I’ve finally managed to pull myself together enough to write about the Pittsburgh Steelers without having to blink back salty yet manly tears. It’s time to lock memories of Super Bowl XLV in the same box as Super Bowl XXX and never speak of either again. Rather let us turn our attention to next season. Provided the greedy dickhead owners and high-living meathead jocks ever agree on a new collective bargaining agreement so we have a season.
Let’s start with the coaching staff. Pittsburgh West Arizona wasted no time trying to poach yet more assistants from our staff. Unfortunately for Ken Whisenhunt, the Steelers denied him permission to speak to LB coach Keith Butler. Butler was given a new deal last season and word around town is he has been promised the defensive coordinator job when Dick LeBeau retires. And if the Rooneys promise you something, take it to the bank and open an account.
So the Cards will have to settle for secondary coach Ray Horton, who is also interviewing with the Cowboys. Maybe he can teach Whiz’s corners his fabulous technique of backpedaling at the snap so every receiver gets a nice comfy five yard cushion. I sure hope this Butler guy is worth the hype when he eventually ascends to the top job. Although that won’t be in the immediate future as LeBeau has told his men he is definitely returning for next season.
Which leaves us with Bruce Arians. B.A.’s contract has also expired and he’s really done precious little to earn a new one. People seem to have forgotten the stretch in the middle of the season where we scored two offensive touchdowns over three entire games. In an ideal world, B.A. would be gone although the labor issues may prevent any changes. If there is a lock out, it would be stupid to bring in a new offensive coordinator since they would have very little time to work with the players over the off-season. Then again, the Steelers could promote from within since the plays aren’t really the problem but rather the Einey, Meany, Miney, Moe Method he uses to call them.
Roster-wise, Hines Ward (34), James Farrior (36), and Aaron Smith (34) are all reaching retirement age. All three have said they plan on returning for one more go-round, with Ward scheduled to have multiple surgeries this week. Hines and Farrior are not as effective as they used to be but aren’t at the stage where they embarrass themselves out there. Smith is the question mark. He’s due to make about $6 million this year which is way too much for a guy who gets hurt all the time. Smith is a good man but the emergence of Ziggy Hood makes him kind of expendable. I can see the Steelers asking him to renegotiate to a much smaller cap hit and, if he refuses, releasing him ala Joey Porter.
The Steelers have a list of free agents which I will get into when/if the free agency period ever begins. Suffice it to say, the list is headed by LaMarr Woodley and Ike Taylor, both of whom we absolutely need to keep. Woodley is a young stud linebacker who’ll be a fixture on the outside for years to come. Taylor, whether you like him or not, is by far the Steelers best corner. They’ve already started talking with Face Me Ike so I can see them signing one and Franchising the other.
Unless talks completely break down and Taylor leaves via free agency, I wouldn’t expect the Steelers to do anything except dumpster diving for free agents. Paying high-priced mercs is just not their way. So anybody dreaming of Nnamdi Asomugha in Black and Gold should just put those thoughts out of their head. If he pulled a Bettis and told the team he’d play for a winner for a meager contract, maybe, but he’s not going to do that and the Steelers don’t have the cap room to pay him what he’s worth.
Would you let Woodley and Taylor go in exchange for Asomugha? The Steelers wouldn’t but that is the choice you have if you’re in the Sign Nnamdi! camp. For the sake of argument, let’s say you make that trade. Then you still have B-Mac on the other side and instead of him getting targeted 15 times a game, he gets thrown at 20. And you lose Mister Woodley in the process. I love Asomugha as both a player and a character guy but it makes no sense.
If the salary cap returns (as expected) and the Steelers keep Woodley/Ike (as expected), that gives them very little wiggle room. They may sign a few unloved veterans to either fortify the offensive line or play nickel but I wouldn’t expect any major roster additions to come through free agency. Picking at the ass end of the draft, they’ll likely go Best Player Available which means I can see them taking anything from a corner to a young safety to groom behind Clark/Troy to another young defensive linemen (remember, Ziggy was our pick after our last Super Bowl). We’ll examine both free agency and the draft in more depth in the days to come but suffice it to say, I don’t expect major help to come from either.
It’ll be more of the same from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011. Can they rebound from arguably the most devastating loss in this core group’s history? Can they stay healthy? Can Big Ben stay away from drunk sluts? They’ll be plenty of questions heading into the off-season but remember this group was good enough to still be playing when 30 other teams were sitting at home. And that’s good enough for me.
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