The week of 5 March 2001�
This week, Stiller HQ signed their second premium FA of this off-season. Just days after the Bus was guaranteed a career-long berth, Jeff Hartings was taken into the fold. While the Bus move had the whiff of inevitability, I am highly in favor of the Hartings deal. Jeff is a 5-year vet; he should be good for another 5. FA like Hartings, proven young players entering into their 2nd contract, are exactly the kind of FA that a rising team such as the Stillers should sign. Leave the withering vets for teams that are, or think they are, a player away.
It could be argued that, so far, Stiller HQ has merely enfranchised the status quo. Very true, some power RB pounding it up inside behind an athletic O-line has been a staple in Stiller football since, well, Mike Webster played here. Be that as it might, Hartings �01 will be an upgrade over Dawson/Duffy �99-�00. If I was king of Stiller football, I would have signed Hartings, let the Bus roll off and ordered the O-head to develop a scheme featuring the broader abilities of Hunt, Fu and Amoz. So it goes.
Regardless, Bettis is in for Henry money, not Wiley bucks. That�s a deal; similarly Hastings is in for less-than-Dawson dollars. I believe, used properly, that Jeff will play extremely well. The Mill made the point that, in �98, Dawson played at a Pro Bowl level but the Stiller run game was quite awful. Again, very true but consider that season Wolford played LOT with one arm, Faneca was feeling his way and, when Justin went down, the Stillers were left with JaLame and Stai on the right side. If all that had little bearing against the Ravens, this was a scheme, not a personnel issue. Goose was then, as he is now, a living wall of meat. Against the boys from Charm City, running up inside needs some supplement.
Stepping back from our Stiller-centric focus, let�s consider the FA ratings PFW set out. That publication had Bettis 8th among all FA and 2nd among RB. Hartings was 28th overall but, individually, first among all OL. Listed at OG, Hartings did take a positional discount and so, overall, finished behind OT like Webb and Fabini and even OC Matt Birk. Birk, with a 3.3 individual grade, was ranked 18th overall. Hartings, with a 3.4 grade, was 28th as an OG; presumably, as an OC, he would climb into the Top 20. As individuals, Webb got a 3.0 and Fabini 3.1 but due to their position, they were ranked 23 and 15 respectively. Look at it this way, if your choice is Hartings, Webb, Fabini or Birk, who is your guy? I�d take Hartings.
Two top twenty FA, that�s premium territory; we�d be howling if some divisional rival acquired two such highly respected players. No question, the D-side remains at issue and, no question, neither OG nor OC are impact positions. I think that is the point; the Stillers moved on Hartings, a proven NFL football player, rather than expending a high pick on, say, Hutchinson or Raiola and hoping for the best. For me, that�s the bottom line; signing Hastings removed the lowering thunderhead Dominic from the spring upcoming. The Stillers can spend both 1st day picks where they are needed and that is on the D-side. I couldn�t be more pleased about that especially when, I think, the Stillers have room for additional FA moves.
Just prior to the Hartings signing, ESPN analyst John Clayton reported that the Stillers were $2M under the cap. Hard to say; last week, I calculated that they were $1.2-1.5 and the TR had them at 500K. Let�s say Clayton is right. Hartings ate nearly $1.8M but Kirkland spit back around $3.8 (Kirk�s salary next year was to be $4.77M but the Stillers have to absorb his 2002 bonus, a shade under $1M). If all that is so, then the Stillers are now $4M under. Two weeks ago, before all cuts and signings, PFW had the Stillers about $3M below the cap. If so, with Bettis, Hartings and (6) RFA in the fold, the Stillers are in better cap shape now than when the FA period began. Omar Khan is a God.
If Clayton is right, then Kirkland was not cut to sign Hastings. That was doable anyway. Kirkland was cut to clear cap space for some other purpose; whether to go after other FA, extend the D-side core group or towards the rookie pool. Cap-wise, cutting Kirkland makes sense since, I guess, that it is not possible, in football, to make the kind of future-thinking FA trades that are common in both baseball and hockey. I can�t kick about this cut since, in my LB article, I pointed out the disproportional share that unit consumed and, just last week when writing on Wiley, said that improvement on the DL would have to be paid out of LB. Speaking of Marcellus:
It could be said that Stiller HQ missed a shot with Wiley. As you know, I did regard this player highly but seriously, what were the chances? The Web site that the Steel Hammer found showed that Marcellus had scheduled only 3 visits. These were to SD, Oakland and Seattle. All are West Coast teams; like Searcy in �95, Wiley wanted to go home. 15 teams contacted this man; he responded to 3 and the Stillers were not among the numbered. The Beach at Sandcastle is on the Mon, not the Pacific and, lovely as it is, West Homestead is no La Jolla. You can�t always get what you want.
If you try, sometimes, you get what you need. First though, you have to know what that is. Stiller HQ is saying that they are done in FA and will turn towards their own D-side group. I agree that Holmes, Scott, Porter and Washington do take priority over any foreign FA. I said that in my first post-season article, reiterated this in my FA article and I�m sticking.
I would think this is where the PSL money should come into play. Excluding Washington who is about as old as Bettis, those other players are in the Hartings class, solid young vets entering their second contract. It seems possible that, with a generous bonus provision, Holmes and Washington could be tied up long term AND have their 2001 hit reduced. That�s not true for Scott and Porter; in sum, these 4 may eat into, but not consume, the current cap surplus.
The rookie class will cost over $4M; cutting Graham, Sullivan, Pierogi Tom, Simmons, Bell and the rest could get the FO within range but won�t seal that deal. Together, the D-side group and rookies will reduce the current surplus but I do believe the Stillers could stay in the FA game, at some level.
They�d better because they need 2 jumbo DT or 1 of those and a surefire DE, 1 lockdown CB or a FS with superior coverage skills and 1 LB with speed and coverage ability. However you cut it, that�s 4 D-side players minimum, excluding reserves. Better yet if they get all 3 DL types listed.
You can�t draft 4 players, let alone 5, with 2 1st day picks and, almost certainly, the 2nd day won�t bring any immediate aid.
As things stand, the Stillers seem to be locked into drafting at DE and ILB on the 1st day. I think that�ll change; remember, our information is all second hand, or worse. Hastings came in under radar and maybe some help on the D-side will too. I believe some combination of Dalton, Ferguson or Bromell may land in Stillertown. If so, then the FO could look for impact in rounds 1 & 2 rather than, as has been standard here, shuffling to the podium so as to express their most urgent immediate need.
Time will tell but I�ve got to say that Mr. Colbert, as reinforced by Hughes and Khan, has exceeded my expectations. It seems to me that the Stillers are building towards a big move in 2002. By cutting Dawson and Kirkland now, they did accept a bonus hit this year and remember, they�ll be charged another $1M for Steed. However, they have cleared a lot of room towards 2002; say, just under $6M for Kirk and just under $4M for Dirt. Bettis, Hartings and others will eat into that but, overall, the movement is in the right direction. To play seriously in FA, a team just has to be $10M, or better, below the cap. The Stillers can�t get there now but they are headed in the right direction.