Don't be surprised if some of the Steelers' restricted free agents have the "restricted" removed come March 12. • The Steelers have a whopping 18 unrestricted free agents, and the future of those players has been debated high and low for several weeks. Equally as interesting is a much smaller group of restricted free agents. With the Steelers projected to be about $14 million over the salary cap, they need to make some important choices on whether to keep players, reduce contracts or release players.
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They also must decide what, if any, tenders they place on their restricted free agents. Those tenders will count against their salary cap, a reason they must not only get under their estimated $122 million cap by March 12, but get under it far enough to accommodate the tenders they will offer their RFAs.
There has been no official release of what the RFA numbers will be, but we'll go with what the NFL Network's Albert Breer reported last month: $2.879 million for first-round compensation, $2.023 million for second-round compensation and $1.323 million for original draft choice compensation.
Here are the Steelers restricted free agents:
Jonathan Dwyer, Jeremy Kapinos, Steve McLendon, Isaac Redman, Emmanuel Sanders, Stevenson Sylvester.
What, if any, tenders will they give them?
None for punter Kapinos, who was waived injured last year after back surgery and then automatically was re-assigned to the Steelers injured reserve when no one claimed or signed him.
So start with the two running backs. Since Redman was not drafted, there would be no compensation required for the lower tender, which would only give the Steelers the right of first refusal if a team signed him. Dwyer was a sixth-round pick, so the Steelers would receive a sixth-round choice for him in return at the lower tender amount.
Do they want to tie up $2.646 million in two backup running backs? Do they give Redman a $2.023 million tender in order to pretty much guarantee that no team signs him?
It's a tough call, complicated by the fact the Steelers not only do not have a No. 1 back, but they also don't have many backs at all after cutting Chris Rainey and with Rashard Mendenhall expected to leave as an unrestricted free agent. They have Baron Batch, and that's pretty much it. The guess here is that they give both backs the low tender, although it's possible they would give a tender only to Redman.
You would think that Steve McLendon has to get the No. 2 tender at $2.023 million. He is the heir apparent to nose tackle Casey Hampton, he wasn't drafted and he showed enough that other teams would be interested at no cost other than the money they pay him. That's more, however, than they paid Hampton last season and, once they give him that, it's a starting point in negotiations for a new contract. He will receive a tender, and it could be the lower one, with the Steelers rolling the dice that the right of first refusal would be enough to match any contract he might get elsewhere.
Emmanuel Sanders is an easy decision. They will give him the lower offer because he would bring third-round compensation as a draft pick in that round. No one signed Mike Wallace last year for similar compensation as an RFA.
Stevenson Sylvester also should be a no-brainer with a low tender as a fifth-round compensation. That's a lot of money to pay an oft-injured special-teams player. Still, with their injuries (Sean Spence) and age (Larry Foote) at inside linebacker, they might be forced to do so. But they should bring back Foote at veteran minimum, and that would allow Sylvester to become unrestricted by not tendering him. Then, they could re-sign him at a lower number. It's not as if he would be Jack Lambert hitting the open market.
It would seem, then, that some of the group of restricted free agents could join the group of unrestricted free agents March 12. And, as with their UFA players, the Steelers will not overpay them.
The allure of Duke and ACC football?
Scottie Montgomery, 34, left the Steelers' coaching staff to take a job at Duke. Montgomery will coach the wide receivers and serve as passing-game co-coordinator. We're told that Montgomery will be the heir apparent when Duke coach David Cutcliffe, 58, retires or whatever.
The move doesn't make sense. It is reminiscent of another former Steelers wide receivers coach, Kenny Jackson, who quit after the 2003 season, not to take another job but because he could not stand the browbeating he took from coach Bill Cowher. Jackson, who played at Penn State and began his coaching career there after eight years in the NFL, never coached again after he left the Steelers. He owns businesses in the Harrisburg area and is a sideline reporter for the Big Ten Network.
Montgomery, though, did not have that kind of problem with coach Mike Tomlin, who does not bully his assistants. Montgomery played at Duke and was the Blue Devils' wide receivers coach for four seasons before Tomlin hired him in 2010. The former Duke wide receivers coach, Matt Lubick, left recently to take a job as an assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars, following Montgomery's previous career path.
So Montgomery left a promising career in the NFL at a young age while working for one of the most respected and successful organizations to become co-coordinator/wide receivers coach/head coach-in-waiting at Duke, the punching bag of the ACC?
Cutcliffe has been praised for "reviving" Duke. The Blue Devils are 21-40 in his five seasons, 9-31 in the ACC. They went to their first bowl game since 1995 after last season. They played in something called the Belk Bowl. Cincinnati beat them, 48-34, to drop Duke's record to 6-7.
Montgomery opted to cast his future with these Duke Blue Devils. Something's amiss there, as it was somewhat less so when Sean Kugler left as offensive line coach to become head coach at UTEP.
Perhaps not all the offensive coaches could accept the new philosophies of coordinator Todd Haley.
First Published February 17, 2013 5:00 AM