the theme of veterans who, professionally speaking, have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, The point of this piece is that the rapid development of defensive end Stephon Tuitt may render Brett Keisel expendable. What has to be remembered about this group of vets that includes Troy, James Harrison and Ike Taylor, is that it may be months rather than days before their fate is determined for certain. So the speculation surrounding these players may continue for some time before there is a resolution.
The third year running back made headlines for a variety of reasons this week. Bell along with teammate wide receiver Antonio Brown received the co-AFC Offensive Player of the Year Award given by NFL 101. This may have been a spur for him to lay into alleged scouting guru Mel Kiper Jr. Not being a big fan of Kiper and others of his ilk, this suited me just fine. In addition to the faint praise he received from Kiper during his draft year, he was also evaluated this year as not being quite elite by Pro Football Focus. Then there is the matter of his upcoming suspension by the league. Once thought to be in line for being held out of one or two games, there is now the possibility that he could miss as many as four. This served to pour gasoline on the fire of the debate concerning whether the Steelers should seek a backup for Bell primarily through free agency or the draft. And if you were wondering what the fuss is about concerning Bell, here is a look at the play that marked him as special in the minds of many.
Sean McCoy Staying with running backs for the moment, clearly the biggest football news nationwide this week was the blockbuster trade involving the Philadelphia Eagles and the Buffalo Bills. In spite of the near constant talk of trades coming from fans, events of this sort aren't common in the today's NFL.
Free agency Part I
Saturday was the beginning of the three day period where teams can begin to negotiate with the representatives of free agents.
Free agency Part II
Here is the updated list of roster cuts from around the league.
Free agency Part III
The listing and status of the Steelers free agents.
Depth chart and position analysis
The BTSC series continued with articles on special teams and Shaun Suisham, Steve McLendon and nose tackle, and inside linebackers. Steelers.com position series featured defensive line, centers and guards.
Apparently fed up with all the talk about moving Ryan Shazier to another position, Bob Labriola writes of an experiment involving moving a talented inside linebacker and how that turned out.
Keeping track of the players whom Pittsburgh has been in contact in the run up to the draft
Neal Coolong provides an overview of contract extension scenarios for Steelers players.
The back up offensive tackle files suit against the men acquitted of assaulting him two years ago. Has anyone given any thought to the possible lingering after effects of this incident on Adams' performance?
Free agency Part IV
With, by Steelers' standards plenty of cap space, Pittsburgh could make some noise in free agency if they so choose. But, as Anthony Defeo points out, does the outcome of last year put a damper on expectations?
The Steelers quarterback celebrated a birthday this week.
The Players Association is about to choose new leadership.
An update on the status of Willie Colon [here] and LaMarr Woodley [here]
The Steelers orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Bradley was named one of the top fifty surgeons in the country