Myron Cope was Right about Daniel Snyder. The NFL Should Have Listened 23 Years Ago

The NFL owners voted unanimously to approve the sale of the Washington Commanders from Daniel Snyder to Steelers minority owner Josh Harris, thus ending one of the most ignominious ownership tenures in league history.

You know what? If they’d have listened to Myron Cope 23 years ago they could have saved everyone a ton of trouble.

How’s that? Follow along and find out.

Myron Cope

Myron Cope: Long time radio voice and soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

Red Flags Flash Early in the Snyder Era

In 1999 Daniel Snyder bought the then Washington Redskins after winning the second round an auction held by the late Jack Kent Cooke’s estate. NFL owners were not pleased. They’d already pressured Daniel Milstein and Snyder to withdraw a previous bid. John Kent Cooke, Jack’s son, had come in second in the and, if memory serves, Dan Rooney openly asked if the NFL owners could consider both proposals.

  • They could not. Snyder got the team.

Snyder got control of the team in May and could do little ahead of the upcoming season. Except fire a bunch of secretaries, administrative employees and other low-level office staffers as a way of showing he was in charge.

  • Snyder made it clear he was going to be more demanding than John Kent Cooke.

Fans and the press liked that. Yet, a friend of mine told me how a business associate of his had been called to the team facilities in Ashburn to do some work on the field. He crossed paths with Snyder, one-on-one in a quiet corridor, extend his hand saying, “Mr. Snyder, I’m a longtime fan. And I just want to say that I love what you’re doing with the team.” Snyder ignored him, said nothing and left him hanging as he walked by.

Contrast that with Art Rooney Sr.’s encounter with Craig Wolfley and Tunch Ilkin shortly after the 1980 NFL Draft. The Chief stopped by in the main waiting room at Three Rivers Stadium, and chatted with the guys as he emptied ashtrays. They thought Rooney was a janitor, not realizing he was the owner who’d just bagged his 4th Lombardi Trophy.

Yeah, that was the first sign that Daniel Snyder would be the anti-Dan Rooney. But not the last.

The Snyder Era’s First Rendezvous with the Steelers

True to his word, Snyder “applied some pressure” and Washington made the playoffs and even won a wild card game, its first since Super Bowl XXVI in 1991. As Washington started the 2000 off season on a high note, Danny was licking his chops.

With Snyder at the helm, Washington hit the free agent market with reckless abandon, spending 100 million dollars on free agents.

  • Others had tried and failed to “Buy a Lombardi,” but both fans and press in Washington drank to Kool-Aid.

Listeners called into Sports Talk 980 WTEM predicting an undefeated season. In late May at a barbecue in the DC suburbs, fans needled yours truly, pointing to the Steelers dismal 1999 effort and predicting disaster for the Steelers December match up against Washington, the final game at Three Rivers Stadium. Then to rub a little salt into the wound, one sheepishly asked, “I wonder if we signed Deion today?” (When they actually signed Dieon a few days later, the Washington Post ran a front page article and devoted a quarter of the Sports section to the deal.)

Days before the season opener against the Carolina Panthers, the owner of the Wheaton Athletic Club quipped, “…I’m tried of people speculating what it means if he [long forgotten Panthers player] plays or not. A win is going to be a win.”

“Yeah, just like a Super Bowl is gonna be a Super Bowl!” a patron responded.

Washington won that first game, but quickly showed themselves as a middling team while Snyder showed himself to be a meddling owner, complete with ESPN zooming in on a sideline phone labeled “Mr. Snyder” – Danny didn’t hesitate to call Norv Turner during the game when he wasn’t happy.

And Danny was often unhappy, firing Turner after a 7-9 loss to the Giants, two weeks before Washington was set to travel to Pittsburgh where Myron Cope would offer the result of the league advice that they’d have been wise to take.

Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis after the final game at Three Rivers Stadium

Jerome Bettis & Franco Harris @ Final Game at Three Rivers Stadium. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette

Myron Cope loved nicknames, and decided going into the week that Washington would be the “Wash Redfaces.” With the Steelers leading 17-3 at the half in their Three Rivers Stadium finale (oh, was it such a pleasure to see Jerome Bettis steamroll Deion Sanders) Snyder sent someone from his PR team instructing Myron Cope to stop using the term Redfaces.

As Cope explained in Double Yoi, as soon as the commercial break was over, he informed listeners “You’re not going to believe what I’m going to tell you.” He then shared the news of Snyder’s demand, assuring listeners, “If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, he should stick his head in a can of paint.”

As Tom Boswell of the Washington Post opined afterwards, “Like it or not, Myron Cope was speaking for America. And the Redskins should listen.”

Alas, they did not.

Nearly 23 years later, you can rest assured that the NFL wishes it had taken the advice of the late, great Myron Cope a lot sooner.

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Byron Leftwich to the Redskins?

Steel Curtain Rising speculated, long before the major Pittsburgh papers, (well, ok, only one day before) that should Bryon Leftwich fail to secure a solid offer to start somewhere else, he might very well decide to remain a back up in Pittsburgh.

  • It now appears that Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder will test that hypothesis.

Earlier this week the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers were hoping to sign both Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, but that Leftwich was in talks with another, unnamed team.

Now we know the name of that team, and it is the Washington Redskins, as Leftwich worked out with the Redskins last Friday.

Bryon Leftwich a Hometown Hero?

Byron Leftwich is a Washington DC area native, and was boyhood fan of the team. Like most kids, he grew up dreaming of playing for his hometown team. Later he admitted to the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon that playing against them, as he did when the Steelers defeated the Redskins last season on Monday Night Football, was the next best thing.

For the moment we can only speculate if the possibility of winning another Super Bowl with the Steelers outweighs the possibility returning to Washington as a native son.

What Exactly is Daniel Snyder Thinking, Anyway?

Its been confirmed that the Redskins, tried, and failed, to land Jay Cutler in a trade. This transpired despite the fact that Jason Campbell has been steadily growing into a quality NFL quarterback. Campbell threw for over three thousand yards last year, completed 62% of his passes, and had a quarterback rating of 80.4%.

One has to wonder, if Snyder is willing to ditch Campbell as his starter, is he also enticing Leftwich to come to Washington with the promise of competing for a starting spot? A Washington Post article cited an unnamed Redskins source saying that Leftwich was being recruited exclusively as a back up.

Still, its not hard to imagine Snyder making such a pitch. Such an overture, direct or indirect, would be a slap in the face at Jason Campbell and could easily disrupt the chemistry of the Redskins locker room, not that Daniel Snyder has ever let that stop him before. (For the record, the same article said that Campbell was aware of the Leftwich workout, and was completely OK with it.)

It says here that Leftwich should do what is in the best interests of his career. But along those lines, he’d be wise to consider the differences of playing for a team run by Dan Rooney (or Art II as the case may be) and one run by Daniel Snyder.

If Leftwich does sign with the Redskins, the Steelers will most certainly move to get Charlie Batch under contract.

Thanks for visiting. You can trace the Steeler free agent moves via our Steelers 2009 free agent focus.

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Steelers Tipping Their Hand on CBA Negotiations?

“There are no plans to engage in talks about a long-term extension for [Willie] Colon.”
– Mike Prisuta, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/12/09

My first reaction upon reading this was “why?”

Its not that Willie Colon is an All-World offensive tackle, but the facts are simple:

  • In two seasons as a starter, he has shown himself to be a decent player on an otherwise undistinguished offensive line
  • He signed a one year tender, binding him to the team through 2009
  • If they don’t sign him to a long term deal, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2010
  • The Steelers currently have no viable alternative behind him, unless you could Tony Hills

The Steelers entered free agency this year and saw five offensive lineman become free agents, either restricted or unrestricted.

As things currently stand, this time next year three starters, Max Starks, Willie Colon, and Justin Hartwig will all become free agents again.

They say they want to sign Max Starks to a long term deal, but he’s got eight million and change coming to him as a franchise player. The leverage is all on his side.

Logic then dictates that you get your other tackle under contract sooner rather than later.

Steelers Looking Ahead to Uncapped Year?

Upon reading Prisuta’s article, Steel Curtain Rising’s instinct screamed “write an article and take the Steelers to task for their patchwork offensive line building strategy.”

For the past two years the Pittsburgh’s MO for the offensive line has been: Franchise a guy here, transition a guy there, keep him around as a restricted free agent, cross your fingers and hope you can do the same next year.

It has worked, but can the Steelers remain competitive if this continues?

That’s a legitimate question, but perhaps the Steelers are operating with a little more foresight than they’re given credit.

Although it’s not on most fans’ radar screens, the NFL is heading from some tricky waters on the labor front. The current collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the NFLPA expires in 2011. 2010 is set as an uncapped year.

While an uncapped year will not be kind to mid-market teams like the Steelers, as Daniel Snyder will doubtlessly set the market rate for third string running backs at 10 million dollars a year or some other ludicrous sum.

  • Yet the uncapped year does come with some advantages for teams that operate wisely

One of those is that players will not reach unrestricted free agency until they’ve played for six years.

Willie Colon was drafted in 2006. He’s played three years and is now a restricted free agent. Under the current scheme, he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent after he’s played his fourth season. But unless the owners and the NFLPA renew the agreement in before the end of 2009, the NFL will enter the uncapped year.

And if that happens Willie Colon will still be a restricted free agent again in 2010 and at least theoretically in 2011.

Dan Rooney is one of the league’s most influential owners, and Art II played a key role in averting the uncapped year back in 2007. The Rooneys will work day and night to get an agreement in place. It’s good for them and its good for the game.

But if it’s true that they’re not going to seek a long-term deal with Colon then the Rooneys could very well be signaling that they think the league is headed for an uncapped season, despite their best intentions and efforts.

Alternative Explanations

It’s quite possible that Steel Curtain Rising’s take is in err. After all, a little more than a year ago we admonished our readers to ignore what Kevin Colbert said about the 2008 draft, assuring them that the Steelers would focus on the offensive and defensive lines in spite of their pledge to “take the best player available.”

Steel Curtain Rising was wrong then, so its only appropriate to offer some alternative explainations now.

Prusita Is Mistaken

The Pittsburgh media has been caught behind the curve on the Steelers personnel plans recently.

  • They failed to anticipate James Farrior’s signing last August
  • They did not report a (thank God) unsuccessful attempt to resign Marvel Smith during training camp until November
  • They were blindsided by the decision to cut Kendall Simmons

So its quite possible that they will attempt to ink Colon to a long-term deal before the season starts. Right now their priority is resigning James Harrison, and that contract is going to be tricky. Assuming they get that deal done, they’ll then know what they have to spend on other players.

Prusita’s Right Because the Steelers Simply Don’t Think Colon is Worth a Long Term Investment

Perhaps we can simply take Prusita’s report at face value. With few exceptions, the decision to give Kendall Simmons a four year contract in 2007 comes to mind, the Steelers are very wise about who they commit long-term money to. It is very rare that they issue a contract that they later regret, and its also uncommon that they discard someone who goes on to be a star elsewhere.

While they do not have viable replacement for Colon in waiting, it is certainly plausible that they could pick someone up in the draft with an eye to grooming him to be the starter on opening day 2010.

All of this is of course speculation. Steel Curtain Rising invites those of you who have access to legitimate sources to pick up from here take the story to wherever the facts lead you.

Thanks for visiting. Explore our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus, or check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

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Missing the Good Ole Days… of Free Agency?

A week into free agency Steelers have lost Alan Faneca, resigned Big Ben, and picked up Mewelde Moore. Faneca’s departure was expected as was resigning Ben Roethlisberger. While Pittsburgh continues to talk to low-level free agents, they have made it clear they will not be shooting for any big-game free agents. Which begs the question, why and when did they change their approach to free agency?

  • No, that last line was not a misprint.

Thankfully, Dan Rooney will never be confused with Daniel Snyder when it comes to free agency. The Steelers have always spent money wisely, and their success vindicates them.

During the 1990’s the Steelers were pioneers to free agent/salary cap success. Sure, the naysayers made hay when the Hardy Nickersons, Eric Greens and Yancey Thigpens departed for greener pastures, but the Steelers were already ahead of the game. They identified the players they needed to win, and they locked them up before they hit the market.

  • This approach generated little ink, but it worked. Another oft ignored, by equally important, fact was that the Steelers did dabble in the free agency market.

No, they never entered inane bidding wars for high profile free agents, but they did selectively target and sign impact free agents. Just who were these “impact free agents?”

In the 90’s free agency brought in players like Kevin Greene, Will Wolford, Erric Pegram, Todd Kalis, Ray Seals, and John L. Williams. These guys had big salaries, but all were impact players.

The inauguration of Heinz Field intensified the Steelers focus on keeping their own. Yet, during the early part of this decade, Pittsburgh continued making impact signings with players like Jeff Hartings, James Farrior, and Duce Staley.

Since the signing of Duce Staley in 2004, the Steelers have not signed, or even seriously attempted to sign, an impact free agent.

Why the change?

It’s impossible to say. Steel Curtain Rising posed this question to Ed Bouchette at the end of the season, but he declined to answer (in all fairness, it was at the tail end of the chat.)

A possible explanation is that salary cap dynamics have changed. There are “middle class” or even “upper middle class” NFL free agents. Case in point, when the Steelers lost Plaxico Burress, they signed Cedric Wilson. Plaxico’s signing bonus was bigger than Wilson’s entire contract.

  • Another reason could be that coming off of 15-1 and Super Bowl seasons, the Steelers didn’t feel they needed fresh blood.

While these are plausible answers, they are purely speculation. This is a story that needs to be told, and Steel Curtain Rising calls on the Pittsburgh media and/or fellow members of the blogesphere to tell it.

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