I’m taking a short break from my series of things which are ruining the NFL to weigh in on the dumpster fire that’s going on with the Steelers right now. By now we’ve all heard the comments from the still unnamed Steelers player who called LaMarr Woodley out for being a scooch too hefty and not as productive this past season. As uncharacteristic as that is, an anonymous quote from a Steeler bashing another Steeler, the fallout seems even worse. The Steelers 2012 locker room has been exposed for having a lack of leadership, personal agendas, and overall dysfunction. How did the Steelers turn into the New York Jets? Can this be fixed?
The biggest excuse that was given as the reasoning behind why the 2012 Steelers were predicted to finish 3rd in the AFC North was the void left in leadership positions without longtime Steelers Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior in the locker room. That and they’re all old, which it seems like the Steelers have been called old for the past 5 years. I and I know I wasn’t the only one, downplayed the “leadership issue” at the start of the season. I never thought for one minute that a team that still had Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, and Heath Miller would have any issues with leadership. I never thought they’d have issues in the locker room at all. I thought that the whole idea was blown completely out of proportion because Ward, Smith and Farrior collectively hadn’t been on the field the past seasons due to injury or other reasons so how could their absence from the locker room cause any problems? Apparently I was all wrong.
Another cause of how this mess could have happened could be attributed to what Antonio Brown said this week was “certain” players being called out midseason for their contract issues citing Troy Polamalu as addressing other players by saying,
“It’s not about money or contract issues; it’s all about being together.”
Brown also stated the locker room was “different” than previous years. While Antonio Brown was still unwilling to name names in referencing who was being called out for focusing on their contract issues it doesn’t take a detective to figure out that Mike Wallace’s hold out and impending realization that he’d be gone to free agency to the highest bidder at the end of the season, along with his uncharacteristic disappointing play, played a big part in the locker room dysfunction for the Steelers. Think about the last time a high profile wide receiver for the Steelers held out during training camp for a long term contract. Hines Ward held out in the summer of 2005 for a long term deal to allow him to retire as a Steeler and the Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL that following February, as quite possibly one of the closest-knit teams the franchise ever had thanks to the collective effort to get “The Bus” back to Detroit to retire a champion. This season we had Mike Wallace, part of the “Young Money Crew” holding out of signing his RFA tender during almost the entire training camp and therefore forfeiting his opportunity to negotiate with the Steelers for a long term deal considering the fact that the Steelers have a long standing rule of not negotiating contracts once the regular season begins. Wallace reports to the team just before the season starts and has his worst statistical season of his career, partly due to not being targeted with the lack of deep balls thrown, but still not the kind of performance you’d think someone who thought they were underpaid would put forth. Makes you wonder if he wasn’t targeted in the beginning of the season because he just wasn’t acclimated to Haley’s offense in time? Was Wallace too concerned the entire season about his money that he never properly learned the new offensive scheme and therefore didn’t perform well enough in practice to have his number called in game situations? Wallace reportedly turned down an estimated $50 million offer from the Steelers and I think he’s part of the reason the locker room was a mess this year. The Steelers do not have a history of bringing their contract disputes into the locker room with them, that’s just not the way. Call Woodley out all you want for getting fat and not performing after he got his contract but he sure as hell out performed his previous contract and never caused any kind of distractions while he was awaiting his deal. It’s pretty clear that Wallace made “getting his money” a bigger priority than the team’s objectives. Fortunately, if you can really call it that, Steeler Nation won’t have to worry about the Mike Wallace distraction for 2013 because even before free agency opens up he’s as good as gone. If he turned down $50 million to stay with the Steelers and teams like the Miami Dolphins are willing to throw as much as $60 million at him, you can pretty much replace your #17 jerseys now.
So what’s a bigger problem for the Steelers, the fact that an anonymous player called Woodley out or the cavalcade of players going on talk shows now to talk about how crappy everyone was in the locker room this year? Just this week Ryan Clark, Larry Foote, and Antonio Brown have all come out to talk about the locker room dysfunction. First Clark called the anonymous player “a coward” on the NFL Network. Then Larry Foote suggested that it might have been a coach rather than a player who made the comments, and Antonio Brown was all over ESPN on Wednesday to describe all the issues the Steelers had. What the hell? Who’s going on Dr. Phil then? How did it get to this level in the first place? I think when you’re the Pittsburgh Steelers and you finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs there are bound to be some issues that arise. It’s way easier for the players to be a “brotherhood” when you’re winning than when you’re losing.
Can the problems all be traced back to the head coach? I have to admit I often defend the criticism of Mike Tomlin when it’s stated that he’s got a lack of control over the team, particularly when he’s compared to Bill Cowher, but this kind of unrest can only lead back to the head coach. Tomlin either didn’t put the right message in the right player’s hands or didn’t give the players the direction they needed. In some ways the Steelers are as old as people claim they are but in other positions they are relatively young, and quite possibly immature. The “next man up” mantra has served the Steelers well for many seasons but this season not so much because the next man was often unprepared to fill the shoes of his predecessor. The Steelers running back situation in it of itself was a dumpster fire this season and you had Rashard Mendenhall getting suspended one game for failing to show up for a game he wasn’t dressing for. Tomlin was widely criticized for benching RB after RB during the monstrosity of a game that was Week 12 in Cleveland where everybody and their mother was putting the piggy on the ground but was he trying to start a fire in an otherwise ineffective group? When you think of the Steelers lacking leadership, not only can you blame it on the head coach but you might as well blame it on the players you most expected to have stepped up in those leadership positions. Ryan Clark is a very outspoken member of the team and did seem to step into a leadership role this season, his comments on the NFL network regarding the anonymous player ripping Woodley,
“That shows that this team that is normally close, you had the Joey Porters, the Alan Fanecas, just down the line, leader after leader, this team was close-knit. It shows there is a fracture in that. I think that is the most disappointing thing about that coming out.”
Kevin Colbert addressed the media on Thursday while attending the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He addressed the situation regarding anonymous sources,
“Whether you win a Super Bowl or finish 8-8, there is no 100 percent harmonious locker room. I don’t care where it is. I think it’s more likely to happen when you go 8-8, but quite honestly, I’m not concerned about our locker room. Coach Tomlin and I have had the opportunity to speak to our players, sometimes more than once, since the season ended. We have a very good finger on the pulse of where we stand from a team standpoint. We’re comfortable with that.”
Bottom line is the Steelers having locker room issues like these is about as common as ESPN’s NHL coverage so it’s going to be blown out of proportion no matter what is going on but you’d think that some of these problems are going to take care of themselves. The players’ comments basically point to Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall being the biggest distractions in the locker room and neither are likely to be wearing the Black & Gold in 2013. Ron Cook, of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, who initially reported the anonymous quotes, has said that the comments were made by more than one player and several coaches and not at all intended to demean or ridicule him but rather fire him up. When it comes down to it, LaMarr Woodley’s gut was not the sole reason the Steelers went 8-8 last season and we all know that. His lack of production and injury problems have definitely contributed to the Steelers pass rush being listed on milk cartons along with missing children but definitely wasn’t the only reason the Steelers missed the playoffs this year. I feel like the Steelers need to straighten these issues out immediately, well as immediate as they can without even the 2013 roster being anywhere near set, but the very people making the comments bashing the anonymous player and describing the problems in the locker room are the ones that need to step up. Antonio Brown might want to focus more on not putting the piggy on the ground and maybe not run backwards 20 yards into the endzone since he’s likely the Steelers #1 receiver now. Steeler Nation expects a lot from their team and we know they expect a lot from each other. There’s a simple solution to all of this drama and in lies in the immortal words of the dearly departed Crazy Al Davis; Just win Baby.
What are your thoughts, Steeler Nation? Are you worried about the Steelers locker room problems spilling over into 2013?