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Give Credit Where Credit Due - A Good Week for F.O

March 03, 2001 by Steel Phantom

The week of 26 February 2001

The week of 26 February 2001

This week, two seismic events shook the mainland. One occurred in and around the state of Washington where an earthquake welled up from under Puget Sound. The other, closer to home, arose as Stiller HQ got the 2001 campaign under way. Savaged here for their sloth last week, the Stiller brain trust should now receive what credit is due.

That both DE Henry and Staat (effectively) were released suggests that the Stillers recognize the need to acquire some impact players at that position. Reportedly, Henry was due $1.4M next year; the cap info posted in By the Numbers suggests that his 2001 bonus portion will be 0.55 M.

If so, this cut will generate a net 2001 cap savings of $0.85 M. This man was an asset in the locker room but 14 sacks in 8 years on the field says it all. Henry�s got his gold watch now; I�m sure we wish him all the best.

The less said of Staat, the better. While I had hoped, or imagined, that Witman might bring a draft pick in trade, the fact is that, with so many cap releases, it is a buyers market. How many takers could the Stillers attract for a lumbering FB fitted with a bad back and a broken leg? Many players, better than Jon, were out-righted this week; more may follow. Reportedly, Witman was due to receive $1.1M next year; his bonus hit appears to be about 0.40M. If so, this cut will produce a net 2001 cap savings of $0.70M.

I�m sorry to see Dawson go; more than that, I�m not certain that the numbers add up. Reportedly, Dermontii was to receive $1.6M in base salary and a $1.0M roster bonus. By the Numbers has Dawson�s yearly bonus portion at just over 1.0M. Since his deal had two years to run, the bonus remainder may count about $2.1M against the 2001 cap. If so, the net 2001 cap savings will be, at most, $0.5M.

In sum, the Stillers cleared $4.1M in salary but I think, just over $2.0M in cap space. I�d like to believe that the Dawson deal will turn around. While there is little loyalty in sports today, reportedly both Dawson and the Rooney family do possess this virtue. Hopefully, Dermontii will pass some physical, re-sign and return to play effectively for a couple seasons. If so, all this might amount to some closely held agreement between millionaires who, through long association, have become friends. Dawson has been an asset on and off the field; perhaps he has found one more way to help the team.

Right, and next month, I hope to make the Easter Bunny a household pet. Maybe Dawson is done here but, for sure, the Bus is in the barn. Given the uncertainty shrouding Stew, Plax, Troy, Hunt, Fu and Amoz together with Coach Cowher�s absolute reliance on veteran players, this move was inevitable. In fact, it probably does give the Stillers their best opportunity next season, if not down the road. Signing the Bus is okay if, but only if, the Stillers remain in the hunt for some high quality impact pass rushers. We�ll see; certainly, the terms of the deal could not be more favorable.

Bettis has 6 years for $30-32M depending on his performance. Next season, the Bus will roll for the vet minimum, $488K; add the $1M bonus portion and this deal looks better than the back-loaded contract Sam Adams accepted to play for the Ravens last season. Jerome�s base will rise to $2.5M in 2002 but his cap hit that year will be less than in either of the past two seasons. This deal reserves $21M to be paid in base salary over the 4 seasons from 2003-06. It is doubtful that Bettis will see this cash; if he does not, the Stillers will have to absorb $4M against the 2003-04 cap.

Still, this is about as good deal as the Stillers could make. Previous reports had the figures at 4 years with a $10M bonus. This would have put the Bus in at about $3M next year and, assuming the life span suggested above, would have had the Stillers absorbing $5M in 2003-04. The Bus could have gotten more on the open market; give him the same credit due, say, Boselli and Bratzke, for taking less. Then too, Omar Khan may have made his bones on this deal. Bottom line: the Bus�s hit in 2001 is equivalent to what Kevin Henry would have cost.

The Stillers made minimum tenders, summing about $3.3M, to RFA Ward, Townsend, Simmons, Fiala, Fu and Shaw. Any team can make an offer on any of those players; the Stillers either can match it or receive a draft pick in compensation. The pick for Fiala, Fu or Shaw would be a 6th round selection. I think Fu and Shaw will attract some interest. I couldn�t care less about Bobby but, if Fu goes, I would wonder about what the Eagles had offered last October. Simmons is entirely replaceable but otherwise, at this point, Stiller HQ made the best moves available.

In sum, the Stillers signed 7 of their own players adding about $4.7M to their prior 2001 obligations. I believe that the FO cleared $2M by releasing 3 players. If, as PFW reported, they were plus $3M under the cap before these deals were sealed then, with the Breuner re-do worth $900K, they may be about $1.5 below now.

Despite that, on Thursday WTAE has reported that the Stillers were preparing an offer on DE Marcellus Wiley. If so, and cutting Henry and Staat does suggest it may be, this is outstanding stuff. Wiley and Kevin Carter are the only FA DE with the size, or track record, to succeed in the 3-4. While the draft is deep on the DL, the Stillers will be looking at run-stuffers when they draft #16 overall. Carter will cost a 1st round pick, at minimum. Far better that the Stillers acquire both Wiley and the best DT available.

Wiley was effective in Buffalo, highly effective when the Bills fielded their elephant pack. That set was named for Ted Washington and Pat Williams. Both are jumbo DT going 330# or so. Their girth approaches the 2000 Raven starters and suggests that, whether 3-4 or 4-3, a pair of big DT is essential in today�s NFL. Wiley would be a great addition but, for this man to be most effective, the Stillers need to find a DT tandem similar to those described above. One qualifying player will available at #16 overall; at this point, my man is Casey Hampton. The second should be a FA; Ferguson or Dalton may be, by age and expense, the best fit.

This jumbo set would be one look but not the only front that the Stillers might employ. I�d like to see KVO as a top reserve both at NT and DE. I do think Smith will develop; this year he could go in the elephant when Wiley needs a rest or play LDE should the Stillers show 4-3. In 2002-03, when Big Sack is in Oakland, Smith and Wiley could make a fine pair of bookends in a modern day Stiller 4-3.

So far, all this is just blather. While WEAE had the Stillers seeking Wiley, the TR seemed to believe that, with the Bus in the barn, Stiller HQ is done. Well, time will tell. While the best outcome may be to have both Bettis and Wiley, Marcellus will be a big ticket and, even if the Stillers do ante up, he may still go elsewhere. On Friday, 15 teams contacted Wiley; of those, the Stillers may be least able to make a timely move. The big FA go fast and the time wasted by Stiller HQ two weeks ago cannot be recovered. Sadly, by the time you read this, Marcellus may have a horseshoe on his helmet.

As it turned out, the equation was not Bettis or Wiley; it was Bettis or Henry. Signing the Bus does provides a bridge from here to that happy time when Kordell, Plaxico and the rest can carry the offense. On the D-side, the 3-4 is here to stay at least until Gildon and Kirkland hit the bricks. However, the need for a quality DE (and 2 jumbo DT) remains. The cash to construct this D-side bridge from the 3-4 to the 4-3 has to come out of the LB corps; better it come now.

Regardless, Stiller HQ needs to pursue, simultaneously, multiple routes towards one goal. Ready or not, Wiley or not, the Stillers need a capable D-line. Whether that is done by, say, trading Kirkland for Kevin Carter, requiring Gildon, Kirkland, Gandy and Stewart to join Breuner in re-negotiating their deals, or by some other means, is their football business. Out here in the world, working in parallel is standard practice. I do it; you do it; Stiller HQ can do it too.

Wiley and rest aside, the priority remains to extend Holmes, Porter, Scott and Washington. It may be that this will leave no money for any big ticket DE. If so, the Stillers will have to make do next season with Smith and KVO rushing. This could work, imperfectly, if they can get a couple of the big DT cited previously. Moving towards a state of the art DT package is doable now; this, and signing the 4 vets listed above, would significantly upgrade the Stiller D-side. Size frees speed and speed does kill; relieved of their run containment responsibility, we could hope to see increased pressure from Porter, Smith, KVO and Big Sack. Far better to get a set of good DT towards the next several seasons than to accept another in a line of half-ass, 9th tier FA DE.

The Steel Phantom

PS: With all modesty, let me direct you to my Defense: FA Outlook article. Note the remarks "Wiley is the guy" and "Prioritize FA with respect to the college draft" or words to that effect. This week, many postings on the Message Board anointed the Still Mill as, variously, king, POTUS or Stiller GM. Well deserved no doubt. While I couldn�t help with the first two positions, should the Mill settle for the GM job I�d hope to get some minor gig in personnel.

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