So far, the Steelers have gone according to their usual script during the free agency period. The Steelers typically seek first to re-sign their own players. Then, once the big spenders have left the pool, the Steelers will usually make a free agent signing or two that cause little splash. The Steelers never sign big name free agents, but the ones that they sign often make a big contribution.
Recent Steelers free agent signings include Justin Hartwig, Keyaron Fox, and Ryan Clark. James Farrior may be the best free agent acquisition currently on the Steelers’ roster. He was signed for next to nothing when the New York Jets gave up on him. The Steelers then plugged him in, and he’s been a critical component of the Steelers D ever since. He’s a defensive captain, and a multi-time Pro Bowl player.
Instead of chasing big name free agents, the Steelers believe in taking care of their own players. The Steelers understand that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side. They know what their own players can do. More importantly, they know about the problems that their own players may bring to the table. What effect a player like Albert Haynesworth will have on the Redskins locker room is anybody’s guess.
So for the most part, the Steelers’ 2009 roster will look much like the one that recently won the Super Bowl. Max Starks has been re-signed. So has Willie Colon. Chris Kemoeatu as well. That insures that the entire starting offensive line will be back next year.
Some fans may be thinking, “The offensive line was terrible. Why would we want to keep them intact?” There are a couple of answers to that question. First, the offensive line wasn’t as bad as Ben Roethlisberger’s sack total made it seem. Big Ben holds the ball too long. Sometimes that results in a great play, and sometimes it results in a sack. Roethlisberger has said that he doesn’t plan to change his gunslinger style, so Steelers fans will just have to live with lots of sacks.
The second thing to keep in mind about the offensive line is that this was their first year playing together. Remember, Max Starks didn’t start off the year as the starting left tackle. Chris Kemoeatu was playing his first year as a starter at left guard. Justin Hartwig was in his first year as the Steelers’ center. Darnell Stapleton was in his first year as a starting right guard. And Willie Colon was in his second year as the Steelers right tackle. That is not a lot of time spent together as a unit. Yet, they won the Super Bowl. With more time together, the O-line should get better, not worse.
It appears that the Steelers have made the decision that they can no longer tie up money on players who might be health risks. Both Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons cost the Steelers a lot of money last season while making almost no contribution on the field. Both players might make a complete comeback and become Pro Bowl players. That would make the Steelers decision to cut ties with them seem foolish. However, the Steelers were willing to take that risk in order to eliminate the downside of continued health problems.
The greatest potential losses for the Steelers are still unanswered. Cornerback Bryant McFadden is the highest rated CB in free agency. He will likely get a much higher offer than the Steelers can afford to match.
The Oakland Raiders recently signed their free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to a three year, $45.3 million contract. Asomugha is guaranteed $28.5 million in the first two years of the contract. The Raiders have an option for a third year in 2011, which would be worth either $16.8 million or the amount of the quarterback franchise tag, whichever is greater. That’s a lot of money. Sure, Asomugha is a much better cornerback than Bryant McFadden. But try telling McFadden’s agent that. McFadden’s agent knows that his clients’ asking price just went up.
The fact that the Washington Redskins just signed CB DeAngelo Hall to a 6-year, $54 million deal with $22 million in guaranteed money was probably the last nail in Bryant McFadden’s Steeler coffin. The market for cornerbacks is just too high. The Steelers know that William Gay is ready to play, and Deshea Townsend is still around for insurance. Expect the Steelers to draft a cornerback in the 3rd or 4th round of the draft, and to let McFadden sign a contract that is much richer than the Steelers would have offered.
Nate Washington is the other Steelers free agent that is likely to be gone come training camp. Washington is one of the better (and faster) wide receivers available in free agency. There will definitely be a market for his services.
Washington has always been fast, and he can get good separation from his defender. However, his hands have not always been sure. Whether Washington was going to hold onto the ball has always been a 50/50 proposition. The Steelers have an exact clone of that already on the roster. His name is Limas Sweed.
Personally, I’m not quite comfortable with Sweed as a starter just yet. But I think he is going to be a quality wide receiver in the NFL. In his limited time on the field, Sweed was getting excellent separation from his defenders. He just couldn’t hold onto the ball. It took Washington a few years to develop, and Sweed may need similar development time. I won’t be surprised if the Steelers sign a low priced free agent wide receiver to help solidify the WR position until Sweed is ready to start.
Perhaps the Steelers biggest question mark during this free agency period concerns a player who isn’t even a free agent. Albert Haynesworth’s $100 million dollar deal has certainly increased the price of retaining Steelers LB, team MVP, and NFL defensive player of the year, James Harrison.
Harrison has one more year remaining on his contract. However, the Steelers have been working hard to extend Harrison’s contract before next season when he could become a free agent. Despite the fact that they play different positions, Haynesworth’s contract will affect Harrison’s negotiation.
We’ve already mentioned that Nnamdi Asomugha got a $45.3 million contract with $28.5 million guaranteed, and that DeAngelo Hall got $54 million deal with $22 million in guaranteed money. Now Haynesworth’s deal has to also be added into the mix. Haynesworth got $100 million with an NFL-record $41 million in guarantees.
Last off-season Minnesota gave defensive end Jared Allen a six-year deal worth $74 million with just over $31 million guaranteed, and the year before that the Colts handed defensive end Dwight Freeney a six-year, $72 million deal.
Joey Porter’s 5-year, $32 million contract, with $20 million in guaranteed money now seems rather small. It is probably the cellar of James Harrison’s negotiations.
Based on the above figures, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Harrison to seek a contract in the neighborhood of six years, $70-$80 million with at least $30 million guaranteed. I don’t think the length of the deal will be nearly as important to Harrison as the amount of guaranteed money.
“I was hoping we’d get $100,” Harrison’s agent, Bill Parise, recently said. Yeah, right. One thing is for certain. Harrison will not be playing for the $1.8 million next year that his contract calls for.
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