Rejoice, Steeler Nation, our long national nightmare is finally over. Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to terms with center Justin Hartwig.
The deal is a reported $4 million dollars for two years, including a $975,000 signing bonus. Once again, our tricky Player Personnel Director, Kevin Colbert, sits back during the early days of free agency, allowing the rotten teams to blow their wads like a virgin on prom night, then swoops in and manages to pick up a quality player at a discount price.
Don’t be fooled by the relative pittance we’re paying him, Hartwig is a fine player who basically became another salary cap casualty. Two years ago, the Carolina Panthers gave Hartwig a five-year/$17 million deal to lure him away from the Titans. They expected him to anchor their line but a nagging groin injury limited him to one start in 2006. Healthy in 2007, he started every game except the season finale. Carolina said he had a knee injury but the smart money says they wanted him to sit so they could take a look at Ryan Kalil as the heir apparent. Evidently they liked what they saw from the kid which made Hartwig, a grand old man of 29, totally expendable.
The entire situation is not unlike what we do here in the ‘Burgh, such as when we cut LB Joey Porter last year because we had a younger cheaper player ready to play. If you have two fairly equal options available, common sense is you go with the newer model. Unless you’re the Raiders, then you pick the old guy because you love veteranosity. But for a team like the Steelers, where our options are either somebody who has never taken an NFL snap at center or the Human Traffic Cone, Sean Mahan, a player the caliber of Hartwig is a huge upgrade.
And make no mistake; Justin Hartwig will be our starting center in 2008.
The Steelers also announced they resigned restricted free agents Chris Kemoeatu and Trai Essex. This pretty much completes our restructuring of the offensive line for next season. Colbert will almost certainly draft an OLineman with our first round pick but now he won’t be expected to start until 2009. Mahan, who to be fair is a natural guard, will compete with the Samoan Bulldozer (Kemoeatu) for the spot vacated by LG Alan Faneca. If he fails, there will be temptation to cut him considering at about $3.3 million/year, he’s being overpaid by about $3 million. However, our depth is pretty weak and he can back-up both G and C so he might be worth keeping around. Mister Transition, Max Starks, looks to be our starting LT, thus bringing our grand total to three new starters on the line this coming season.
Hopefully these changes will cut down our ridiculously high sack totals from last year where Ben Roethlisberger had about a 50-50 chance of ending up on his magnificiently sculpted ass on any given play. Considering we just paid Ben the approximate gross national product of Latvia to be our quarterback for the next decade, I’m sure keeping him healthy and upright is something of interest to the Steelers. With these strategically considered off-season moves, I feel much better that they succeeded in their goal. Let’s face it, True Believers, things really have nowhere to go but up.
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