The Pittsburgh Steelers are two months into their off season and things have been busy and are about to get busier as free agency looms. A lot is going on in Steelers Nation and everyone has an opionon on what should and will happen next. The Watch Tower takes a look.
Predicting Jason Worild’s Future
While the Steelers face a number of big decisions with respect to free agency none figures to have a larger impact on the Steelers 2015 season than the answer to the question posed here, “What in the World to do about Jason Worilds?”
But the choices made by Jason Worilds and the Steelers will have far deeper repercussions on 2015 and beyond. What makes it interesting, is that there is ZERO consensus on what will happen.
I think he wants to return to Pittsburgh and they want him to return. And I believe even if he does become a free agent in a couple of weeks, there’s still a good shot he’ll return to Pittsburgh.
Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain, offered this about Worilds in the context of the Steelers recent contract restructurings “While we still think a deal with Jason Worilds will get done, even if the outside linebacker will be left to explore free agency, the Steelers still have other moves to make.”
Unlike most other bloggers, Coolong has sources on the South Side, although his article doesn’t indicate whether any of these sources influenced Coolong’s conclusion.
- Not that those who have access to sources agree.
ESPN’s Scott Brown reported that a “league source” (“league source” usually translates to “player’s agent”) informed him that the Steelers will allow Worilds to become a free agent. This is hardly a surprise, but the fact that someone who is likely an agent is pushing this line with reporters suggests that the Worilds is intent on aggressively auctioning his services.
- While Brown offers no specific predictions as to where Worilds will land, the tone of his article suggests it won’t be in Pittsburgh.
Later, in his Steelers Mail column, Brown went a step with reference to free agent signings “It has to be an outside linebacker since Jason Worilds has almost certainly played his last down for the Steelers and the uncertainty at the position in general.”
Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette treated his readers to some additional perspective on the Steelers situation with Worilds. He cited an interview with Worilds from December 2013 where Worilds clearly vented his frustrations over having to wait behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley while Jarvis Jones got fast tracked on to the field.
Bouchette closed his article with an interesting conclusion:
If a player feels mistreated by an organization at any point during his career it’s hard for that damage to be repaired. Sure, a $10 million contract helps ease the pain, but I knew then Worilds wanted to see what he was worth on the open market.
That’s the kind of perspective you’d expect to get from a man who has covered the Steelers since the days when blast furnaces stood where the Steelers headquarters now sits. (And unlike Alan Robinson, Bouchette linked to his original article.)
No matter how it unfolds, the Worilds situation promises to be interesting. The Steelers want him back, but at their price.
About that Roethlisberger Resigning…
The other big story, one which is drawing surprisingly little reporting, is Ben Roethlisberger’s contract extension. It’s not news that Ben wants to stay in Pittsburgh (Ian Rapport not withstanding) and that the Steelers want him back. The only variables are when the deal is done, for how long and for how much.
It was surprising then when Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review lashed out at Kevin Colbert because he “essentially gave away the negotiations before they began.” Gorman take issue with Colbert’s statement at the NFL Scouting Combine that “’Ben is going to be a better quarterback down the road than he is at this point’” as well as saying last spring that he could not foresee Roethlisberger finishing his career outside of Pittsburgh.
The sin behind all of this for Gorman? Let’s let his own words talk for him:
Imagine being Roethlisberger’s agent, Ryan Tollner, at the negotiating table.
Gentlemen, now that you have publicly established that Ben is a franchise quarterback whose best is yet to come, that you can’t imagine him not finishing his career in Pittsburgh and that he compares favorably with a pair of all-time greats, let’s talk money! [Emphasis in the original.]
Between these statements and the Steelers decision not to sign Roethlisberger after twin 8-8 campaigns the Steelers have no choice but to pay Roethlisberger top dollar.
The purpose of the Watch Tower is not to dispute dissenting opinions of Pittsburgh’s journalists, but rather to understand how the press that covers the Steelers works.
In that vein, Gorman’s motive boils down to one of two possibilities: 1. Gorman’s trying to generate page views by taking a controversial line or 2. Gorman really thinks it would be wise for the Steelers to attempt to nickel and dime Roethlisberger.
- Possibility number 1 is understandable, even if it isn’t entirely excusable
- Possibility number 2 is simply inane
Seriously. Terry Bradshaw threw his last pass for the Steelers at Shea Stadium vs. the Jets in December 1983. Ben Roethlisberger threw his first pass for the Steelers in Baltimore in September 2004.
In between Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, Scott Campbell, Steve Bono, Bubby Brister, Todd Blackledge, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller, Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox all got their 15 minutes of fame.
- Only O’Donnell got them within snifing distance of a Lombardi, and his “completions” to Larry Brown ensured Pittsburgh would not cover that distance.
Ben Roethlisberger is one of 3 active quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl rings. If anything, he’s underrated outside of Pittsburgh. If Gorman wants to stoke some flames by suggesting the Steelers play hard ball, so be it.
But if he should be ashamed of himself if he seriously suggests that Pittsburgh should be petty with the one player who gives them their single best shot at Lombardi number 7.
Wexell Responds on LeBeau’s Departure
The last edition of the Watch Tower focused on deconstructing the press coverage of Dick LeBeau’s departure. After reviewing reporting from several journalists in Pittsburgh, the Watch Tower closed its review by suggesting that Dale Lolley had perhaps gotten closest to the truth.
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider, who has offered praise of the Watch Tower in the past, responded to a Tweet promoting the article, and in doing so brought new facts to light on the story:
@SteelCurtainRis LeBeau thought he was being called into Tomlin's office for pay raise. He was instead forced out as DC. End of story.
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) February 27, 2015
This is of course entirely consistent with Wexell’s reporting on the story both on his site and via Twitter. Nonetheless, it is surprising Wexell would reveal such a vivid inside story on Twitter.
Wexell of course could not, would not, and should not reveal his source, but clearly he’s gotten this from someone very close to the story, if not directly from LeBeau himself (or perhaps even Mike Tomlin.)
While Wexell’s tweet doesn’t necessarily negate Lolley’s interpretation of events, it does throw a lot of cold water on the NFL Network’s attempt to spin the story that LeBeau’s “resignation” “surprised the Steelers.”
The Watch Tower thanks Mr. Wexell for such an insightful response – who said Twitter’s 140 characters limited real communication?
Ryan Clark’s Retirement Unearths Interesting Factoid
Social Media has certainly eliminated many of the traditional barriers that have traditionally governed coverage of NFL teams. But there’s still a lot that goes on that remains out of sight to the average fan.
In referring to Ryan Clark’s hotheaded streak, Brown recalled the time in 2009 that Ryan Clark call the media “turds” and revealed “Two seasons later, a Steelers media relations staffer had to separate Clark and another reporter after they nearly came to blows at training camp.”
The Watch Tower has no memory of “turds” remark, but a Google search confirms that the comment was picked up by mainstream media outlets at the time he made it. But the news about Ryan Clark almost fighting Joe Bendel got far less coverage.
In fact, the only professional sites which show up in Google searches for “Ryan Clark Joe Bendel Training camp” is Mike Florio’s Pro Football Talk and his article references an account of the altercation published by Brown while still at the Tribune Review.
The fact that a story like this had such short legs is surprising, and likely speaks to the prowess power of the Steelers PR staff in keeping something like this from gaining momentum in the media.