Steelers Negotiations with Polamalu Puzzle

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ed Bouchette dropped a minor bombshell this morning when reported that the Steelers are attempting to secure a long term deal with All Pro starting strong Safety Troy Polamalu.

The move is puzzling for many reasons.

The Steelers wrapped up an aggressive free agent signing spree when they locked up Lawrence Timmons a few weeks ago. All indications were that the Steelers were done until the 2012 off season.

That seemed to be a prudent move on many fronts, not the least of which is financial.

Troy Polamalu is one of the greatest game-changing players in the league today, and a healthy Polamalu is an essential part to any Steelers plans to dominate via defense.

The key word is healthy.

Troy Polamalu as been likened by From Black to Gold author Tim Gleason to an European sports car that dominates the road it rides on but is all too often in the shop.

Polamalu has been injured often in recent seasons, and his explosive style of play combined with his 30th birthday do not figure to make him more durable in the future.

Any agreement between the Steelers and Polamalu would come with a hefty signing bonus, one that the Steelers would be left on the hook for were Polamalu to be injured during the upcoming season.

The Steelers cannot afford to lose Polamalu, but they will be able to use the franchise tag to keep him under contract for 2012.

Like Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu is one player for whom ever effort should be made to allow him to retire as a Steeler. But neither a football or a business case exists to justify the Steelers attempt to sign him before the 2011 commences.

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Watch Tower: Steelers Cut Down Day Varium

Perhaps its because of the lock out, perhaps its just a one time thing, or perhaps its because it’s a new trend, but the 2011 version of cut down day was some what of a non-event compared to it’s the 2010 edition.

News of the Steelers final cuts leaked out in drips and drabs last year, with rumors poping up on Twitter and other blogs about “so and so says is Tweeting that such-and-such’s agent his shopping him now that he’s been cut….”

This time around the Steelers simply released the names of the cuts in one foul swoop.

But they did it in two waves, leaving some room for drama.

To that end, kudos to Scott Brown of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for going out on a limb and hazarding a guess on the identifies of the “Final Five” (ah, now that had a nice ring to it for Battlestar Galactic fans in Steelers Nation.)

We single out Brown because he was the only member of the professional press to hazard such picks.

For the record Brown was right that the Steelers would opt for Wesle Saunders over tight end John Gilmore and that Jarrett Crittenton would be the odd man out on the defensive line. He missed Crezdon Butler and Tony Hills’ departure and predicted that Arnaz Battle would get the boot.

Post-Gazette beat writer Ed Bouchette discussed possibilities surrounding “The Final Five” in PG Plus but stopped short of making his own pick.

The Mystery of J. Crittenton

The Post-Gazette’s reporting of the Steelers final five cuts was a tad bit confusing because they only reported that the team had cut “J. Crittenton.” Wondering who “J.Crittenton” was I went to Behind the Steel Curtain (a site which I occasionally write for) and they also were listing him as “J.Cirttenton.” (The PG has since corrected the page.)

Fortunately, the Tribune-Review had his full name (Jarrett) in its report. Score another for the Trib. Watch Tower only points out it as an example of how mistakes, even trival ones like this, can get magnified on the internet.

Practice Squad “Unimportant?”

Ed Bouchette raised an eye brow in his PG Plus article discussing the Steelers 53 roster stating:

We won’t speculate here on the practice squad because it means so little and they also may sign players cut from other teams, not just their own.

Given that the likes of James Harrison, Chris Hoke, and Isaac Redman, to name a few, have done apprenticeship on the Steelers practice squad, Bouchette’s characterization of the practice squad as something that “means so little” is a little surprising.

In the same article, however, he did predict that Crezdon Bulter would sign with another team and Butler indeed did sign with Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals.

Gerry Dulac Shuns Speculation

This edition of the Watch Tower began by praising one professional writer for having the guts to predict the identities of “The Final Five,” and it is going to end by praising another who decided to follow suit.

At the end of his Wednesday chat, Gerry Dulac surprised with his response to a question about the up coming cuts:

That’s the attitude of an old school journalist who came up the hard way, banging out article on a typewriter and calling them in. As fun as making these kinds of guesses and predictions might be, it is refreshing to see journalists committed to basing their reporting on facts.

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Steelers Cut Tony Hills, Crezdon Butler, Jeremy Kapinos, John Gilmore, and Jarrett Crittenton

The 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers final roster cuts are in. To get to 53 men, the Steelers cut punter Jeremy Kapinos, veteran tight end John Gilmore, undrafted rooke free agent Jarrett Crittenton and in two surprise moves, veteran guard/tackle Tony Hills and sophmore cornerback Crezdon Butler.

The departure of Butler is surprising because he recently had a strong preseason outing against Atlanta, although he had a difficult night against Carolina.

Daniel Sepulveda will again start the season as the Steelers punter. The Steelers have flirtered with letting him go for some time, but just can’t seem to pull the trigger — even a moster performance in preseason by Kapinos couldn’t pus them to do it.

The move to cut Tony Hills draws even more surprises, given that Hills was in contention for the starting right guard spot just a week ago.

John Gilmore’s departure is less of a surprise and amounts to a huge vote of confidence for Weslye Saunders.

Practice Squad Candidates?

The Steelers will most certainly attempt to bring Crezdon Butler back via the practices squad.

It will be interesting to see if Tony Hills makes the practice squad. Although drafted in the 4th round of the 2008 NFL draft, Tony Hills has only played in 3 NFL games, which may leave him eligible for the practice squad.

The Steelers can sign 8 players to the practice squad and may begin doing so tomorrow.

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Steelers Put Byron Leftwich on IR – Did They Err?

In addition to cutting a score of so of players Friday, the Steelers made an additional roster move by placing back up quarterback Byron Leftwich on the injured reserve.

Placing Leftwich on IR comes as no surprise in the wake the broken arm he suffered against Atlanta.

But did the Steelers make the right move?

Leftwich is now lost for the year.

The motive fueling the Steelers move is obvious. Mike Tomlin likes Bryon Leftwich, and Bryon Leftwich likes playing in Pittsburgh. He liked it so much that he considered sacrificing a chance to start by staying in Pittsburgh after Super Bowl XLIII.

That start only lasted a few games, and Tampa traded Leftwich back to the Steelers for a song prior to the 2010 NFL draft.

Tomlin sees Leftwich as his long-term back up, much the way that Bill Cowher viewed Mike Tomzack in the 1990’s.

Steelers Nation has a lot to like in Bryon Leftwich. He’s former franchise quarterback whose settled in comfortably into his role as second in command.

While thoroughly immobile, Leftwich has an absolute cannon for an arm. Bruce Arians always need worry that Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, and Dennis Dixon will under throw Mike Wallace on deep route.

Such worries will never exist with Leftwich.

Nice as that is, the stark reality of the situation is that the broken arm reunited Leftwich with an old friend – the injured reserve list.

Credit goes to Nice Pick Cowher for pointing this out a few days ago.

Since joining the league in Leftwich:

  • Missed 5 games in 2005 with a broken ankle
  • Started six games then went on IR with a broken ankle in 2006
  • Injuries kept him inactive for 13 games for Atlanta in 2007
  • Finished 2009 on IR after starting 3 games

Unlike Nice Pick Cowher, Steel Curtain Rising has a favorable impression of Leftwich’s skills, although one must concede that Leftwich would get killed behind this line.

Before Leftwich got hurt in the 2010 preseason finale, Charlie Batch was the odd man out. No one in the Steelers organization ever questioned Batch’s skills, leadership, or commitment to the team.

Tomlin’s preference for Batch over Byron had everything to do with the former’s fragility.

The Steelers of course take no risk in putting Leftwich on IR other than being on the hook for his 2011 salary.

But one has to wonder if Tomin errs by not giving Leftwich’s durability deeper consideration before annointing him as the Steelers long term back up quarterback.

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Steelers Cut Ivy, Warren, Bryant, Williams and Grisham – 5 More Face Ax

The Steelers cut 21 players today, paring their roster down to 58. 5 more cuts must be made by tomorrow night. Topping the cuts were:

  • Linebacker Mortty Ivy
  • Defensive lineman Crobin Bryant
  • Cornerbacks Donavan Warren and Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith
  • Offesinve tackle Kyle Jolly and Keith Williams
  • Wide Reciever Tyler Grisham

Also cute were: Baraka Atkins, Mario Harvey, Chris McCoy, Brett Greenwood, Macho Harris, Colin Miller, Armand Robinson, Wes Lyons, Jamie McCoy and Swayze Waters.

Candidates for the Steelers Practice Squad?

Mortty Ivy, Crobin Bryant, Dovanan Warren and this year’s 6th round pick Keith Williams are all likely practice squad candidates.

Tyler Grisham and Kyle Jolly spent time on the Steelers practice squad in previous seasons and could conceivably be back.

Who Do the Steelers Cut Next?

The Steelers still need to make five more moves. Word is that Steve McClendon is pushing Chris Hoke for a roster spot, and Justin Kaprios could very well likely spell the end of Daniel Sepulveda.

Likewise, Keenan Lewis might find himself being asked to return his playbook. Either way, the Steelers coaches will make some tough choices in the next 24 hours which, while unplesant, is a good problem to have.

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Steelers Defeat Panthers 33-17 to End Preseason

Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, Rashard Mendenhall, James Harrison, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Bryant McFadden did not play the Steelers final preseason against Carolina, but in the end they didn’t need them.

It never pays to put too much stock into preseason, but the Steelers second-line players dispatched the Carolina Panthers with relative ease tonight to the tune of 33-17.

The Steelers-Panthers preseason game of course was not show in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but a quick look at the stat sheet indicates that a couple of people had a pretty good night:

  • Jonathan Dwyer ripped off 88 yards, including a 50 TD, on 13 carries
  • Emmanuel Sanders caught 4 balls for 60 yards in his first preseason action – a good sign
  • Arnz Battle caught four balls, which will help him make a case for a roster spot
  • Monte Ivy led the team in tackles, and registered a sack
  • Jason Worilds also recorded a sack
  • Steve McClendon – believed to be in a position battle with Chris Hoke, also recorded a sack
  • Keenan Lewis also defensed a pass

Tyler Grisham only caught one pass for ten yards, which while bad for him might just allow the Steelers to keep him on the practice squad.

The most important news is that on injuries are apparent.

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Kevin Colbert Named GM, Batch on IR, Leftwich Surgery

When I asked my 9th grade government teacher, Mr. David P. Walzack, what he thought of the 1987 NBA finals (where Magic’s Lakers knocked off Bird’s Celtics) he answered, “I think it stinks. I am not that big of a Celtics fan, but I am a real big Larry Bird fan.”

I responded, “I just don’t like the Lakers because they’re from California.”

To which Mr. Walzack responded: “That is a typical Pittsburgh attitude.” Walzack was from Pittsburgh, teaching me in the heart of Washington DC suburbia.

The relevance of all of this you, those who haven’t clicked away, ask?

There must be something to what Mr. Walzack said.

I always liked to break big news to the folks on the sly. Straight A’s (yes, it happened Sr. year in high school), don’t say a word, just leave it on the table.

Scholarship? Same deal, just leave it on the table.

The Rooneys it seems, share that same Pittsburgh trait.

Dan Rooney learned of his promotion to President of the Steelers when the team’s media guides were handed out.

Art II learned the same way.

Now the Rooneys have done it again, naming Kevin Colbert to be the team’s first general manager. In Dawn of a New Steel Age Ed Bouchette explained that Dan Rooney brought Tom Donahoe on as “Director of Football Operations” because “General Manager” was ‘a title that Rooney detests and has vowed never to name.’

Apparently Art II has other ideas.

In all likelihood this “promotion” is merely ceremonial, but it is significant nonetheless. Hat’s off to you Kevin Colbert.

Barron Batch Goes on IR, Byron Leftwich Has Surgery

The Steelers yesterady put rookie training camp sensation Barron Batch on IR. Batch suffered a torn ACL in training camp, so this move was enitrely expected.

Byron Leftwich, who broke his arm against the Falcons, had it operated on, but might be spared IR, according to various sources.

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Leftwich, Lewis, Pouncy Injured in Steelers Preseason Victory Over Atlanta

Preseason results indicate little, but it is always better to play well and win rather than lose.

On that front, it was a good night for the Steelers as they defeated the Falcons 34-16.

The men in Black and Gold paid a price however, seeing Byron Leftwich, Keenan Lewis, Casey Hampton and Maurkice Pouncey all injured.

Based on Twitter reports and Mike Tomlin’s press conference the prognosis appears this way:

  • Byron Leftwich’s injury, a broken arm, is the most serious, and will likely go on IR
  • Maurkice Pouncey was walking fine after the game and will be OK
  • Keenan Lewis will also play in the preseason finale, according to Lewis

No one appears to be talking about Hampton’s injury, so it appears that it is not serious.

As usual the game was not show here in Buenos Aires, so any observations are most welcome.

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Steelers Give Lawrence Timmons a Second Contract, Make the Right Move

“Follow the money” implored “Deep Throat” the inside source of the Watergate scandal.

If you want to know what the Pittsburgh Steelers see as the strength of their team, look at where they put their money.

    • James Farrior signed for five years and 18.25 million dollars in 2008

 

 

  • LaMarr Woodley signed for 6 years and 61.5 million dollars earlier this month

And today the Steelers announced that they’d signed Lawrence Timmons, starting inside linebacker, and the first pick of the Mike Tomlin era for six years and a cool 60 million dollars, including 18 in bonuses.

For those of you keeping track at home, that averages out to about a quarter of the 120 million dollar salary cap paid out to the starting linebacking corps.

The Right Move

As a rookie Lawrence Timmons had difficulty getting on the field due to some nagging injuries. Although he failed to break the starting line up in his sophomore season, he nonetheless made his share of “Splash plays” – his work in relief of James Harrison in the Washington game sticks out.

Timmons graduation to the starting line up in 2009 fell below expectations, but who didn’t fall short of expectations in 2009?

But in 2010 Lawrence Timmons came into his own.

While James Harrison and Troy Polamalu (rightly) filled the highlight reels for their eye popping plays against Tennessee, Timmons was flying around and seemingly in on every play and played a key role in shutting down Chris Johnson.

The Steelers defense played one of the best games in its history that hot and humid day against Tennessee, and the game also served as a metaphor for Timmon’s season. Guys like Harrison, Polamalu, and Woodley got most of the accolades, but Timmons led the team in tackles.

Locking Timmons up for six more years is the right move.

The Right Move II

In reporting Timmons signing, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette concludes that the Steelers have finished with their signings for the year. (The Steelers have had a contract negotiation black out since 1993.)

That means that Troy Polamalu and Mike Wallace, both in the final years of their contracts, will have to wait.

That too is wise on the part of the Steelers braintrust.

For as strongly as Steel Curtain Rising defended Troy Polamalu against the “overrated” charge this past summer, the truth is that Polamalu has missed games because of injury in four of the past five years, and he’s finished the functional equivalent of two of those in IR.

Make no mistake about it, the Steelers defense cannot be great without Troy Polamalu, and it would be a tragedy should wear any other uniform before beginning his “life’s work.” But the Steelers will have the option to franchise him at season’s end, and after making an honest assessment as to how much Polamalu has left in the tank.

Mike Wallace will be a restricted free agent next spring. The Steelers do run the risk that some other team will make an inane offer that they cannot match, but it is a risk worth taking.

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Keenan Lewis – Fighting for a Roster Spot, Fighting Steelers History

For as much as popular pro football culture bemoans preseason football, this part of the NFL calendar is laden with opportunity.

And perhaps no Steeler has more on the line than Keenan Lewis.

To win Lombardi Number Seven, the Steelers must improve their secondary. Bryant McFadden and William Gay are known commodities. While serviceable, neither man has much, if any, upside.

Lewis’ slate is a little less cluttered.

Injuries kept Keenan Lewis on the bench in 2009. But Lewis vaulted past Joe Burnett last summer and earned himself a preseason start…

…And then fell flat on his face against Denver, getting torched so badly he had to be pulled from the game only to break a sign in a temper tantrum.

Lewis wasn’t seen much for the rest of 2010, and what little Steelers Nation saw was not good.

Nonetheless, Mike Tomlin, seldom one to coddle, gave Lewis a vote of confidence in the off season, explaining that Lewis “needed snaps” to get better.

And now Tomlin is giving Lewis his shot.

History as a Guide?

– History teaches everything including the future.

Lamartine

Conventional NFL wisdom holds that a player makes the biggest leap between his rookie and sophomore seasons.

The Steelers history validates this. Leon Searcy, Troy Polamalu, Ziggy Hood, and Chad Brown played sparingly as rookies only to snatch strangle holds on starting spots in their second years.

In contrast, as Brett Keisel and James Harrison illustrate, late picks often undergo multi-year apprenticeships emerge later as starters.

But what of third round picks? What’s their typical development path?

If the history of the Steelers 3rd round draft picks since 1987 serves as any guide, Lewis has little hope.

The vast majority of Steelers third round picks’ career trajectory was clear by the time they entered their third training camp.

Going into year three most of the Steelers 3rd round picks were locked into bumbling towards ‘busthood’, flashing and fading, settling into supporting roles or sprinting towards stardom, with only a few reversing course.

Bumbling Towards ‘Busthood’

Chuck Lanza’s, ’88, final NFL play was the faulty snap that ended the ’89 Steelers shot at their own Mile High Miracle. Craig Veasey, 3b ’91, Chris Conrad, 3a ’98, and Steven Conley, ’96, all played spot roles in their first two years before getting their walking papers. Kris Farris, 3b ’99, never played a down in Pittsburgh. Paul Wiggins, ’97, dressed just once his rookie season and got cut next summer.

Anthony Smith’s, 3a ’06, big words and little actions ensured that his third year with the Steelers was his last. Willie Reid, 3b ’06, played all of seven games in two seasons. Bruce Davis, ’08, was one-and-done after he couldn’t contribute on special teams.

Flashing and Fading

Charles Lockett, ’87, and Derek Hill, ’89, both started games in their first two years but were out of football thereafter. Bam Morris, ’94, looked liked a 3rd round steal until drug problems sent him packing. Amos Zereoue, 3c ’99, played little in ’99 and ’00 and, although he did improve, he was never able or willing to fulfill his potential. Matt Spaeth, ‘07 caught what little the Steelers threw his way in his first two years then saw his progress level off in ’09 and ’10.

Settling into Supporting Roles

Guys like Jon Witman, ’96, and Kendrick Clancy, ’00, both established themselves as role players going into year 3. Much the same can be said of Andre Hastings, ’93, who did the same as a part-time starter/slot receiver and effective punt returner. Entering his third year Max Starks, ’04, had shown himself to be the serviceable, if not solid starter. Likewise, going into year three, the skinny on Trai Essex, ’05, was that he was a marginal “sixth” lineman.

Sprinting Towards Stardom

Guys like Neil O’Donnell, 3a ’90, Ernie Mills, ’91, and Chris Hope perhaps weren’t “stars” but all three were growing into their upsides when they began their 3rd summer at Latrobe.

By his third training camp Joel Steed, ’92, was the anchor of the Steelers of the 90’s defense. Jason Gildon, ’94, was embarking on the first of 8 straight starting seasons. Hines Ward, 3b ’98, started his third season on the bench behind Troy Edwards, but Hines was clearly a keeper. Finally, by the time he entered his third season, Joey Porter clearly wasn’t going to merely live up to the Steelers Linebacker Legacy, he would add to it.

Reversing Course

Brendan Stai, ’95, helped turn around the season for the Steelers and played well in both ’96 and ’97, but his play dropped off after that.

Hank Poteat, 3b. ’00, and Mike Vrabel, 3b.’97, for different reasons both had difficulty defining their roles with the Steelers, but both went on to contribute elsewhere.

Define History or Be Defined by History

– You must always know the past, for there is no real Was, there is only Is.

William Faulkner

What does all of this mean for Keenan Lewis?

Ask Mike Tomlin he’d probably be less poetic than Faulkner but he’d likely explain that “Keenan’s story is about Keenan. The stories of other 3rd round picks are irrelevant.”

The Steelers-Eagles preseason game wasn’t shown in Buenos Aires (surprise), so I can offer no analysis of my own, but here’s what others say:

Tony DeFeo of Behind the Steel Curtain offered this:

I focused my attention on Keenan Lewis most of the night, and I have to say, he really impressed me with his coverage ability.

Mark Kalboy of the Tribune Review said:

Give Keenan Lewis credit for not being overwhelmed against the Eagles. Now, he had just as many bad plays as good ones, but he never gave up the big play and seemingly was in the right spot the majority of the time. That’s a positive sign for this kid.

In Yoda-speak, one should caution, “One successfully preseason game does not a career turnaround make.”

Keenan Lewis cannot change the past, but he make his own history in the future, starting now. It looks like he took a first step towards that the other night against Philly.

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