Friday, February 23, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS -- Free agency starts a week from today and the Steelers still have not made their intentions known about linebacker Joey Porter.
Coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday he has talked to Porter but gave little indication what plans he may have for him.
Porter, who turns 30 March 22, is due a $1 million roster bonus March 6 and a $4 million salary next season, his last under contract. He threatened to hold out for a new contract last training camp until then-coach Bill Cowher convinced him not to.
Porter had a subpar season for him in 2006 after making the Pro Bowl in three of the previous four seasons. He has been their starting right outside linebacker since 2000 and moved into third place on their career list with 60 sacks, seven of them last season.
Porter, one of the defensive co-captains, would become an unrestricted free agent immediately if the Steelers do not pay him the bonus by March 6.
Tomlin said yesterday at the National Scouting Combine that he has talked to Porter, but when he was asked yesterday if Porter would be back with the Steelers for 2007, he deferred.
"I have no thoughts on that regard," Tomlin said. "I talked to Joey just like I talk to every other player. He's under contract. He's a Pittsburgh Steeler."
That fell far short of any warm endorsement for a player of Porter's status, and it might be that the new coach will bring some cold, hard decisions to a team and its players, who won a Super Bowl a little more than one year ago. Kevin Colbert, the director of football operations, has said he welcomes Tomlin's objective opinions of players for whom others in the organization might have stronger emotional feelings based on what they've done in the past.
After the season, Porter was asked if he felt he would be with the Steelers in 2007.
"At the end of the day it's going to be up to the organization," said Porter. "I am here. This is home for me. But it is a business, and just like everybody else I want to make sure I make the right business move for my family. I would love to finish my career here. I am going to just sit back and wait."
Tight on salary cap
The Steelers squeezed under the NFL's salary cap when they reported Jeff Hartings retirement and erased his 2007 salary from their books. But they remain tight and must find ways to create even more space if they are to add anyone in free agency or sign some of their own players to long-term deals.
"We're looking at several options and we're going to weigh those in the upcoming days and move forward in that regard," Tomlin said. "But we have several options and we're exploring those."
Team officials have not yet decided what kind of one-year salary tender to give tackle Max Starks, who will become a restricted free agent next Friday, their only free agent among their 22 starters.
They will pick from one of two -- a $1.3 million tender or a $1.8 million tender. Either would maintain their right to match any other contract Starks would receive in free agency, but if they decided not to match, the different tenders would provide different compensation to the Steelers. If they tender him a $1.3 million salary, they would receive a second-round draft pick if he signs elsewhere and they don't match; a $1.8 million tender would bring them a first-round draft pick from the team that signs him.
The Steelers have been talking to the agents for some of their players whose contracts expire next Friday, all of them backups. Among those they'd like to sign is halfback Najeh Davenport.
The NFL has issued the Wonderlic test to prospects for years as a way to determine a player's intelligence. It again became a controversial subject when quarterback Vince Young's low test score was revealed publicly last year, incorrectly at first.
"Personally, I've never been a Wonderlic guy," Tomlin said. "That's just me. It doesn't measure football intelligence. You don't know the background, the way guys have prepared for the test and all that. You've got to go based on your interactions with people and what you see on tape.
"The Wonderlic is a form of measurement and it's just one form of measurement. You can't put too much stock into it in my opinion. I think it's a combination of all of the above that you need to use in terms of evaluating a player."
Tomlin said he puts more stock in the Steelers' psychological test that they give each of the prospects.