Let's get one thing straight at the top.
The world isn't going to end because Alan Faneca is unhappy, not even the little corner that the Steelers inhabit.
There are two key points to understand here:
It's business and it's May 12.
Get back to me in early September with an update on Faneca's mood. Who knows? By then, it's possible this big, pouting multimillionaire, who did his best to try to talk his way out of town yesterday, will be a big, ecstatic multimillionaire, who fights back tears and says how it's only right that he's going to finish his All-Pro career with the Steelers.
Not to be cynical.
Did I mention this is business?
That isn't to say Faneca didn't kick the rhetoric up three notches with his inflamed rant at minicamp, the most excitement that normally staid team function has known since linebacker Earl Holmes and running back Richard Huntley swung chairs at each other in a 2000 locker-room melee. Even teammates were surprised to learn that Faneca said he wants out, that he has asked to be traded and doesn't care to what team, and that he'll probably have to give up his captain's position because he can't see being a leader for a franchise that obviously doesn't want him. That last part really raised eyebrows among the fellows.
But the rest of it?
We've heard it before.
Remember, we're taking about modern-day athletes. They want it both ways. They want the right to sell themselves to the highest bidder, which is as it should be. Football is a brutal game, and the players are entitled to make as much as they can. But if the team decides to go in another direction or disagrees on fair-market value? Look out. The players scream bloody murder and play the loyalty card.
So it is for Faneca.
So it was for Hines Ward.
It was about this time two years ago that Ward expressed unhappiness about heading into the final year of his contract without receiving what he felt was a fair offer from the Steelers. I don't remember if he phrased it exactly like Faneca did yesterday -- "I've lived and breathed Steelers football for nine years" -- but he made it clear he felt unappreciated. That summer, he held out at training camp and reported only after a call from coach Bill Cowher and after realizing the Rooneys would let him sit and rot before resuming negotiations with him as a holdout. Before the first game, he signed the richest contract in franchise history and, a few months later, led the Steelers to the championship as the Super Bowl XL Most Valuable Player.
So it could be for Faneca.
"They're not going to blow my socks off," Faneca said, smirking, dismissing the suggestion that the Steelers have not made their best contract offer. "This will be my last year as a Pittsburgh Steeler."
Not all contract negotiations have happy endings. The Steelers released team leader Joey Porter after last season because they didn't think he was worth $5 million this season. They let Mike Webster and Rod Woodson -- one a Hall of Famer, the other soon-to-be one -- leave after money disputes. They allowed Mike Merriweather to sit out the 1988 season in a contract huff after his team-record 15-sack season in '87. And, most famously, they released Franco Harris after his training-camp hold out in '84.
So, too, that could be for Faneca.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
There's still plenty of time to do a deal.
Did I mention it's May 12?
The Rooneys aren't going to react to Faneca's public sulking or hold it against him. Nor will they trade him because that would send the wrong message to any other disgruntled players. They'll just continue to bide their time. They clearly haven't made their best offer. There's no need to do it now; it's still early in the negotiating game. The time for serious talks won't come until near the end of training camp.
You can bet Faneca -- no matter how bitter -- will listen to what the Rooneys have to say.
In the meantime, Faneca has to decide what he wants. He can sign a new long-term deal this summer for huge guaranteed money and continue to play in a city where he's nothing less than a redheaded football god. Or he can play out the final season of his contract and risk a career-ending injury to become a free agent and make even more money. He can't have it both ways. He can't fully get his true-market value with a year left on his contract. He has to be a free agent.
One thing we know:
The Steelers will go on -- with or without Faneca.
This might be a distraction that new coach Mike Tomlin doesn't need, but he'll survive.
The idea that Faneca will give the Steelers less than his best if he decides to play out the string is ridiculous. He's much too smart for that. He doesn't have to be happy about making a paltry $4.375 million this season to know he has to have a good year if he's going to get his silly money as a free agent.
The idea that the Faneca situation will tear apart the Steelers' locker room also is ludicrous. If the team doesn't win, it won't be because of that. Faneca's assertion that it "sends a quiet, but strong message" to the other players that management won't take care of those who play hard and produce is just flat wrong. The players are much too smart for that. They know playing hard and producing bring no guarantee of a big contract. But they also know they have no chance if they don't play hard and produce.
Anyway, do you really think Ben Roethlisberger cares if Faneca doesn't get his money?
He cares only about getting his when the time comes.
All the players feel that way, which is as it should be. It's business, after all.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette