Since he has yet to arrive in camp, I have decided to not refer to a certain Wide Receiver on the Steelers by his name anymore. In fact, for as long as his absence continues, this aforementioned pass-catcher will be referred to as #17 in my posts until he decides he would like to either sign his RFA tender, or sign a long-term deal and suit up for the Black & Gold in 2012-2013 or beyond.
New monikers aside, #17 has still yet to report to Latrobe, and was probably further distressed by the fact that the Steelers’ Front Office signed #2 Wide Receiver Antonio Brown to a 5 year $42 million dollar extension. Kudos and a shout-out must go the Front Office for covering their bases and making sure that if #17 continues his hold-out long-term, they will have a way to at least off-set his absence if it occurs.
In the event that #17 continues to harbor a negative attitude about his tender and long-term future with the club, and thus refuses to report until he “has to,” I believe that #17 should consider the example of a former Steelers player Mike Merriweather, and use Merriweather’s hold-out situation in 1988 as a cautionary tale of what could come from his own stubbornness and decision to tango with the Steelers’ Front Office.
Mike Merriweather: What Could Have Been
Let me begin by saying that I only remember Mike Merriweather on the back-end of his career from his days with the Vikings. As the youngest member of the NPC staff, I never got to witness his overall awesomeness of #57 as a player when he suited up for the Black & Gold during the early-mid-1980’s. Yet from the highlights I have seen, the statistics which he put up, and from what my Mom and other older Steelers fans have told me, Merriweather was a terrific talent and considered arguably the most exciting player on the Defensive side of the ball on those mid-80’s teams.
A cat-quick Outside Linebacker, Merriweather was a complete and total play-making and tackling-machine in his prime with the Steelers, and had a nose for the football (11 INT’s, 2 TD’s and 9 FR’s with Black & Gold) to boot. Merriweather could also pressure the Quarterback, and racked up a career-high 15.0 Sacks in 1984, a then-team record, and totaled 30.5 from 1984-1987. For his tremendous efforts, Merriweather made three Pro Bowls during the mid-1980’s in back-to-back-to-back campaigns (1984,1985, 1986) and was rightfully thought of as a cornerstone of the Defense as he approached the prime of his career. Sadly, Merriweather never played a down with the Steelers after 1987.
The beginning of tensions between Merriweather and the Front Office can likely be traced to when Wilber Marshall of the Redskins signed a 6 year $5 million dollar contract around that time period. And after the 1987 season ended (one where he was actually named Team MVP), Merriweather got the idea in his head that he did not like his contract (he was still signed through 1989 at the time), was intent on being paid more ($1 million dollars per season), and thus wanted it renegotiated. Granted, Merriweather’s asking price (over $1 million dollars per year) was nowhere in the ball-park of the type of coin which #17 has his heart-strings set on, but the “more money compared to players at his position” concept is nonetheless similar to #17 who has been thought to want “Larry Fitzgerald money” at this point in his career.
Because Pittsburgh’s Front Office was unwilling to meet his thought to be outrageous demands, the Pro Bowler sat out (he attended a Baptist Theology School during his time away) and was intent on staying away until he got what he wanted in 1988. Unfortunately for Merriweather, who sat out at age 27 and in the prime of his career, and the Steelers alike, #57 never suited up in the Black & Gold again, and each and every party involved was hurt because of it.
Aftermath: 1988 and Beyond
In 1988, Pittsburgh finished with their worst record since Chuck Noll took over the team in 1969, and the 5-11 mark from that season remains the most dismal season in franchise history since the 1-13 mark which was dubiously reached by Noll’s first squad. Pittsburgh eventually moved their disgruntled Linebacker in April of 1989 for a 1st Round pick (which they basically threw away when they used it on Guard/Tackle Tom Ricketts who played only three seasons with the team).
Merriweather on the other hand had a decent career in Minnesota, but was hardly considered to be the dominant player he was with Pittsburgh. The Vikings got a decent return on their investment as Merriweather led the team in Tackles in 1990 and 1991 and notched 14 Turnovers (7 INT’s, 7 FR’s), but for the price they paid, especially for an Outside Linebacker in a 4-3 Defense, it was hardly enough. Merriweather’s glory days as a pass-rusher were behind him as he put up only 10.0 Sacks from ages 29-32, and failed to make a Pro Bowl during his time in the Twin Cities. Worst of all, Minnesota failed to make it past the Divisional Round of the N.F.C. Playoffs despite having one of the Conference’s best Defenses during the late 80’s-early 90’s. Their investment in Merriweather ultimately lasted four seasons, and his career was finished a year later after stints with the Packers and the Jets in 1993.
Even though they lost their best Linebacker at the time, the Steelers eventually came out winners in the situation though because of what they did and what they always have done when they lost top-level talent: they drafted sensibly and developed their young players to fill the hole left by their departed star. As they counted on veterans David Little and Bryan Hinkle on the back-end of their careers to lead the Linebacking corps in the late 1980’s, the Steelers also drafted/developed some talented youngsters named Hardy Nickerson, Greg Lloyd, and Jerrol Williams to offset the loss of their Pro Bowl Linebacker. These moves worked and from 1989 to 1991, the Steelers played decent .500 ball and eventually set themselves up for success down the road in the 1990’s.
Management is not the bad guy in the situation #17, they are just the “sensible guy.” If the Front Office really wanted to mess with you, they would have lowered your tender when they had the chance and taken a page from the Mike Brown/Bill Bidwell penny-pinching playbook. Plus, if management really wanted to yank your chain, they would not have publicly stated or made efforts to resign you. C’mon #17, a Front Office which has limited cap space cannot act irrationally and “make it rain” by giving a contract above market value to you like a Jerry Jones or a Dan Snyder would. They are actually interested in resigning you to a long-term deal, and would love to keep you around to continue their wonderful tradition of winning at a price they deem manageable.
I am rooting for your success #17, I really am. I hope that if you come to your senses over the next few weeks and sign the RFA tender (or hopefully work out a long-term deal), you come in like a “bat out of hell” and wipe the floor with your competition this season and either force this Front Office to pay you in 2013, or simply walk away as a UFA while the Front Office receives nothing in return.
Just understand however that there will be no winners in this fight until you consider how adept the Front Office led by Colbert and Co. and the scouts are at finding/drafting then having the Coaching Staff subsequently develop talent at the Wide Receiver position. Pittsburgh’s Offense will definitely hurt with your absence in the short-term, there is no doubt about it, and they really suffered without Merriweather in 1988. Yet give Scottie Montgomery and O.C. Todd Haley (who was a Receivers Coach for a large chunk of his career) time to develop a speedster and big deep threat like Rookie Toney Clemons or draft one in the early Rounds over the next couple of seasons, and the transition will be seamless. You know? Kind of like how Santonio Holmes replaced Antwaan Randle El and Plaxico Burress, or how you yourself replaced Holmes and left Limas Sweed in the dust.
The proverbial “ball” is in your and your agent’s (Bus Cook) courts, and has been since the team placed the 1st Round RFA tender on you instead of the franchise tag close to four-five months ago. Do whatever you want though #17, because you are an adult and if you want to wait until the last third of the season to sign so you can be a UFA then go right ahead. Regardless of what happens though, I just earnestly hope that you take Merriweather’s story into account before you start doing something rash like he did. You might achieve a small measure of success elsewhere after you leave, but know this: the Steelers organization will find a way to be fine without you if you do decide to leave. It has happened before with Merriweather, and it you choose to hold out then depart, it will happen again.
Stats Courtesy of: Pro Football Reference.com