A Potpourri of Steelers Talk

Photo via Steelers.com

There’s a surprisingly large amount to report/discuss/disagree about in the Steelers universe, given that we are only one week out from the most offensive Super Bowl in the history of the game. (Read that as you like.)

For one thing, the Steelers have been busy making small signings and salary restructures, the former to take care of impending free agents of one sort or another, the latter presumably in the name of freeing up the cartloads of money it will take to re-sign Le’Veon Bell.

About the former there doesn’t seem to be a lot of dispute. Who’s going to argue with locking up Rosie Nix or B.J. Finney? Nix is now a Pro Bowler, and Finney is an icon of Steeler Nation after the emotional (and viral) video made when he got the call from Mike Tomlin to join the Steelers. I’m hoping for a sequel.

The latter seems a more contentious matter. The first divisive part is the contract restructuring. It was due to a whole lot of contract restructuring during the years surrounding the 2010 Super Bowl that kept the Steelers in Salary Cap Hell up until, oh, about 2017. It was so nice to know last year there was basically no dead money on the books. On the other hand, who cares, as long as you can do what you need to do?

But the big issue is, of course, should the Steelers even be considering offering Bell the sort of money it will undoubtedly take to lock him up? The Anti-Bell faction loves to point out that he’s one failed drug test away from sitting out a whole season. This doesn’t seem terribly germane to me in one sense. The Steelers won’t be paying him a dime should this occur.

The problem, of course, could be the timing. If he’s going to fail a drug test after signing a big contract, let’s hope he at least has the courtesy to do so before training camp—preferably before the draft, if you believe that Bell and the Steelers are likely to come to an understanding that soon. It does seem, however, as if Bell would like to get a deal done sooner rather than later, and if indeed he was the problem last summer, as has been widely reported—supposedly even his agent urged him to take the deal—than that would certainly tend to expedite matters.

But let’s assume he has, at least for the duration of his NFL career, put his stoner days behind him. The other thing the Anti-Bell faction loves to point out is that not a single highly-pedigreed running back participated in this year’s Super Bowl. (I’m assuming this to be true, since I saw it on the Internet. Multiple times.) And those UDFAs and so on who were carrying the rock, in between vast quantities of chucking the rock from the two quarterbacks (and even a few non-QBs) managed to average something like 6.1 yards per carry. Man, they must have been playing some really undisciplined defenses. I hear that Belichick guy doesn’t have very good control of his locker room.

But to return to the subject, the Anti-Bellers (which has a nice, genteel ring to it, and would make a good name for a punk yodeling band, if such a thing is possible) do admit that No. 26 doesn’t only bring his running skills, but that he was an integral part of the passing game. They seem to brush this aside with nary a qualm, however. (I note that very few of them have anything to say about Bell’s blocking abilities, which are perhaps equally as important, or even more important, in the passing game.)

I freely admit that should the Steelers give Bell anything like what he probably wants, they may well tie their hands in terms of shoring up the defense with some amazing free agent or other. Not that they are likely to be competing in the upper stratospheres of the free agent market anyhow, but they have shown an uncharacteristic willingness to spend some serious money in free agency lately.

Which brings me, the long way around, to the second point of this article, which is the salary situation in regards to Ryan Shazier.

First let me give the disclaimer that as far as Ryan himself goes, I couldn’t be more thrilled that he is progressing as well as he is, and really that’s the only important thing about his situation. Whether he ever plays another moment of football does not matter at all in comparison to his health and future life.

But as we are considering salary cap issues, there is no getting around the fact that the Steelers will be paying him $8.7 million this coming season. I expect there are clever ways to spread this out (although if he can never play again you’re just prolonging the problems,) including, I assume, converting most of it to a re-signing bonus. And we may well find the Steelers doing just that.

But what I really want to address is, why should it be this way? It seems to me something that should be re-negotiated in the new CBA. I am not for a moment suggesting that a team who picks up a player’s fifth-year option (which is what made the money guaranteed) should not have to pay it if the player is injured. This is part of the bargain the teams and the players make—they take the injury risk, the team takes the financial risk.

No, what I am wondering is why a team shouldn’t have the option of removing the players’ salary from their salary cap hit and paying it, if you will, privately. It needn’t be a requirement, and teams with plenty of salary cap room could leave things just as they are. Or perhaps that is naive, and no owners, not even the Rooneys, would be willing to pony up. But it seems to me that in the case of a highly compensated player who has no chance of playing that year, there ought to be some way to remove some or all of the salary hit from the cap, at least.

Perhaps this is a very unusual circumstance. It probably is, now that I think of it. And of course this is making the assumption that there is no way Shazier could play in 2018. Which seems only sensible.

However, Dale Lolley had another take on it a few weeks ago. He had a conversation with Mike Tomlin after the Ravens chose not to IR Terrell Suggs when he tore his Achilles tendon in training camp. Suggs was adamant that he would return that season, and in fact he did, despite the usual estimate of a full year to recover from such an injury. Apparently Lolley suggested to Tomlin, early in the year, that the Ravens were dumb to waste a roster spot. Tomlin said words to the effect that you can’t judge what these guys can do against ordinary mortals, and that the Ravens probably felt that Suggs would in fact recover faster if he had the possibility of playing that year.

Lolley suggested that perhaps Shazier’s statements that he intends to play football again should be taken at face value, if only because they might be a critical part of his recovery, however far it might go. I’m seeing recent reports that Shazier not only thinks he can play again, but thinks he can play in 2018. If this were to be the case, it would be a serious bonanza for the league in terms of PR, for sure. If I were his family, I’m not sure I would be so thrilled. But given he can’t yet stand up on his own, it seems unduly optimistic. It will certainly be fascinating to watch his progress. And hopefully heartening.

I haven’t even begun to address all the coaching moves, and I’m not going to try at this point. Later this week there will be A Couple of Snarky Questions, a feature which will replace the Five Smoldering Questions, except when Hombre is moved to provide them. Or I may be mining the vast stores of treasures from his previous questions, which was fun when I did it a few years back.

But what this is hopefully telling you is that the frequency of posts is going to diminish for a while, just like last off-season. I’m awfully busy at the moment, testing various French cheeses, cooking cuisse de canard and cassoulet and such-like for dinner, going to lovely concerts, and generally suffering big-time. So I hope you will all forgive me. I will naturally start having a look at the potential draftees, but I’m not likely to report on what I’ve found until the draft is a good bit nearer.

In the meantime, if you have a topic you would like addressed, leave a comment or shoot me an email. Or, better yet, write an article about it and send it along. I’ll save you a piece of cheese…

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