On the Steelers: Stop! Get hold of yourself. The Steelers don't take runs at guys like T.O.


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Don't expect Terrell Owens to pop up for a visit to Pittsburgh any time soon unless his next team plays at Heinz Field in the fall.

Don't expect the Steelers to go after Jason Taylor, just as no one should have fallen for the Jeff Saturday-is-interested-in-playing here line, either.

By now, anyone over the age of 25 should know how the Steelers operate. They do not suffer malcontents, do not overpay for over-the-hill talent, do not bring in big names because they are big names, and they do not hurt their future or their bottom line for a hamburger today. And just because someone was born within 30 miles of the Golden Triangle does not mean he has a roster spot on the Steelers. That went out with the '60s.

They are as predictable as the Redskins missing the playoffs.

The Steelers do sign free agents, though, sometimes spectacularly so -- their own. That is their priority. Not to necessarily throw money after other team's free agents, but to try to keep the good players on their own team. With few exceptions, they've done a nice job of that through the years.

Among their re-signings the past several seasons were Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Willie Parker, Ike Taylor, James Harrison, Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Kendall Simmons, Larry Foote, Brett Keisel, Deshea Townsend, Chris Hoke, Jeff Reed and, of course, Ben Roethlisberger.

Believe it or not, those count, as do players such as Ryan Clark, Justin Hartwig, Farrior and Mewelde Moore they signed from other teams.

They might have had all kinds of money and cap room now to throw after free agents such as T.J. Houshmandzadeh had they not signed Roethlisberger to his $102 million extension. But then, who's going to throw to him? Don't think Polamalu's contract isn't having an effect on negotiations between the Steelers and James Harrison.

Many are praising the efforts of the New York Jets in free agency, especially their attempts to beef up their defense. One ESPN commentator proclaimed the Jets a force in the AFC East because of who they signed. It takes more than one or two players to save a defense, however. And good luck with that quarteback thing. The Jets made a mess of their quarterback position by signing Brett Favre and cutting Chad Pennington last year. Brilliant move.

The Steelers make mistakes, of course, such as re-signing Kendall Simmons to nearly $8 million in a signing bonus in what may have been a panic move, and then releasing him 18 months later. But there are few, and they seem to have a good eye when they do sign a lower-tiered free agent from elsewhere, such as Moore.

Fans, though, cannot expect to be entertained this time of year by a parade of free agents coming to Pittsburgh for inspection, or for any major signings of a free agent not the Steelers' own. It goes with the territory, and that philosophy has served them well since free agency began 15 years ago.

Harrison is not Haynesworth

While many wonder if James Harrison should be paid the kind of money the Redskins gave Albert Haynesworth, the answer is no for a couple of reasons. Just because Daniel Snyder can't control himself does not mean Daniel Rooney has to join him. And while Harrison was the NFL defensive player of the year, Haynesworth had one big thing going for him that Harrison does not; he was a free agent.

Harrison has one year left on his contract. If he and the Steelers cannot reach a new agreement, he'll have to play it out at $1.4 million. Then he can become an unrestricted free agent, except the Steelers could make him the franchise player in 2010. In fact, if no new collective bargaining agreement is reached by then (and it appears unlikely it will), each NFL team will receive two franchise tags in 2010 to go with their transition tag.

In other words, the Steelers could have James Harrison under contract for the next two years without ever negotiating a new deal.

However, again for those who have followed this team for years, that also is not how they like to operate. More than likely, they will reach a deal with Harrison this year. They rarely do not sign someone they truly want to keep, with some exceptions of course. Alan Faneca may have been one of those, but perhaps he was not because there were little negotiations entering the final year of his contract.

CitiGroup, GM ... and the NFL? Hardly

While the NFL salary cap climbed from $116 million last year to $127 million this year, the league and some of its teams responded by announcing layoffs. The league itself was trying to reduce its employees by 14 percent.

Teams such as the Redskins, Browns, Jaguars, Panthers, Colts and others have laid off employees. The Steelers so far have kept their work force intact.

Why are others laying off secretaries, public relations workers and such? Because the Redskins and Browns and the NFL are losing money? Hardly. They're using the economy as an excuse, for one, and there are suspicions that with the lack of a collective bargaining agreement, the NFL and its teams are trying to lay down a poor-me track as they head toward a conflict with the union.

But by using the economy as an excuse, the most successful pro league in sports has set a poor example for others. They're throwing people out of work, not because they're losing money but because, at best, they fear the future -- although it won't stop the owners from staying in $500-a-night rooms at their meetings on the California coast later this month.

That is precisely the kind of thinking the country does not need now, and if we're getting it from one of the nation's thriving businesses, what can anyone else expect? Instead of leading in tough times, the NFL has cowered.


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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