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Steelers free agency recap

February 28, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

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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The case for James Harrison as NFL MVP

December 30, 2008 By: Admin Category: Players

December 29,2008
By Donald Starver

Sports writers are hypocrites.  They are quick to spout trite phrases like “defense wins championships”, yet when they are called upon to show what they really believe, their actions prove that they believe that offense wins championships.

Each year, the Associated Press selects the NFL MVP.  And each year they go through their annual ritual of proving that they only value offense.

Since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970 there have been 40 NFL MVP’s.  Of those, 25 have been quarterbacks and 12 have been running backs.  That’s 92.5% for those of you who like statistics.  The only anomalies from this rule were linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986, kicker Mark Moseley during the strike shortened 1982 season, and DT Alan Page in 1971.

Two defensive MVP’s since the merger.  Pathetic!  So much for “defense wins championships”.

Of the NFL’s 5 top ranked offenses, 4 of them will be watching the playoffs from their living rooms.  Prolific passer Drew Brees and the #1 ranked New Orleans Saints offense had an amazing season.  Too bad their season’s over.  Same for the Denver Broncos, the NFL’s #2 offense.  The Houston Texans had the 3rd best offense in the NFL this season.  They’re also vacationing now.  So how important is offense if it can’t even carry a team into the playoffs?

Contrarily, 4 of the top 5 defenses in the NFL will make playoff appearances.  The lone holdout was the Washington Redskins, and if they played in any division other than the brutal NFC East, they too would probably have made the playoffs.  Despite these obvious arguments for the importance of defense, look for Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, Kurt Warner, and Philip Rivers to garner most of the MVP votes.  Idiotic, if you ask me.

In January of 2001, when the Baltimore Ravens where enjoying a parade following the first Super Bowl championship in team history, was there anyone in the known universe who didn’t agree that Ray Lewis was the MVP?  I’m not talking about the Super Bowl MVP.  I don’t mean the Defensive Player of the Year.  Nope, Ray Lewis was the friggin’ NFL MVP.  For the Ravens, defense DID win a championship, and Ray Lewis was the engine that drove that defense.  Some quarterback or running back may be babysitting his MVP trophy, but we all know it belongs to Ray.

This year, we have the potential for a similar injustice.  The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the playoffs with the league’s #1 ranked defense.  They allow the fewest points per game.  They allow the fewest yards per game.  They are #1 against the pass, and #2 against the run.  They were #1 against the run as recently as week 14, but were surpassed by the Minnesota Vikings’ defense late in the season.  Suffice it to say that the Steelers’ defense is pretty good.

The best player on that defense is James Harrison.  Harrison was voted team MVP for the second year in a row.  He will also make his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance since becoming a starter last year.  The Steelers have a $100 million quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, but James Harrison is the team’s two-time MVP.  Think about that for a moment.

On a team with a tradition for great defenses, James Harrison broke the Steelers’ all-time record for sacks in a season.  Neither Joe Greene, nor Jack Lambert, nor Greg Lloyd, nor Kevin Greene, nor Jack Ham, nor Joey Porter, nor Jason Gildon, nor L.C. Greenwood, nor any other Steeler has ever harrassed opposing quarterbacks like James Harrison did this year.  When you think about all of the Hall-of-Famers who have played for the Steelers, that’s pretty amazing.

Sure, there are other defensive players who deserve attention.  DeMarcus Ware and former Steeler Joey Porter both had more sacks than Harrison.  But in many ways, they’re both one trick ponies.  Ravens’ safety Ed Reed and Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu also had fantastic seasons.  But they didn’t fill stat sheets like Harrison.  Same with Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth.  He had a great year.  Just not as great as Harrison’s.

Harrison’s off-field demeanor is so quiet and understated that it’s easy too overlook his accomplishments.  No defensive player filled stat sheets quite the way Harrison did.  Harrison ended the season ranked #4 in sacks.  However, unlike the 3 players who were ahead of him, Harrison is asked to do far more than sack the quarterback.  Harrison had 17 more tackles than sack leader DeMarcus Ware, 54 more than Joey Porter, and 63 more than John Abraham.

Anyone who has ever watched James Harrison play has probably noticed that he isn’t satisfied with simply sacking a quarterback.  When Harrison sacks a quarterback, he seems to think that forcing a fumble is also a requirement.  He led the league with 7 forced fumbles.

Harrison was tied for second in the NFL in forced safeties.  How many did Albert Haynesworth force?  zero.  How about DeMarcus Ware?  Zero.  Joey Porter?  Zero.

If you look at the league leaders in total tackles, you notice that this statistic is traditionally dominated by inside/middle linebackers and safeties, the guys who roam the middle of the field.  If we eliminate the inside/middle linebackers and safeties, and look at tackles by players at all other positions, James Harrison is 9th in the NFL.  Even when you add the inside/middle linebackers and safeties back into the statistics, Harrison is still 25th in the league.  Not bad for a guy who is only responsible for one side of the field, and who has to take on the opponent’s toughest offensive lineman (the left tackle) on every single play.

James Harrison is tied for 7th in the NFL in interceptions.  He has the same number as defensive backs Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins, Jonathan Joseph, and Lawyer Milloy.

Harrison even has 4 passes defensed.  That may not sound like a lot, but for an outside linebacker, that it tremendous.  DeMarcus Ware has none.  Joey Porter has none.  See my point?

There is no doubt that Peyton Manning has had a great season.  And this Friday, I expect to hear his name called as this year’s NFL MVP.  But the reality is that Peyton Manning has not had as good a season as James Harrison.  In order to match what Harrison has done on defense, Manning would have to be among the league leaders in passing yards, rushing yards, punt return yards, kick return yards, and field goals.  That may sound like a ridiculous statement, but when you look at how broadly James Harrison has filled the defensive stat sheets, you quickly realize that it is an appropriate analogy.

Peyton Manning will probably receive his third NFL MVP Award this Friday.  However, those who truly understand football will know that he is merely babysitting James Harrison’s award, just like Marshall Faulk is babysitting Ray Lewis’.

If sportswriters had any courage, they would use their vote to correct this injustice.  But they don’t.  So they won’t.  Congratulations Peyton.

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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans recap

December 22, 2008 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

If there is one thing that I hate more than a Steelers’ loss, it’s a Baltimore win.  Unfortunately, I got both this weekend.  The Steelers lost to the Titans 31-14, and the Ravens beat the Cowboys 33-24.  I think I’d better hide all of the cutlery in my house, or I might slice my wrists.

The thing that hurts even worse than the fact that the Steelers lost, is the fact that they allowed a team to gain 300+ yards for the first time this season.  I don’t think I’m the only Steelers fan who would have loved to have seen the team go the entire season without yielding 300 yards to a team.

Despite the loss, I still believe that the Steelers are a better team than the Titans, and that they can beat that team.  So what happened?  In short, Big Ben happened.  I’m not saying that Ben lost the game for the Steelers.  The Steelers win as a team, and they lose as a team.  However, Ben didn’t have the best game of his career.

Bill Cowher used to keep Ben under a tight leash.  He never really gave Ben the freedom or responsibility of having to win the game.  Instead, he simply asked Ben to manage the offense and to try not to lose the game for the team.  I didn’t think that was the right way to use Ben back then, and I definitely don’t think the organization can shackle him now that they’ve made him their $100 million franchise quarterback.  Nevertheless, there are times when I wish Ben would remember some of the lessons that Bill Cowher tried to teach him.

On Sunday, Ben appeared to try to do too much, and it came back to haunt the team.  His two interceptions and four fumbles (although 2 were recovered by the Steelers) were more than even the Steelers’ defense could compensate for.  It’s tough to beat any team when you give up 4 turnovers.  It’s nearly impossible when the team you’re playing has the best record in the AFC.

Anyone who watched the game knows that it was much closer than the score indicated.  I’m hopeful that the Steelers will get another crack at the Titans in the AFC championship.  I believe that things will be different if the two teams meet again.

The Titans will probably be an even stronger defensive team if we meet them again.  Both Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch are expected to be back for the playoffs.  However, the Steelers’ defense should be better too.  Linebacker James Harrison got hurt early in the first quarter, and was originally thought to be out for the game.  He ended up returning on the next possession, but he didn’t seem to be his normal dominant self.

If given another shot at the Titans, I have the utmost confidence in Dick LeBeau to prepare a game plan to stop them.  Now that he’s seen them firsthand, LeBeau will go back to his laboratory and create a new concoction especially for them.

But the most important difference that I would hope to see if the two teams face one another again is a more careful Ben Roethlisberger.  When Big Ben turns the ball over, bad things happen for the Steelers.  But when he protects the ball, good things tend to happen.  Big Ben merely needs to play like he used to for Bill Cowher.  He needs to stop trying to do too much, and simply manage the offense and avoid turnovers.  Sure, he can go down the field every now and then.  But don’t force the ball unnecessarily.  An when he feels pressure, he needs to get rid of the ball rather than giving up a sack, fumble, or interception.

There was a time when Steeler Nation wanted LenDale White.  When he was coming out of college, many thought that he was the “big back” that we needed to replace Jerome Bettis.  But after his antics after the game, I want him for a completely different reason.  I want the Steelers to put a hurting on him.  A national audience saw him stomp on a Terrible Towel after the game.  Not a smart move.  If the two teams meet again, I think LenDale will be reminded of his little act of disrespect.

Next week, the Steelers close out the season against the Cleveland Browns (yawn!).  After that, the playoffs start.  Despite the lopsided loss today, I want to face the Titans again more than ever.

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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans Preview

December 19, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

The time is finally here. Let’s get it on!

Is it just me, or has the rest of Steeler Nation been looking forward to this game since about week 9 of the season? Back then, the Titans were undefeated, and I just knew in my heart that the Steelers could beat them. I hoped that nobody would beat them before the Steelers got the opportunity to exert their dominance over them.

Of course, the New York Jets ruined that dream when they beat the Titans 34-13 in Tennessee. Then the Houston Texans further messed up my fantasy by beating the Titans last week by a score of 13-12.

Nevertheless, there is still a lot on the line when the Steelers play the Titans this Sunday. Both teams have already clinched a first round playoff bye. But the winner of this game will gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Some will say that home field advantage may not be a good thing for either of these teams. Afterall, the Titans were 13-3 in 2000 and had earned home field throughout the playoffs, but lost their very first game. Similarly, the Steelers had the #1 seed in 1994, 2001, and 2004, but lost in the conference championship at home each time. To that, I say “phooey”! Only a complete idiot would say that earning home field advantage is not a good thing. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. The Steelers should want home field advantage.

By gaining home field advantage, they will have the benefit of having the crowd on their side. They will also avoid unnecessary travel that can take so much out of a player. They will get to sleep in their own beds, and eat their own food. That’s worth a lot. And most importantly, the Steelers should want to earn home field advantage as a gift to their fans. Sure, Steeler Nation will follow the black and gold wherever they go. But what could possibly be better than playing all of their playoff games in the ‘Burgh in front of the world’s greatest fans?

As investment companies say, “past performance is not an indication of future results”. That’s how I feel about the Steelers’ past playoff history with home field advantage. It is meaningless. Those games have nothing to do with the ones that the Steelers will play this year. Home field advantage is a prize that is to be sought. Period.

A win over the Cleveland Browns in the final game of the season is essentially guaranteed. Afterall, the Browns haven’t beaten the Steelers since…… ummmm, I can’t even remember when it was. But I’m pretty sure that Jim Brown was still playing for Cleveland at the time.

Since the win over Cleveland is all but assured, the Titans are the only real obstacle in the Steelers’ quest for home field advantage. That is why this may be the most important game of the season.

The Tennessee Titans are the AFC’s #1 ranked running offense. Unfortunately, they are about to run into the AFC’s #1 ranked rushing defense. The Titans average 142.8 yards per game on the ground. However, the Steelers’ defense is only giving up 75.8 rushing yards per game. Something has got to give.

The Titans’ rushing attack is led by the running back tandem of LenDale White and Chris Johnson. They go by the nickname of “Smash ‘n Dash”. However, like Clinton Portis, Brandon Jacobs, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Willis McGahee, Fred Taylor, and Brian Westbrook before them, “Smash ‘n Dash” is about to find out that nobody can run against the Steelers’ defense. Nobody. White and Johnson don’t know it yet, but the Steelers are going to crash and bash “Smash ‘n Dash”.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Titans won’t present the challenge that they might have earlier in the season. Two of their best defensive players, DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, are out with injuries. The Titans don’t blitz much as a team. Instead they rely on their 4 man rush. Without two of their four front line players, their rush will be greatly diminished. That’s bad news for the Titans, but great news for Big Ben.

With their pass rush rendered impotent, Ben Roethlisberger should pick the Titans’ secondary apart. Last week, Texans’ wide receiver Andre Johnson burned the Titans for over 200 receiving yards. Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes may not get that many yards, but they should have a good game.

Barring divine intervention, there is little doubt in my mind that the Steelers are going to beat the Titans. The Steelers are a better team, and they’ve faced better opposition. The Steelers’ opponents this season are a combined 98-95-2, while the Titans’ opponents are 82-113-1.

The Titans are merely the next rung on the ladder that the Steelers have to climb. I predict a final score of Steelers 24, Titans 10.

If you like the picture above, you can download it here. It is a Steelers cheer card. They are available for free at Check them out before each game.

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