After inking Blackwell, the Stiller�s have about 500K left for the 2001 season.� That�s not enough, their rookie allocation is about $3.1M and, though each draft choice currently counts $209K against the cap ($1.46M total), the FO still needs to scrounge up at least $1.1M to sign the class of 2001.�
They are not alone; at this date, only 12 teams have enough cap room to meet their rookie allocation.� That may be one reason why it is impossible to make trades now; most teams don�t have the cash on-hand at this time and, as everyone knows, it�ll be a buyers market in June for the veteran talent cut to make room for the rookies.� Smart teams will hold onto their trade chips until the market stabilizes; capped-strapped teams will hemorrhage talent.
The Stiller�s 2001 cap is bobbing in the �dead pool.� Bonus cash, previously deferred, but credited to Dawson, Kirkland, Henry and (I think) Steed all counts this year.� Cutting those players did free up money for the post-2001 off-season but for now, this dead money does handicap the FO in dealing effectively with the upcoming D-side Diaspora.� At this date, there has been no movement with respect to Holmes, Scott, Washington and the rest of the D-side starters who may be headed out after next season.� Despite that, here�s what I think the FO should try to accomplish:
- Extend Scott and Porter.� These are young players headed towards their second contract.� While extending these men at this time will burden the 2001 budget, history suggests it�ll certainly be cheaper to do a deal with them now than try to re-sign them later.� Bumping up Scott and Porter in 2001 would, probably, reduce their hits from 2002-05.� Aaron Smith may fit in this category too but I have to see more improvement from this man.
- Extend Dwayne Washington and Earl Holmes through their 10th seasons only.� For Washington, that is through 2003, for Holmes, 2005.� Ten years might be too long; Lloyd (inactive �87 &�88) and Kirkland were done here in 9, Steed in 6 (though he hung around for 2 more), Lake and Woodson were injured in their 11th and 9th seasons respectively and, though they played on, never again dominated.� Whatever, if the FO waits on DW, his next deal could go through his 12th year and that�s just too long.�� Though neither DW nor Holmes could be described as state-of-the�art types, these men are quality contributors.� It may be possible to structure these deals so that their cumulative 2001 hit is reduced; if so, this would partially offset the load Porter and Scott lay on.
- Get a legit veteran starter at WR:� The Steelers need a veteran WR who is capable of starting (Herman Moore?).� Preferably, this man would become a solid #3 behind Burress and Edwards.� This would not be a long-term deal, 2 years at the outside.� If, in that period, Toy and Spike don�t prove out then move on.
Whether #1 or #3, acquiring such a player would allow Hines Ward to take on his rightful Steve Tasker-esque identity, #4 WR and ST captain.� Neither Shaw nor Blackwell has ever made significant contributions at WR; there is no reason to believe that they ever will.� In the best case, both get cut in favor of some veteran who can actually contribute.�
- Get a legit NT to backup Hampton:� Clancy can�t do what Hampton is expected to accomplish.� If Hampton goes down, KVO will move back inside; if that happens the Stiller D-line in 2001 may be even weaker than the 2000 edition.� Maybe, Clancy could be functional as a RDE in the Stiller scheme; get NT Ernie Logan or Kelvin Pritchett at the vet minimum (or Cortez Kennedy for a lot more) and send Sullie packing.
- Extend Hines Ward:� The Stiller FO has a regrettable tendency to dither around with their RFA.� Generally, every RFA gets the minimum offer; some (Hunt and Fu) are extended under duress.� The rest play out a season and then, if they have any ability at all, move on.� The least desirable UFA are re-signed (Blackwell).� Following the Scott/Porter discussion above, the select few you want should come cheaper earlier than later on.� Hines Ward is a player you can win with; Shaw and Blackwell are not.� Prioritize; extend Hines and let the rest walk on.
To do all that, and sign the rookies, the Stillers may need to clear $4-6M; who knows?� In addition, most teams try to hold back about $750K for mid-season signings.� That sets the bar at, say, $5-7M.� Whatever the number, some the cuts may hurt.� Here are a few that, IMO, are relatively painless.
- Cut Kent Graham.�� Graham�s 2001 cap hit will be about $1.9M.� Graham has two years on a three-year deal that included a plus $1M bonus.� The Stillers are now obligated for about 740K in bonus money.� If Graham were cut in June, the 2001 cap savings would be about $1.16M.
Keeping Graham enshrines mediocrity.� Like it or not, Kordell Stewart is the Stillers QB, either Kent or Tee will be #2.� The Stillers may be (marginally) playoff worthy with Stew; they have no shot, in 2001 anyway, with either Graham or Martin.�� If Stew went down in game one, where do you think the Stillers would finish with Graham:� 9-7, 7-9?� Probably better than with Tee at the controls but in neither case would the Stillers be serious playoff contenders.� Therefore, the difference between Tee and Kent at #2 is the difference between getting an elite slot in next spring�s draft and picking somewhere in the middle.�� With or without the D-side players mentioned previously, this team still needs difference makers and, each spring, those are located at the top of the first round.� Whatever shot the Stillers have now depends on Stewart (and the WR corps); whatever shot the Stillers have in the long term (whether the QB is Stewart, Martin or some 2002 pick/FA), depends on adding more high-impact talent.� Kent Graham is entirely irrelevant to this team�s championship hopes, now and forever.
Of the veterans available, Rick Mirer and Randall Cunningham have (or had) athleticism similar to Stew and Tee.�� At this stage, neither are difference-makers; they are worth considering if they can be had for (much) less than $1.16M but, if not, not.� The remaining FA are generally immobile or weak-armed or both.� In the best case, Stewart rises to a franchise level QB and Tee to a capable #2, the Stillers cut Graham and spend little for some 3rd string QB whether John Turman or XFL ace Tommy Maddux.
- Cut the following low-impact vets.� These players will all make something around $500K this year; there are no bonus implications in releasing these men.� None of them will make much difference; a rookie making something between the league minimum and about 300K could replace any.� In sum, the cap savings would be about $1M/4 players.� Candidates are:
#23 ���� Jason Simmons:� 4-5th CB and therefore 7-9th DB.
#38 ���� Jon Witman:� In 2001, the Stillers O functioned as well without this player as with him.
#57� ��� John Fiala:� A quality ST player but figures as the #4 MLB on the team.� Of the (7) players listed here, this man is one I�d like to keep.
#61 ���� Tom Mylinski:� The Stillers have 5 OC/G on the roster.
#82����� Bobby Shaw and/or #89 Will Blackwell:� Assuming Edwards and Burress progress, one of these men will be the 5th WR; that�s a developmental/ST position.� Neither attracted much interest this winter; in essence, the Stillers bid (low) against themselves.� If the FO can�t get a Herman Moore type then, maybe, one of these men stays on as the #4 WR.� That is not optimum; the FO should hack these two the moment a solid vet is under contract.
Keeping both Shaw and Blackwell is a hedge against the possibility that Toy and Spike continue to perform poorly but, really, why bother?�� The Stillers passed on both the �99 and �00 defensive ROY to draft these men.� The FO anted up on at WR then; the coaching staff must follow through and play these players now, pass or fail.
#84:�� � Jerame Tuman:� Currently tied with Kris Farris and Kendrick Clancy (among many) on the NFL career receptions list.
- Consider cutting these low impact vets:� These players have contributed little on the field but do carry some bonus considerations.� There seems to be little prospect for 2001 savings in releasing these men; however, their release now would clear the books for 2002. Estimated 2001 cap savings are +/- $0
#47����� Scott Shields:� Began 2000 as a starter, finished as about #7 on the safety depth chart. There is no indication that this man has rehabilitated his prospects for 2001.� Too bad, Shields is signed thru 2002 and is a $213/year bonus hit.� Though the Stillers lack athleticism in their reserve OLB ranks, there is no reason to believe Shields would, or could, make the switch successfully.��
#74:���� Chris Sullivan:� Sullie hit the 2000 cap at about $120K/tackle.� It appears that this man received a (slightly) larger bonus than did Graham.� He is signed through 2002, his 2001-02 bonus sum is about $866K; hopefully, his 2001 salary would offset this.� Certainly, this would be a 2002 friendly move but for now, really only works on the field if a vet NT moves in.� However, joined with any such a vet DL signing, this move could be a cap loser.
- The RB quandary:� On paper, the strongest unit on the team and one of the best in the NFL.� As near as I can tell, the 2001 RB cap hit is less than that of 2000.� That can�t be said of the QB position; both Stewart and Graham go way up in 2001.� Still, for cap purposes, the FO reportedly intends to release Richard Huntley.� This is just the kind of self-canceling move commonly associated with the Bolts and Bengals.�
Huntley was an RFA following �99 and received, as is usual here, the minimum offer.� Miami showed some interest and the Stillers responded by signing Hunt to a 3 year deal that included a $1M (or so) signing bonus.� IMO, the Fins were prepared to make Huntley an offer and the Stillers, not content with a 4th round pick as compensation, countered.� Certainly, the prospect of receiving WR Yatil Green in trade could not have caused this move; the FO could have just said no.� In fact, they did.
It could be said that extending Hunt was a hedge against the Bus�s inevitable decline.� Bettis was coming off tough years in �98 and �99; statistically, he was somewhat better in �00.� However, the �98 OL was riddled with injury and the �99 OL was just plain awful.� IMO, the Bus�s increased productivity in �00 was due more to improved play, from improved personnel, up front than any dramatic rejuvenation.� It is not true that the Bus rolled thru any Fountain of Youth; time moves in one direction and, for 29- year old RB, that movement is downward.� Remember, the Stiller�s reported (7) separate injuries to this man in 2000; in fact, his willingness to play through that pain is a large part of his leadership value to the team.� In sum, if the Bus didn�t decline through 98-99 to the extent many suggested, then his 2000 rejuvenation was (similarly) exaggerated.�
If that is so, then the need for quality depth at RB does remain.� Cut Hunt and, next season, a high mileage Bus will be backed by two guys with very little experience.� Trade Hunt and the same thing is true; in fact, trading Hunt may not be possible at this time. James Allen just signed a deal for $1.1M, a figure that is about 500K less than Hunt�s 2001 ticket.� Hunt�s deal may be beyond his current market value and, if the Bus and Fu are here to stay, that could leave Amoz as odd man out.� Too bad but, on balance, I�d be more comfortable with a tandem of Hunt and Fu behind Bettis than Fu and Zereoue.�
Summary:� It seems to me that the FO will struggle to clear money for Holmes, Scott and rest.� Getting the rookies signed could be accomplished either by cutting 4-5 500K types or Graham or Huntley.� Looking ahead to next spring, the FO should save their trade chips; if any.� In the best case, Hunt/Amoz might be traded this summer for some middling pick and so clear money for the D-side players; if Graham has any trade value, maybe he�s the one to hold back.� Be that as it may, given the current dead pool issues, the Stillers may have to accept rookie FA types at the bottom of their 2001 depth chart in order to avoid entering 2002 with starting players only marginally better.�
Note:� As usual, the 2000 figures and bonus interpolations posted here derive from the 2000 salary cap figures long available on this site.� 2001 figures, when given are from semi-official sources such as the PG and TR.