Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Steelers Kick Gardocki to the Curb

Today, the Steelers released 16-year-veteran punter Chris Gardocki. The move had been expected since the team traded up in the fourth round of last month's NFL Draft to select Daniel Sepulveda, who twice won the Ray Guy Award (given to the top punter in Division I-A college football) at Baylor.

Without a doubt, Sepulveda (or Mike Barr, the only other punter on Pittsburgh's roster) will be paid considerably less than Gardocki, who was scheduled to earn $1,088,750 in 2007 and $1.3 million in 2008. But by cutting Gardocki with two years remaining on his contract, a prorated portion of Gardocki's $1.1 million signing bonus will count as "dead money" against the Steelers' salary cap.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Steigerwald's Sunday column

In the Sunday edition of the Washington Observer-Reporter columnist John Steigerwald asks "Will Tomlin have guts to yank Roethlisberger?" More specifically, he ponders the question: "If Roethlisberger comes out of the chute throwing interceptions at the same rate that he threw them last year, how long will it be before Tomlin gives him the hook?" Clearly, Steigerwald is reaching for something . . . anything . . . to fill column space in these long days between the draft and training camp.

My first reaction to Steigerwald's question is: Don't worry about it. In his first three seasons Ben Roethlisberger has almost always played well, except when returning from injury. It's self-evident that most of Roethlisberger's struggles last season were due to the emergency apendectomy, concussion, and possibly the lingering effects of the motorcycle accident. In his first two games after the apendectomy (at Jacksonville, Cincinnati) and first game after the concussion (at Oakland) Ben threw nine interceptions and zero touchdown passes. Bottom line? It's clear that Charlie Batch should have been the quarterback in those games.

So perhaps Steigerwald is asking the wrong question. Assuming Ben is healthy enough to play effectively, I believe Roethlisberger has earned to right to play through a game--or a series of games--in which he struggles. Actually, Tomlin's toughest decision(s) will be when to start Batch in lieu of Roethlisberger. In this regard, perhaps Tomlin will be more sensible--and more conservative--than Bill Cowher. After all, Roethlisberger won a Super Bowl for Cowher, but hasn't yet done so for his new coach, so Tomlin may not feel that same sense of blind allegiance.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

LeBeau Gives Tomlin a Chance to Succeed

Fans may have some misgivings about the new direction of the Steelers' offense, but rest assured the team's defense is still in good hands. In fact, one could make the argument that much of Bill Cowher's success was directly attributable to Dick LeBeau, whom new head coach Mike Tomlin has wisely retained as defensive coordinator.

Consider this: In the six seasons in which LeBeau served as Cowher's defensive coordinator the Steelers compiled a 75-34 record (69% winning percentage), including a 9-4 record in the post-season. In five of those six seasons the Steelers qualified for the playoffs, reaching the Super Bowl on two occasions. In the remaining nine seasons during Cowher's 15-year reign the Steelers compiled a not-nearly-as-impressive 86-65-1 record (57% winning percentage), emerging victorious in just three of eight playoff games. Never mind the fact that the Steelers went 33-19 from 1992-94, when LeBeau served as Cowher's secondary coach. In other words, Cowher's career record without LeBeau is a mere 53-46-1.

All of this bodes well for Tomlin, who should reap the benefits of LeBeau's defensive expertise. If the new offense can hold up its end of the bargain Pittsburgh's first season under Tomlin could be more successful than most prognosticators expect.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Faneca Shouldn't Expect Sympathy

"To make me go out there this year [and] play football with no security . . . in my mind, that's just not right," said Steelers LG Alan Faneca, the team's first-round draft choice in 1998. Well, in my mind, it's just not right that Faneca is criticizing the Steelers for jeopardizing his "financial security," not after paying him approximately $22 million(!) over the past five years, including a $1 million bonus last month. Just because other NFL owners have foolishly handed out $49 million contracts to other (lesser) offensive guards doesn't mean the Steelers are somehow obligated pay that kind of money to Faneca, who will turn 31 this December. The bottom line is that it just doesn't make sense to commit $7 million-plus a year to an interior offensive lineman, no matter how good a player.

This past Friday Faneca also said, "To be treated like this, I think it sends a message.... If they can do [this] to me . . . and let Joey [Porter] go, what does it say to the rest of the guys?" Well, it simply says that the organization is trying to do everything possible to remain competitive -- in other words, put a winning team on the field -- year-in and year-out, rather than rewarding aging veterans with contracts based largely on past performance. Naturally, the players want to make as much money as possible, but they also want to win games and go to the Super Bowl. Teams that descend into salary cap hell (by handing out huge signing bonuses to veteran players who don't live up to expectations) don't win many games. Prudent cap management is one reason the Steelers are so successful; just look at how little "dead money" (for players no longer on the team) the Steelers have counting against their salary cap. In all likelihood, the Miami Dolphins will eventually pay the piper for the contract they awarded Porter, and Faneca's next contract will, sooner or later, almost certainly create a dead money issue for the team that signs him. In fact, if I recall, Faneca has said publicly that he doesn't envision playing football that much longer, which could be a factor in the Steelers' reluctance to give him a huge signing bonus.

In my opinion, the Steelers ought to trade Faneca, if they have the opportunity. However, I doubt any team will give Pittsburgh commensurate value, not with Faneca set to become a free agent in March.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ex-Steelers LB Seigler arrested

Veteran LB Richard Seigler, 26, a fringe player who was on the Steelers' roster during parts of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, was arrested on Thursday, just hours after being released by the team. The timing cannot have been a coincidence. The Steelers must have known his arrest was imminent--prompting his release. Seigler is accused of operating a prostitution ring during the off-season in Las Vegas.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Report: Steelers to sign RB Kevan Barlow

According to, former Jets and 49ers running back Kevan Barlow has reached an agreement with the Steelers on a one-year contract and will participate in this weekend's minicamp.

Monday, May 07, 2007

No really, I'm with the Steelers...

The new issue of ESPN magazine features an article about Brian Jackson, a Pittsburgh man who attemped to con women into believing he played for the Steelers. At various times he claimed to be TE Jerame Tuman, 3rd string QB Brian St. Pierre, and even Ben Roethlisberger. Click here to read the article.