Friday, February 27, 2009

Kemoeatu contract seems reasonable

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers just came to a contract agreement with LG Chris Kemoeatu that will pay him $20 million over the next five years. At first that sounds like a lot, except when one considers that CK's signing bonus is only $4 million, so if Kemoeatu turns out not to be the long-term answer at left guard, the Steelers could release him a few years down the road without a painful salary cap charge like they just incurred with Kendall Simmons (whose signing bonus in 2007 was almost $8 million).

Labels: ,

Browns trade Winslow Jr. to Tampa Bay

The Browns made a good decision today, trading TE Kellen Winslow Jr. to Tampa Bay for undisclosed draft picks. Of course, it doesn't change the fact that Cleveland should have used the Winslow pick to select Ben Roethliberger, a decision that organization will rue forever and ever.

Labels: ,

The salary cap implications of releasing Kendall Simmons

Signing RG Kendall Simmons to a four-year contract extension in 2007 turned out to be a very costly mistake for the Steelers. By releasing Simmons, the team saves the $3.1 million salary he would have been paid this season (as well as $4.4 million in 2010 and $4.6 million in 2011), but by letting him go with three years remaining on his contract the prorated remainder of his signing bonus accelerates onto the Steelers’ 2009 cap. Translation? Simmons will take up approximately $4.75 million of this year’s cap, in spite of the fact that he is no longer on the team.

Historically, the Steelers have been fairly good about keeping the amount of “dead money” counting against their salary cap to a minimum. But this is a good example of why it’s painful to cut players who received large signing bonuses (in Simmons’ case, $7.85 million) with multiple years remaining on their contracts.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Should the Steelers tender Anthony Smith?

We’ll soon find out how the Steelers feel about safety Anthony Smith, a restricted free-agent who may or may not be entering his fourth year with the team. It’s quite possible that the Steelers have given up on Smith and won’t tender him an offer, which would make him an unrestricted free-agent and almost certainly lead to his departure from Pittsburgh. After all, Smith didn’t dress for any of last season’s postseason games, an indication that he has fallen to the bottom of the depth chart.

On the other hand, the Steelers might offer Smith a “low” tender, which would pay him $1.01 million in 2009 if he remained with the team — in effect giving the young safety one more year to prove his reliability. In that case, if another team offered Smith a contract, the Steelers would get a third-round draft pick in return if they elected not to match the offer. Theoretically, the Steelers could offer a “medium,” “high” or “highest” tender (which would bring back better compensation in the draft should they lose him), but it’s almost inconceivable that the Steelers would risk committing more than $1 million to a backup safety, no matter how great his upside potential.

In my estimation, Smith has been the most disappointing Steelers’ player in memory. Sure, there have been bigger busts than Smith, but the frustrating thing about Anthony is that he has flashed the ability of a Pro Bowler. As a rookie, he made several big plays, despite seeing limited action. And the hits he delivered made him look like the hardest-hitting Steeler — pound-for-pound — since Greg Lloyd. But since his rookie year he has regressed badly, and it’s clear that the team doesn’t trust that he will play within Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme. We’ll soon find out if Mike Tomlin is willing to give him one more chance.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Steelers likely to lose McFadden

Steelers fans can expect the team to lose UFA cornerback Bryant McFadden soon after the free agent signing period begins at the end of the month. It's a shame, because McFadden is a quality, albeit somewhat underappreciated player.

Certainly, one can argue that the Steelers should have signed him to a long-term extension prior to last season. Now he'll be far too expensive to keep, especially in light of the obscene deal the Oakland Raiders bestowed upon CB Nnamdi Asomugha, which inevitably will dramatically increase the amount of money needed to sign corners in free agency.

Of course, it seems Pittsburgh frequently ends up in this situation in regards to its second-round picks. 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. Soon McFadden (selected #62 overall in 2005), will be added to that list. And like Brown, Bell, and Randle El, another team will offer more than he is worth.

Of course, it's the four-year rookie contract that is the problem, as it leaves the player little incentive to come to the bargaining table before testing unrestricted free agency. Yet, for the longest time the Steelers have signed their second-rounders to four-year contracts, even though it has repeatedly come back to bite them. And it could happen again in just a couple more years, when the rookie contract of LaMarr Woodley (2007) runs its course. Hopefully, the Steelers won't sign this year's second-rounder (assuming they select a player in round two) to a four-year deal, but that's probably exactly what will happen.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

Well, in the end it played out much as The Steelyard predicted, with the Steelers finding a way to win, and it wasn't as easy as many prognosticators predicted. The Steelyard finishes 2008 with a 13-6 record and is now 39-13 all-time.

Cardinals: What are the Chances...?

The general consensus seems to be that the Steelers are the better team and should win the Super Bowl. But the fact that the Cardinals' coaching staff features a half-dozen ex-Pittsburgh coaches makes us extremely nervous, as it gives Arizona a huge advantage in terms of game planning. Recall that as offensive coordinator of the Steelers, Whisenhunt practiced against Dick LeBeau's defense for years, and Whisenhunt & Co. coached many of the players on Pittsburgh's roster. First-hand experience with tendencies and weaknesses makes it a good bet that Arizona will have a strong game plan, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Also, recall that the Cardinals beat the Steelers early last season, a game we predicted the Steelers would lose, largely due to Arizona's coaching advantage. Go back and re-visit our preview of that game [second post from the top], as much of it is still relevant to today's contest. Meanwhile, no one should forget how Tampa Bay routed Oakland 48-21 in the 2003 Super Bowl, with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden using his firsthand knowledge of Rich Gannon and Oakland's offense to create a gameplan that the Raiders had no answer for. Gannon threw five interceptions that day, three of which were returned for touchdowns.

Having said all that, the key to today's Super Bowl figures to be Pittsburgh's pass rush. If the Steelers generate consistent pressure on Kurt Warner he's likely to make costly mistakes; if they don't, the Cardinals will make a lot of big plays in the passing game and score a lot of points, more points than the Steelers' offense is capable of generating. And while Ben Roethlisberger wants to put on a better performance than he did in his first Super Bowl, let's hope he doesn't try to do too much. Certainly, Pittsburgh can't afford many turnovers, as the Cardinals' quick strike passing game will likely convert those turnovers into touchdowns.

Finally, let's hope the Steelers' defense doesn't fall victim to any of Whisenhunt's trick plays, like the one he used to generate a touchdown for the Steelers against the Seahawks in the 2005 Super Bowl. Look for one or two of those gadget plays; most likely Whisenhunt will call them when the Cards have the ball between the forty-yard-lines.

On the plus side for the Steelers, the Cardinals don't really have the kind of pass rushers and defenders that figure to abuse and confuse the Steelers' offensive line, which remains Pittsburgh's greatest weakness. That bodes well for Pittsburgh's offense. And this season the Cardinals have demonstrated a propensity to "melt down" for large portions of games, so it wouldn't be a shock if Arizona loses its collective composure for an entire quarter or two.

The bottom line is that we feel the Steelers will somehow find a way to win, but it wouldn't be in the least bit surprising to us if they didn't. Probably the scariest statistic we've seen all week is that Warner has an 8-2 record in the post-season (Roethlisberger is 7-2 to date). We give the Steelers a 52 percent chance of winning.

This season The Steelyard has predicted 12 of 18 games correctly, and has a record of 38-13 all-time.