Ron Cook: Steelers' offseason anything but typical

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Art Rooney II says it is offseason business as usual after a disappointing 8-8 season. Kevin Colbert says there is a plan and everything is under control. Mike Tomlin says not to worry and promises to build a winning Steelers team.

There are three things to say in response:

It is anything but a typical offseason. It's hard to see the plan. Plenty of people who watch the Steelers are worried.

Of course, it's April 14. The Steelers won't play a meaningful game for more than 4 1/2 months. There is time for the team to find better players to replace Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, James Harrison, Keenan Lewis, Willie Colon and, in all likelihood, Emmanuel Sanders, Max Starks and Casey Hampton.

There is one more thing to say about that:

Good luck.

A decision on Sanders will come today. The right call is for the Steelers to allow him to go to the New England Patriots, who gave him a one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet, and take a third-round draft choice in return. Sanders is just a guy. The Steelers could do better with that third-round pick or fill one of their other needs. They also would control that player for multiple years as opposed to Sanders, who would become an unrestricted free agent after next season. You might remember how badly things went with Wallace when he played out his contract last season.

It will be surprising if the Steelers match the Patriots' offer. It's easy to believe the front office isn't exactly devastated by the breakup of the "Young Money" wide receivers. Wallace, Sanders and Antonio Brown might not have been the only players to contribute to an uneasy locker room last season. But they were a part of the problem.

That's not the big reason the Steelers were right to let Wallace leave as a free agent, though. That was money. The Miami Dolphins gave him a five-year deal for $60 million. He isn't worth it. But that doesn't mean the Steelers won't miss him. Last summer, when Wallace was a training-camp holdout, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked about those who thought the team didn't need Wallace. "They're crazy," Roethlisberger said. If Sanders also leaves, the Steelers will be left with Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress at wide receiver. They might need to take two in the draft.

Mendenhall, who signed for one year and $2.5 million with the Arizona Cardinals, had to go even if it left the Steelers with just Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer at running back. He quit on them last season. That's inexcusable. Tomlin made a bad mistake by bringing him back for the final two games.

Colon, who took a one-year, $1.2 million deal with the New York Jets, also had to go. He was very good when he played, but he couldn't stay healthy.

It's OK if free agents Starks and Hampton leave. The Steelers believe their young offensive linemen are ready to become a strong unit. They also like Steve McLendon as Hampton's replacement at nose tackle.

It would have been nice to keep Lewis. The New Orleans Saints signed him to a five-year, $26.3 million contract, which seems like a bargain for a starting cornerback. But the Steelers like Cortez Allen as Lewis' replacement. They also brought back William Gay to be their nickel back. Maybe Lewis was expendable.

Harrison is not.

Letting him go is the move that makes no sense.

Harrison wanted to stay. The Steelers clearly wanted him back. The team asked Harrison to take a pay cut. The two sides couldn't agree on terms. Harrison seemed to take it personally. The team released him.

Harrison remains unsigned. He met with the Baltimore Ravens, but they signed Elvis Dumervil, late of the Denver Broncos. Harrison met with the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday. Roethlisberger won't be pleased if Harrison ends up in the division. Harrison still has plenty left, at least a good season if not two.

Harrison belongs with the Steelers. Rooney II, Colbert and Tomlin say the team isn't rebuilding, but their actions speak otherwise. That's unfortunate. Roethlisberger, though in his prime, is 31 and will be playing his 10th NFL season. Wow. Wasn't he drafted yesterday? The Steelers need to put good players -- even older players -- with him. This isn't the time to worry about getting younger. Once Roethlisberger is gone, it might be years -- even decades -- before the team gets another franchise quarterback.

There still is time to do a deal with Harrison, but it seems unlikely. The Steelers have told his agent, Bill Parise, they are moving ahead without him. Now who is being personal?

Without Harrison, the Steelers have only Jason Worilds and LaMarr Woodley at outside linebacker, probably the two most important positions on their defense. It has to be their No. 1 priority going into the NFL draft April 25-27.

That would be OK if the Steelers didn't have so many other needs. Inside linebacker. Safety, a position where Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark aren't getting younger. Running back. Two wide receivers. Perhaps a tight end with the uncertainty around team MVP Heath Miller, who is coming off major knee surgery.

Business as usual?


"The winds of change are a part of our business," Tomlin told the NFL Network last month. "Players are ascending. Players are descending. You have tough business decisions to make on a year-in and year-out basis. It's something I really embrace as a challenge. The formula is changing every year. The components, the ingredients, if you will, are ever-changing. It's my job to make the best of it and put it together and produce a winner."

It's a good thing Tomlin has 4 1/2 months. He's looking at a lot of heavy construction.

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First Published April 14, 2013 4:00 AM


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