Ed Bouchette on the Steelers: Team likely to rue offseason
Ben Roethlisberger congratulates Cary Davis on a touchdown in the preseason. But should the congratulations be going the other way after Roethlisberger's offseason windfall?
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The start of the regular season today means the end to another negotiating season for contract extensions with the Steelers.
The final tally: Ben Roethlisberger and James Farrior extended; Marvel Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, Bryant McFadden, Trai Essex, Max Starks, Nate Washington and Charlie Batch among those who enter their final seasons under contract and can become unrestricted free agents if they do not sign before Feb. 27. Add Byron Leftwich to that group and Willie Colon would become a restricted free agent.
The Steelers have done a decent job through the years at re-signing the veterans they wanted to keep and knowing when to release or let players leave as free agents when their best football was behind them and a younger talent pushing them. A perfect example of it came last year when they released linebacker Joey Porter and elevated James Harrison to replace him. Porter had a down season in Miami and Harrison made the Pro Bowl and earned his team's MVP.
In other cases, such as Alan Faneca's, they took a chance on a younger player even though the veteran still was at the top of his game because the price was too steep.
Roethlisberger's large contract precluded the Steelers from doing much else this year, and the $7 million mistake they made with Max Starks compounded it.
The obvious concern looking at the possible free agents is that they will be left with a large hole in their offensive line. Smith almost surely will leave as a free agent. If Kemoeatu has a big year at left guard, he too likely will leave because they won't be able to afford him. That's their left side. Essex or Starks might be able to play left tackle for them but, of course, one of them would have to re-sign. The option if Kemoeatu leaves might be Darnell Stapleton, his backup who would enter his third season.
The odds of the Steelers winning the Super Bowl are not that steep. In fact, they are 18-1, according to BodogLife.com, which issued a slew of intriguing "props,'' as they're called in Las Vegas. If you want the Steelers to win the AFC Championship, it's 9-1 and they have them even money to win the AFC North Division.
Here's a look at some over/under odds, with appropriate comments:
• Victories, 9: That's about right. I figure 10-6 so I'll take the over.
• Home victories, 5.5: Houston, Cleveland, Baltimore, Cincinnati, New York Giants. You need one more to take the over with the Colts, Chargers and Cowboys left. If you pick them to win 10, you have to pick them to win six at home.
• Away victories, 3.5: Easier than the home choice. Go for the over with Cleveland, Baltimore, Cincinnati and one more.
• Ben Roethlisberger passing yards, 3,350: A tough one. He threw for 3,513 in 2006 but they were behind a lot. He threw for 3,154 last season and missed one game. I'll go under.
• Roethlisberger passing TDs, 26: He had 32 last season, by 14 his career high. He'd need to go under that by seven to lose this bet if you go OVER.
• Sacks allowed, 27: They allowed 47 last season. A no-brainer to go over.
• Willie Parker rushing yards, 1,200: The fewest by Parker in his past three years were 1,202 in 2005. He had 1,316 in 14 games plus one carry last season. But then, he did not have a first-round draft choice join him in the backfield. Under.
• Rashard Mendenhall rushing yards, 675: This would have been a tough number for the rookie to reach if he had not lost three fumbles in his last two games. He won't play as often because of it early in the season. Under.
• Hines Ward receiving yards, 875: He had 732 yards last season on 71 receptions (he missed three games). Roethlisberger's arsenal has expanded, including third-down back Mewelde Moore. Under.
• Santonio Holmes receiving hards, 1,075: He had 945 last season and missed three games. Over, easily.
• Limas Sweed receiving yards, 370: Has anyone in Vegas been paying attention? Under.
• James Harrison sacks, 6: He led the Steelers with 8.5 last season and has someone in LaMarr Woodley to help prevent the double teams. Over.
The seniors committee, unswayed by its failed nomination of Marshall Goldberg last year, has again served up former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Bob Hayes, pictured at left, as one of its two nominees for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February.
Like Goldberg, Hayes failed to be elected as a modern-day candidate and then failed again in a second-chance nomination in 2004 by the seniors committee. This will be his third and, one way or another, likely final chance.
He was a wide receiver whose best-known postseason moment was keeping his hands jammed down the front of his pants because he was so cold in the famous Ice Bowl NFC championship game at Green Bay in 1967.
The seniors committee should present players who have been overlooked earlier in their careers, not ones who have been twice previously rejected -- in Bob Hayes' case as recently as four years ago. Instead of giving third chances to such players, they should try giving second chances to men such as Jack Butler, Dick LeBeau and Andy Russell.
The Steelers paid Sean Mahan a $4 million signing bonus last year and a $650,000 salary and gave up on him after one year. They'll pay Max Starks $7 million this year to be a backup tackle.
Is that the best use of the salary cap? In Mahan's case, it was bad planning. Jeff Hartings retired and it was determined by the new coaching staff that Chukky Okobi wasn't the answer, so they had to scramble for a center. Mahan was available even though he, too, turned out not to be the answer.
Starks was a mistake, not to keep him but to guarantee him that much. They might have been better off making him a reasonable, long-term contract offer before he became a free agent than to guarantee him $7 million this year and thus guaranteeing he would not do a long-term contract -- until perhaps next year.
The Steelers announced they had waived rookie linebacker Mike Humpal, a sixth-round draft choice, last week. But he's back on their team and likely will stay there the entire season.
Humpal was waived injured and when no other team claimed him, he reverted back to the Steelers on their injured reserve list. If his were a short-term injury, the Steelers would be forced to release him when it healed. However, Humpal missed most of training camp with what were described as "stingers" and doctors are still trying to determine their cause.
"Stingers" caused Marvel Smith to miss all but six games of the 2003 season.
Rookie safety Ryan Mundy, on the other hand, reached an injury settlement and then was waived and is eligible to sign with any other team. If he does not, the Steelers could re-sign him around midseason under NFL rules.
First Published September 7, 2008 12:00 am