Bob Smizik: Salary-cap mismanagement continues to haunt Steelers

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Nobody asked me, but . . .

• The Steelers mismanagement of the salary cap in recent years is in sharp focus today considering their current circumstances. They are coming off two consecutive 8-8 seasons, have gaping holes all over their defense -- both in quality and depth -- and not nearly enough cap money to pursue top free agents. The only areas of improvement the Steelers need on defense are at end, nose tackle, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and cornerback. Other than that, they’re fine.

• In a stunner of stunners, the Steelers were active in the first hours of free agency. Judging from reports on safety Mike Mitchell, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal, he looks like a reach. NFL.com ranked him as the 96th best free agent. To give that number some perspective, Santonio Holmes was 82nd and Emmanuel Sanders 52nd. The same site also ranked Mitchell as the ninth best safety in free agency. One of the best overall rankings on Mitchell was 56th by CBSSports.com.

• More on Mitchell: Yahoo! Sports had him as the 26th best defensive back, 10 slots behind Ryan Clark. He was described as a ''terrific athlete and headhunter,’’ and ''undisciplined and mouthy.’’ NFLTradeRumors.com had Mitchell at 83 in its top 100.

• Only the great Miguel Cabrera had a higher OPS against left-handed pitching last year (75 or more at bats) than Jordy Mercer and no one in MLB had a higher batting average than Mercer’s .410.

• In the face of a crush of remaining games in a condensed time frame, coach Dan Bylsma should be concerned more with his team being playoff-ready than securing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Toward that end, Jeff Zatkoff should play more than he has and allow Marc-Andre Fleury to enter the playoffs somewhat rested.

• Was the Steelers answer at cornerback really to reduce the salary of Ike Taylor and bring him back? He’s coming off a bad year, which at age 33 was not unexpected. Just because he’ll be making less money in 2014 at age 34 does not mean he will play better.

• Interesting comment from ESPN.com’s Keith Law after watching an outing by Charlie Morton last week against Detroit Rick Porcello: ''. . . Morton was a bit less impressive in terms of stuff, with good sink and gloveside life on an 89-94 mph fastball but inferior secondary stuff to Porcello's, led by an average upper-70s curveball. But Morton posted a 3.26 ERA last year, a run lower than Porcello's, because the Pirates had a better defensive infield and were among the best in the majors at positioning their fielders properly.''

• Sack inflation: When the Steelers signed LaMarr Woodley to a contract in 2011 that averaged $10.25 million annually, he had 39 career sacks in his four-year NFL career. When they signed Jason Worilds to a one-year deal worth $9.75 million last week, he had 18 sacks in his four-year NFL career.

• Beginning March 22, the Penguins play five games in seven days.

• Todd McShay’s latest mock draft at ESPN.com has the Steelers picking an all-time great name: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a safety from Alabama. McShay has Pitt’s Aaron Donald going 14th to the Bears.

• Headline: ‘(Russell) Martin would consider staying with Pirates:’ No kidding! So would Pedro Alvarez and every other players on the team. But only under these circumstances: If the money is right. In Martin’s case, with MLB minimum-pay Tony Sanchez in the wings, that’s highly unlikely.

• With about 12 percent of its 2013-14 games having been decided by the skills contest known as a shootout, the NHL is giving thought to finding a better way to determine a winner. One idea being discussed is extending the five-minute overtime when the team’s play four-on-four. Another is going to three-on-three after the first overtime. Since teams can’t play forever, options are limited.

• Writing at SportsOnEarth.com, Dan Pompei, who has covered the NFL for decades ranked the top 10 defenses in history and had the 1976 Steelers second, behind the 1985 Bears, and the 2008 Steelers eighth.

• Although he had a semi-respectable .706 OPS batting left-handed last year, Shane Victorino of the Red Sox is considering giving up switch-hitting and batting right-handed all of the time. His OPS as a right-handed hitter was .874. Victorino, a natural right-handed hitter, did not take up switch-hitting until 2002.

• Overlooked in the discussion the other day of whether Pitt coach Jamie Dixon should have catered to so-called elite talent Khem Birch and thus prevent him from transferring is this: Birch is not an elite talent. He’s not going to be a NBA lottery pick. He’s a 6-9 forward, who might be a second-round pick in the draft, if he bypasses his senior season. Dixon stuck with his principles, which is also known as doing the right thing.


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