Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Criticism of Steelers' Rookie Contracts Unjustified

The Steelers have been criticized recently for failing to sign second-day draft choices to four-year contracts, as opposed to the three-year agreements the team apparently prefers. To date, Pittsburgh has signed three of its Day 2 draft picks—P Daniel Sepulveda (fourth round), DL Ryan McBean (fourth round) and OG Cameron Stephenson (fifth round)—and all received three-year contracts. Meanwhile, the current trend among NFL teams is to ink middle-round picks to four-year deals, which ostensibly prevents those players from reaching free agency for an additional year.

Yet, there's a strong case to be made that three-year contracts (still) make a lot more sense. First, if the player doesn't pan out the team is out from under the contract in three years instead of four. Second, a three-year contract presumably warrants a smaller signing bonus (guaranteed money) than a four-year deal. Finally, a three-year contract puts the team and player at a negotiating crossroads after just three seasons, at which point: a long-term extension can be worked out; the team can make a tender offer (and either retain the player for another year or receive compensation for losing that player via restricted free agency); or simply allow the player to become an unrestricted free agent. At this point, both parties have an incentive to work out a long-term extension, and oftentimes that is exactly what happens.

From a team's perspective, four-year rookie contracts would seem to be the worst possible option, because the player has little incentive to come to the bargaining table before testing unrestricted free agency. In 1993 the Steelers drafted LB Chad Brown in the second round (#44 overall) and signed him to a four-year contract; after his contract expired he signed with Seattle. In 2001 the Steelers selected LB Kendrell Bell in round two (#39 overall); after four seasons Bell left for Kansas City. And in 2002 Pittsburgh drafted WR Antwaan Randle El in the second round (#62 overall) ; when his four-year contract expired, Mr. Randle El went to Washington.

In case you're wondering, the Steelers' 2004 second rounder (CB Ricardo Colclough) also has a four-year contract, which is set to expire after the 2007 season. However, it seems doubtful that Pittsburgh will retain Colclough beyond 2007, and it's very possible he will be cut in training camp. Generally, it only takes three years for a team to know about a player—another good reason to offer three-year deals.

In my estimation the ideal contract duration for NFL rookies is as follows:
First round: Five or six years.
Second round: Three years.
Third round: Three years.
Fourth round: Three years.
Fifth round: Three years.
Sixth round: Three years.
Seventh round: Three years.
Undrafted free agent: Two years.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Steelers Sign McBean

The Steelers have announced the signing of fourth-round draft pick Ryan McBean (DL, Oklahoma State) to a three-year contract. McBean is the third Pittsburgh draft choice to come to terms, joining Daniel Sepulveda and Cameron Stephenson.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Roethlisberger-Hoeppner column in PFW

Columnist Mike Wilkening has written a nice piece for Pro Football Weekly about the relationship between Ben Roethlisberger and his college coach Terry Hoeppner , who passed away this past week due to complications from brain cancer. Access the column by clicking here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

NT Hoke signs three-year extension

Today the Steelers reached a deal with backup NT Chris Hoke that will keep him with the team through 2010. Under the agreement, Hoke will earn $6 million over four years, including a $1.5 million signing bonus. It's a sensible move insofar as it ensures long-term stability at nose tackle, a critical position in Dick LeBeau's defensive scheme.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

PFW Names Steelers' Rookie Most Likely to Make an Impact

In its June 2007 issue, Pro Football Weekly (PFW) names second-round LB LaMarr Woodley as the Steelers' draft pick most likely to be an impact player during his rookie season, citing his "pass rushing ability" and "playmaking instincts."

As for the rest of the AFC North, PFW names...
Baltimore: OG Ben Grubbs (1st round).
Cleveland: LT Joe Thomas (1st round).
Cincinnati: CB Leon Hall (1st round).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pro Football Weekly's Ratings of Steelers' Players

In its 2007 Preview, Pro Football Weekly (PFW) has only one Steeler listed among the NFL's Top 50 players, with S Troy Polamalu ranked #29 overall.

Meanwhile, QB Ben Roethlisberger is rated as the eighth-best quarterback (albeit one with upside potential), ahead of all the other first-rounders in his draft class: Philip Rivers is rated 10th-best among QB's, with Eli Manning (17th) and J.P. Losman (19th). For what its worth, the Bengals' Carson Palmer is rated as the third-best QB in the NFL. For the most part, I agree with PFW in regards to its QB rankings, except that I might move Roethlisberger up one or two slots. Rivers demonstrated tremendous potential in his first season as a starter, but he has not yet won a playoff game and has a much stronger supporting cast than Big Ben (including the NFL's best player, LaDainian Tomlinson, and PFW's #1 ranked TE, Antonio Gates).

At running back, Willie Parker is regarded as the 13th-best tailback, and Heath Miller grades out as the 14th-best tight end. Hines Ward is considered the 16th-best wide receiver, with Santonio Holmes listed among the "top veteran prospects" at that position.

As for the offensive line, Alan Faneca is rated as the fourth-best offensive guard. Marvel Smith and Max Starks are rated as the ninth- and 29th-best offensive tackles, respectively.

On the defensive side of the ball, Aaron Smith is 17th among defensive ends, with Casey Hampton considered the third-best nose tackle. At ILB James Farrior is 19th and OLB Clark Haggans is 21st at his position. Finally, the Steelers have just one cornerback warranting a mention, with Bryant McFadden a "top veteran prospect."

Feel free to submit your comments regarding any of the above rankings.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pro Football Weekly's Steelers Preview

I just read Pro Football Weekly's 2007 Preview issue, and the editors appear to be clueless as far as the Steelers are concerned. Among other things, the Steelers' summary claims that QB Ben Roethlisberger "wasn't seriously injured" in his motorcycle accident last June, which makes me wonder what the author would consider serious injuries.

Overall, Pro Football Weekly (PFW) isn't particularly optimistic about the Steelers' chances in the AFC North, predicting a third-place finish and 7-9 record. For what its worth, the magazine has the Ravens finishing first at 11-5, the Bengals second at 10-6, and the Browns last at 5-11. While we don't yet know how new head coach Mike Tomlin will fare on game days, 7-9 sounds too pessimistic. The Chargers and Patriots appear to be the clear front-runners in what PFW describes as a "rugged" AFC, but I believe the Steelers—along with the Colts, Ravens, Broncos and Bengals—are also potential Super Bowl contenders.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Steelers Mascot Application: The Fine Print

If you’re considering filling out an application to be the Steelers’ mascot be warned: the application process is remarkably invasive—even in the early stages. For instance, the initial application asks about your marital/significant other status, whether "you have been treated for any serious physical or mental illness(es) within the last three years?", whether you are currently taking any medications, and if so, "what it is for, dosage and length of time on medication."

It gets worse. Section (h) of the application states: "To accept an invitation to be a semi-finalist, you must among other things, agree to submit to physical and psychological examinations . . . and meet all physical and psychological requirements."

Then, "if you are selected to be interviewed, you agree to authorize [the] Steelers to conduct thorough investigations into your background and personal history. The tests and investigations … may include… Pre-employment drug screen, PA Child Abuse History Clearance, PA Act 34 Criminal Record Check, and pre-employment background check. And let’s not forget, like NFL players, you’ll be "subject to random drug testing thereafter."

I understand the Steelers need to be cautious when hiring their mascot(s), but one may as well be applying for a position with the FBI.

Meanwhile, the most interesting clauses in the "Release and Waiver" concern the three-minute video that applicants are expected to provide: "The video will become the property of [the] Steelers for all purposes (including, without limitation, use in television/multi-media programs…)." More specifically, applicants agree that the Steelers and any of its licensees, assigns, parents, subsidiaries or affiliated entities may use your voice, actions, likeness, name, appearance and biographical material in any and all media, worldwide in perpetuity, regardless of whether or not you are selected as mascot. And if you deliver any musical or literary compositions, you grant an "irrevocable, unlimited, perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free and payment-free license to use and reproduce such Materials…."

Remember, there’s a lot of air time that needs to be filled on the NFL Network. One day you might find your application video on a mascot selection special.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Doors Open at Bus Stop

Jerome Bettis' Grille 36—a casual dining spot located within shouting distance of Heinz Field—will open to the public today. Last night, Bettis celebrated the grand opening with several current and former Steelers, including Hines Ward, Kordell Stewart and Mike Logan, plus former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George, who has his own restaurant in downtown Nashville.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Steelers sign Verron Haynes

Today the Steelers signed RB Verron Haynes to a one-year contract. Assuming Haynes is fully recovered from last year's injury, he can be expected to fill the role of third-down back while also providing insurance at the tailback position.

Coming This Fall: Two New Steelers Books

At the Book Expo conference in New York this past weekend The Steelyard learned that two new Pittsburgh Steelers books will be published later this year. One is entitled Pittsburgh Steelers: Glory Days, by Dale Grdnic (Sports Publishing LLC), and will offer "unique stories about the players and coaches who took part in many of the greatest and most euphoric victories in the Pittsburgh Steelers' legendary history." For more info on the book--(which will feature a Jerome Bettis cover photo)--click here.

The other book is by Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, and will be entitled Dan Rooney: My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL (Perseus). It is currently scheduled for release in November. More information will be posted at The Steelyard as it becomes available.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Two Draft Choices signed

The Steelers have announced the signing of two 2007 draft choices: punter Daniel Sepulveda (fourth round) and OG Cameron Stephenson (fifth round). Both rookies were signed to three-year contracts.