Expect contract talks to begin this week with Roethlisberger
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The Steelers this week will open contract talks with some of their players who can become unrestricted free agents and one who cannot -- quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger has two years left on the contract he signed as a rookie in 2004, but both sides have expressed a desire to reach a contract extension this year.
Getting a contract extension and getting one quickly was one of three wishes Roethlisberger said he had for the offseason during a Jan. 15 interview.
"I'm eager, anxious, because I want to get it done with. I want to say let's go, let's get it over with so the talks can stop, people can stop bugging me about it," he said. "Because I just want to play football.''
His other two desires were to keep guard Alan Faneca from leaving as a free agent and to find a tall wide receiver. Finding a tall, talented wide receiver would be difficult enough, but keeping Faneca is seen as near impossible. Nevertheless, the Steelers plan to make at least one more phone call to Faneca's agent.
They also may make a pitch for tackle Max Starks, but they believe he will leave in free agency. Other Steelers who would become unrestricted Feb. 29 are linebacker Clark Haggans, defensive ends Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason, fullback Dan Kreider, quarterback Brian St. Pierre, running back Verron Haynes and linebacker Marquis Cooper.
Their restricted free agents are tackle Trai Essex, guard Chris Kemoeatu, receiver Nate Washington, linebacker Andre Frazier and long snapper Greg Warren. The interesting part will come when the team must tender one-year offers to maintain their rights; the higher the offer, the more they protect themselves from losing the player.
Kemoeatu, for example, should command a high offer because he's likely to replace Faneca as the starting left guard.
While negotiations on contracts for their players begin, an end finally occured this past week to a truly on-field matter: the playing surface at Heinz Field.
The Steelers had several meetings on the topic -- including one big one -- before making it known Friday that they would stick with grass. That could still mean staying with the DDGrassMaster that has been the playing surface for most of Heinz Field's seven years, or ditching it for sod or some other type of grass system.
Dan Rooney has been in favor of grass since Heinz Field opened, citing his players' overwhelming support for such a surface and surveys he says indicate fewer and less serious injuries occur on grass fields. DDGrassMaster is grass that is secured with fibers.
Today's Pro Bowl may be a last of its kind as the NFL tries to find ways to boost interest in its all-star game, not only among the public but its own stars.
At least those two Steelers among the 14 NFL players who backed out of the game had legitimate injury excuses -- Willie Parker and Troy Polamalu. Many others are dubious withdrawals.
But even if everyone picked played, including Tom Brady, interest in the game might not have improved much; it has waned for years.
The NFL may move the game out of Hawaii and bring it to the mainland to generate more interest by the media and the public. One stumbling block to that idea is the players' wives; the free trip to Hawaii is a perk they supposedly do not want to give up.
Here's an idea: Move the game around to cities over here as they do the Super Bowl, and send the wives to Hawaii for the week. Everyone wins!
The better idea might be to select an all-star team but play no game. Plug the players into Madden 2009 and let them go at it.
Could you imagine Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher or Mike Tomlin leaving his team on the sideline and running into the locker room with time left on the clock in a losing cause?
Even in a regular-season game?
No, you can't. Who can remember any coach pulling what Bill Belichick did, in the Super Bowl no less? Roger Goodell should hit him with as high a fine as he can, if for no other reason than to prevent any other coach from doing it.
It is as good an example as any why probably 90 percent of America outside of New England was giddy over the New York Giants' upset of the Patriots.
Now, Spygate is creeping back into Belichick's world. The commissioner needs to do everything in his power to ferret the evidence that, NFL sources continue to tell me, Belichick cheated long before last year's game against the New York Jets.
He probably even had the audacity to tape NFC practices when he was coach of the AFC for the Pro Bowl last year, a tape that would have been watched more closely than the tedious game itself.
First Published February 10, 2008 12:00 am