The week of 19 February 2001
Events of the last week have put me in a foul mood. Some teams have been active in preparing for the free agent period; we�ve seen the Bills, Rams, and Jets all flinging players overboard.
Each has reduced their cap obligation some $5-15 M. Some of those cuts hurt; the Bills couldn�t have been happy to let Ted Washington go. But, for the most part, the men released were either past their prime or were never prime-time players. The Stiller roster is full of marginal vets but, so far, Stiller HQ has done nothing.
The Colts and, generally, the Jags have reduced their cap figure without releasing any contributing players. Stars like Boselli and Bratzke restructured deals, presumably towards their teams� greater glory. Now, the Colts can buy a defense and the Jags can hold their aging core together for a couple more title runs. The Stillers have a number of players (Kirkland, Stewart, Dawson, Gandy, and Breuner) who are paid Top Ten money for their respective positions.
Despite that, Stiller HQ has done nothing.
Though the Stillers are not negotiating with those players, they are balls-to the �wall in their effort to extend Coach Cowher�s contract. The Jaw is entering his 10th season; there is reason to believe that head coaches burn out in about a decade. This suggests that the man�s greatest value to the Stillers may be as trade bait. The Jets, Pats, and Chiefs all have given, or been compelled to yield, draft picks for some savior head coach. Frankly, I�d take the prospects, and Marvin Lewis, in a heartbeat. Perhaps there would be no offers for Mr. Cowher but if so, why are the Stillers bidding against themselves?
Generally, players make coaches; the reverse is rarely true. Maybe that is why the term "franchise" is applied to players but not to their coaches. Though the Stillers have not, other teams have franchised some players. Jason Taylor, Kevin Carter, Aeneas Williams, and Bryan Robinson (among others) are off the market, at least for this off-season. In contrast, the Stillers, with Bettis their only significant FA, seem to be negotiating a deal which would extend the Bus through his 12th season. History suggests that twelve years is far beyond the useful life of most RB. It is highly likely that the bonus paid Bettis will count against the cap long after the Bus has rusted through. Jerome had a Top Five salary last season; the franchise uptick for 2001, if any, would have been marginal. Stiller HQ is taking action but, in this case, is rolling down the Road to the Super Bowl with eyes fixed on the rearview mirror.
When Bettis signs, that will consume the cap. There will be no big ticket FA pass rushers headed to Pittsburgh. Fortunately, there will be any number of tiny digit players experienced in the 3-4. Word out of NYC and NYS suggests that both the Jets and Bills will jettison that defensive scheme. Next season, the Stillers alone will employ the defense that, just 20 years ago, was the state of the art in professional football.
The FA NT list starts with Ted Washington passes through Jason Ferguson and closes with Ernie Logan and Lionel Dalton. Forget DE Marcellus Wiley but Shane Burton, Rich Lyle and Shawn Price will be available. It will be a buyers market for 3-4 DL and the Stillers will be sorting through the remainders.
That�s not all bad; after all, with the Bus in the barn, Stiller HQ will be unable to deal with Washington, Scott and Holmes, let alone Pro Bowl OLB Jason "Big Sack" Gildon. Let�s say that the FO satisfies its DL need by adding Logan or Dalton and Burton or Price. At that point, Stiller HQ could get ahead of the curve at LB and CB with, say, Reynolds or Morgan and Middlebrooks or Allen. All of those players have great speed and, God knows, the D-side needs speed everywhere.
History suggests a more hideous option. Since �94, the Stillers have used their 1st round picks to replace their most grievous veteran loses. CJ for Graham (and Troy for CJ), Breuner for Green, Stephens for Searcy, Scott for Woodson and so on and on. In the same period, the 2nd round has been reserved for workout wonders like Stewart, Staat and Shields. If Dawson is through, we may see the Stillers take Dominic Raiola, OC in round 1 and, with two speed challenged 1st round WR on the roster and a 29th ranked passing offense, how about a reach for size/speed WR prospect Alan Bannister in round 2?
That would seal the deal; the team might rise to a notch above mediocrity next year but, if the D-side is not dealt with now, then that unit will collapse in 2002. Then, the team�s fate would rest with an offense built around a 10 year RB. Stiller HQ may be like the proverbial duck, apparently gliding along but beyond easy view, paddling furiously. Very Zen, but you know what they say about sitting ducks. It seems to me that, while the mallard that is Stiller HQ alternately self-grooms and bobs for crumbs, the Colts, Ravens, Jags and Titans are bringing the big guns down to the waterline.
The Steel Phantom