Gambling again on aging LB
Share with others:
James Farrior knew what it was like to play elsewhere and knew what it was like to play for the Steelers. He preferred the latter -- very much. Which meant he was preparing for the upcoming season with a keen sense of disappointment. The Steelers, it seemed, weren't interested in a long-term deal with a 33-year-old linebacker whose current contract expired after this season.
Such a view was understandable, particularly since the Steelers, to their later dismay, once went down a similar road.
But about a month after the team backed away and apparently ended talks about a new contract, the two sides, with very quiet negotiations taking place, came to agreement on a deal that is valued at $18.25 million over five years.
Farrior was deeply relieved. So probably were coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
After playing the first five years of his career with the New York Jets and failing to excel, Farrior blossomed for the Steelers. He knew the grass is not always greener elsewhere.
Agent Ralph Cindrich called Farrior's output with the Jets "non-productive." That would not be an apt description of his time with the Steelers, which began in 2002. It was possibly the best free-agent signing in the team's history. While with the Steelers, Farrior has played in the Pro Bowl, was All-Pro, team captain, team MVP and leading tackler. He also was a dedicated leader and solid citizen. Just the kind of player a team wants anchoring its defense.
Except for his age, which is a bit ancient for an inside linebacker. It was the age, and possibly the internal struggle going on over control of the team, that caused the Steelers to back off on a deal initially.
In mid-July, Omar Khan, the Steelers' contract negotiator, called Cindrich. "He told me he didn't think they could do anything with James. It wasn't going to get done," said Cindrich.
Over dinner a few days later, Cindrich explained the situation to Farrior. Although Cindrich, having dealt with the Steelers in the past, considered it a "dead matter," he told Farrior he would continue to work at it.
"James told me to keep negotiating, now and during the season," said Cindrich.
Little more than a week ago, Cindrich got another call. The Steelers wanted to talk.
The deal was announced yesterday. Farrior, who was due to make $3.2 million this season, will receive a $5 million signing bonus and stands to make almost $10 million in the first two years of the contract and about $12 million for three years. It's highly unlikely he'll be around for the final years of the deal, which were included to spread out the impact of the signing bonus.
"James has played at an extremely high level for the entire time I've been here," said Tomlin. "It was a pleasure getting that deal done. It's great to know he's going to be part of our future."
The move surprised many because the Steelers had a recent unhappy experience with an aging linebacker. In February 2002, they agreed to a five-year, $23 million deal with outside linebacker Jason Gildon, which included a $6.5 million signing bonus. Gildon was 30 at the time, three years younger than Farrior. The Steelers took a beating on the deal. Gildon played only two more seasons with them. He played a partial season with Jacksonville, after being cut by Buffalo, in 2004 and retired.
The decision might have had something to do with the fact Farrior continued to play at a high level last year. He led the team in tackles with 111 and was second in sacks with a career-high six and quarterback pressures with 24.
"It was a great deal for the Steelers," insisted Cindrich who presented a raft of information to show Farrior accepted less and provided more production than other players at his position.
Still, it was a gamble and one the Steelers might have made only after being rebuffed by other players.
For example, they are looking at heavy losses on the offensive line after this season. Two starters, left tackle Marvel Smith and left guard Chris Kemoeatu, are set to become unrestricted free agents, as are their two top backup tackles, Max Starks and Trai Essex. Starting right tackle Willie Colon will become a restricted free agent.
It stands to reason that some of those players would have been a higher priority than Farrior. But Farrior has his deal. He'll remain a Steeler; he'll retire a Steeler.
First Published August 22, 2008 12:00 am