Steelers Team Report
Yahoo! Sports Mar 18, 12:52 am EDT
After making little headway in the early days of free agency, as expected, the Steelers turn toward the draft. Even there, they won’t be able to do much special because they only have six draft choices, all of their own in each of the first six rounds and none in the seventh.
The Steelers had just $1.3 million in salary cap room after signing Ben Roethlisberger to his big contract, after signing running back Mewelde Moore as a free agent from the Vikings ($1.1 million in cap room in 2008) and tendering their restricted free agents. The cap shrunk a bit more with linebacker Keyaron Fox signing a one-year, $605,000 deal to leave Kansas City and linebacker Andre Frazier re-signing for a reported one-year contract worth up to $520,000.
They also have nearly $7 million tied up in the transition tag to offensive tackle Max Starks. They hope to reduce that by signing Starks to a longer-term contract.
“You have to be prepared to carry that in the event, because it is the players option to accept that tag at any time,” said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers’ director of football operations. “If he does then you need to be prepared to carry that on your cap, which we are. But our long-term goal and Max’s long-term goal is to sign a long-term deal which we will continue to work on.”
Pittsburgh isn’t worried so much about the salary cap as it is the cash needed to fulfill bonus requirements. For example, part of Roethlisberger’s eight-year, $102 million contract is a $25.2 million signing bonus, which will be spread out through 2009.
They also have another potentially big contract to do in left tackle Marvel Smith. His deal ends after the 2008 season and he’d like to negotiate an extension this year. That puts him in the same spot as Alan Faneca last year. The Steelers did try to extend Faneca, but they did not offer him enough at the time and he signed with the New York Jets the first weekend of free agency.
Smith, 29, will make $3,950,000 this season. His cap number is $6,645,500, fourth on the team. He started his first three seasons at right tackle, then moved to the left side in 2003 and has been there ever since. He made the Pro Bowl for the 2004 season.
The Steelers have no logical replacement for him on the roster. They have showed little faith in Trai Essex, a restricted free agent who has nevertheless filled in nicely at times for Smith when he was injured. Starks is not seen as a left tackle, although he too played well in several games there at the end of the season after Smith had minor back surgery.
If the Steelers draft a left tackle next month, they might gamble and not sign Smith this year. If not, they almost will be forced to sign him to an extension before the 2008 season begins.
• While the Steelers’ cap is under $1.3 million, they have plenty of ways to create room if needed. Max Starks has a $7 million tender as the transition player and that should change if not disappear altogether. They also have some contracts they can restructure, as they’ve done in the past.
“If we continue to move forward, if we sign more players, depending on the dollars, we might have to make some other adjustments,” said Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations.
• Coach Mike Tomlin will serve as the keynote speaker at the Saint Vincent College commencement May 10. Last year, President George W. Bush gave the commencement speech at the college.
“We try to get the best person for commencement and we are lucky to have him,” said Saint Vincent president Jim Towey. The Steelers have held their training camp at the college since 1968.
• New running back Mewelde Moore will wear No. 21, last worn by cornerback Ricardo Colclough, who was cut in the middle of the 2007 season.
“It was one of my old high school numbers,” Moore said. “A lot of kids back home, they look up to me and I want to make sure they can still see that.”
• LB Larry Foote has offered to pay for the funeral for a 10-year-old boy who died after falling through ice in his native Detroit. Mark Brown was playing with friends when he went through the ice.
Quote To Note: “We know that with the history that we have of drafting well that we will be able to bring guys in that will be able to fit the puzzle even more.”—QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has dropped his previous request for a tall receiver.
Strategy And Personnel
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
1. Offensive tackle: Undersized Willie Colon is on the right and veteran Marvel Smith on the left. Smith is signed only through 2008. Max Starks, who started in ‘05 and ‘06, lost out to Colon last year but because of their anxiousness about the position, they slapped the transition tag on him. Trai Essex, a restricted free agent, is the only other experienced tackle.
2. Offensive guard: Alan Faneca started 10 years at left guard and made seven Pro Bowls. Chris Kemoeatu, who has started two games in three years, will replace him. Veteran Kendall Simmons starts on the right. They have no experienced backups other than starting center Sean Mahan, who played some guard at Tampa Bay.
3. Defensive line: While solid in their starting three of ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel and nose tackle Casey Hampton, all will be at least 30 near the start of the season and they have little behind them other than veteran backup NT Chris Hoke, who is 32. Coach Mike Tomlin has pledged to get younger players in his line.
Medical Watch: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None
TRANSITION PLAYER: OT Max Starks (tendered at $6.895M).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
• LB Marquis Cooper is a special teams player and possible developmental linebacker. Not a priority.
• DE Nick Eason could not do the job when Aaron Smith was injured and is not likely to see an offer from Pittsburgh.
• LB Clark Haggans performed decently but did not bring enough pressure. The Steelers will promote No. 2 pick from last year, LaMarr Woodley and let Haggans go.
• RB Verron Haynes was re-signed late in the season after Willie Parker was hurt but likely won’t receive another offer from Pittsburgh.
• FB Dan Kreider’s role was diminished last year and then his ACL was torn. He’s working out and the Steelers might sign him if he gets no looks elsewhere.
• QB Brian St. Pierre wants to move up somewhere from his No. 3 role with the Steelers and they will let him do so without an offer.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
• OT Trai Essex (tendered at $927,000 with 3rd-round pick as compensation) performed well when he had to fill in late in the season.
• G Chris Kemoeatu (tendered at $1.47M with 2nd-round pick as compensation) is ticketed to replace Alan Faneca.
• LS Greg Warren (tendered at $927,000 with no compensation) is not worth the nearly $1 million they would have to pay to maintain their rights to him, but he was tendered.
• WR Nate Washington (tendered at $1.47M with 2nd-round pick as compensation).
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
• LB Arnold Harrison will receive a contract because he’s a good, young backup at a position that is thin and he also plays special teams.
• RB Mewelde Moore: UFA Vikings; $4.95M/3 yrs, $1.35M SB.
• LB Andre Frazier: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
• DE Travis Kirschke: Potential UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
• G Alan Faneca: UFA Jets; $40M/5 yrs, $21M guaranteed.
• LB Keyaron Fox: UFA Chiefs; $605,000/1 yr, SB unknown.
• LB Cliff Kriewaldt (released/failed physical).
• CB/KR Allen Rossum (released).
• TE Jerame Tuman (released).