Bouchette on the Steelers: Don't misread the (non-)sign

Because of fifth-year option, look for Mike Tomlin to have his contract extended after this season, not before


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There will be no contract extension for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin this year for one simple reason that has nothing to do with money or either side's unwillingness to negotiate.

Traditionally, the Steelers try to sign their coach to an extension when he has two years left on his deal. They did that on every occasion with former coach Bill Cowher right up until 2006, when they were unable to agree on a deal and he resigned after the 2006 season with one year left.

Tomlin has coached two years of a four-year contract he signed in 2007. The difference, though, is Tomlin signed a four-year contract with a fifth option year.

Option years are typical for some first-time head coaches who do not have strong bargaining positions. Ken Whisenhunt signed a similar contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Coaches' contracts are guaranteed, but those option years are a one-way street -- they are club options. A coach can be fired early, and the club owes nothing for that option year. The option year, however, binds the coach to the club if exercised.

Tomlin never should see the option year exercised because no matter what happens this season, the Steelers surely will open negotiations to extend his contract next year, tearing up the option year in the process. As a Super Bowl-winning head coach in his second season, Tomlin will be dealing from strength this time and, as it did with Cowher, the option no longer will be part of any future contracts he signs with the Steelers.

Ben vs. Brad, cont'd.

In the ongoing, endless debate ignited by Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier when he wondered which of the two Steelers quarterbacks was better, Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger, a few facts either have been left out or forgotten.

Indeed, Roethlisberger's statistics are much more impressive, so much so that it does not seem even fair to compare. And they are not because he also operates under a much different set of rules.

During most of his career, Bradshaw played under anything-goes rules. Receivers could be bumped all the way downfield until the ball was in the air. Offensive linemen could not hold or use an open hand to block. The head-slap was legal. And quarterbacks could be blasted at will -- in the head, in the knees and, very often, late -- without so much as drawing a flag, never mind a fine.

Some of the rules changed in 1978, and that's when Bradshaw's statistics flourished. He still holds the team record for most passing yards in a season (3,724 in 1979). His 3,339 passing yards in 1980 rank fourth.

Yes, Roethlisberger holds the team records for career completion percent at 62.4 and passer rating at 89.4. But, again, those stats cannot be compared fairly because of the different eras. In Bradshaw's, the dink-and-dunk high completion passes were rarer than the deep throws. It was not unusual for receivers to average 20 yards a reception, almost twice what most average today.

Bradshaw ranks seventh on the team in career completion percentage at 51.9. Anyone want to use that stat to debate whether Tommy Maddox (58.2), Neil O'Donnell (57.1), Kordell Stewart (56.5), Mike Tomczak (56.1) or Bubby Brister (52.5) were better quarterbacks than Bradshaw?

It's the same for passer ratings. Roethlisberger ranks No. 1 with a career rating of 89.4. Bradshaw is sixth with a 71.1, behind most of those mentioned above.

Also, Bradshaw was thrust as a rookie onto a team that was dreadful, having gone 1-13 the season before. Ben joined a team that was Super Bowl-ready.

That does not mean it is not a good debate. Roethlisberger may turn out to be, when all is said and done, a better quarterback than Bradshaw. But at least consider all the facts, please.

Plaxico back in black and gold?

Let's be the first to report the Steelers are the most logical team to sign Plaxico Burress when he becomes eligible to play in the NFL again, likely the 2011 season. Heck, he'll be the tall receiver Ben Roethlisberger has not had since 2004, when he had Plax. Not to mention the Steelers have strong ownership and coaches, a veteran team and fans who don't care that Plax shot himself in the leg.

If nothing else, he'll have fresh legs when he emerges from prison at age 34. And, since Michael Vick signed only a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Steelers would be the most likely suitor for him as a free agent as well. Add Donte Stallworth to the mix, and you have one dynamic offense in the making.

Don't think any of this can happen? Then you just don't think like some of those who report the "news" in the NFL.




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


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