Bob Smizik: Ranking Steelers free agents

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The Steelers have 21 free agents. By position, they are:

Wide receivers – Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders.

Running backs – Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Tight ends – David Johnson, Michael Palmer.

Offensive linemen – Fernando Velasco, Cody Wallace, Guy Whimper.

Defensive linemen -- Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, Al Woods

Linebackers – Stevenson Sylvester, Jamaal Westerman, Jason Worilds.

Defensive backs – Will Allen, Ryan Clark.

Special teams – Punter Mat McBriar, long-snapper Greg Warren.

Feel free to take a shot at ranking them in order of importance.

My top five:

1. Worilds

2. Sanders

3. Hood

4. Cotchery

5. Dwyer

And, of course, only if the price is right.

• • •

Overlooked in the Pirates do-little offseason thus far has been the fact the Cincinnati Reds have done less and lost more. If the season were to open today, the St. Louis Cardinals would be the solid favorite to win the NL Central and the Pirates would be just as strong to finish second.

Although the Reds pretty much knew their relationship with outfielder Shin-Soo Choo would be a one-year deal, that does not make his departure via free agency any less devastating.

It was the combination of Choo, batting first, and Joey Votto, third, both on-base machines, that enabled the otherwise pedestrian Brandon Phillips to drive in 103 runs and help spark the Reds’ offense. Phillips was fourth in the NL in RBIs and 53rd in OPS. Try finding another player with such contrasting numbers. Phillips’ numbers point out that RBIs are a function of where you bat as much as who you are.

The absence of Choo figures to undo the magic of the Reds lineup. He is expected to be replaced by Billy Hamilton, the base-stealing phenom. But Hamilton batted .256 with a .308 on-base percentage in the International League. He won’t be filling up those bases like Choo, who had a .423 on-base percentage, which means Phillips won’t likely be driving in 103 runs.

The Reds also will lose Bronson Arroyo to free agency. They have a better chance of replacing Arroyo, but it’s never easier replacing a pitcher who averaged 33 starts, over 200 innings and double-digit wins.

• • •

The bizarre practice of many football coaches -- Mike Tomlin, Paul Chryst, to name two -- of rarely or never substituting for their quarterback, regardless of the score or time of game, badly burned Wisconsin yesterday against South Carolina. The Badgers trailed by three points when starting quarterback Joel Stave was injured in the third quarter. They never scored another offensive point and lost by 10.

Although Wisconsin won three games by 45 or more points and two more by 29 or more during the regular season, backup Curt Phillips threw only two passes all season. His most recent pass in game competition had been Sept. 21, when he was 0-for-2.

Small wonder that the rust-laden Phillips completed 7 for 12 passes for 37 yards and two interceptions. By his adherence to the mind-numbingly stupid coaching practice of not giving the backup quarterback a chance to stay sharp, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen cost his team an opportunity to win the game.

• • •

It looks like the home-or-bar experience vs. the stadium-experience for watching NFL games is still a factor even as the league moves into the postseason.

According to, as of Tuesday, there were 11,000 tickets unsold in Green Bay for its Sunday game with San Francisco. In Cincinnati, the Bengals had 10,000 tickets available for their game Sunday against San Diego. In Indianapolis, there were 6,000 seats remaining for the Colts Saturday game against Kansas City.

It’s hard to imagine the fans of Green Bay, where they have been 301 consecutive sellouts, not buying all the remaining tickets. But the league faces the embarrassment of a non-sellout in Cincinnati.

Jeff Berdin, the Bengals director of sales, noted the team had a good sales day on Tuesday, but added, “It can’t let up. We have to continue to have the type of day we had today every day this week.”

Let’s face it, for a lot of people, even some who have season tickets, the inconvenience of getting to an NFL stadium on game day is not worth the hassle. And that’s particularly true in this era of high-definition TV.

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