Steelers prepare for "Bloody Thursday"

With CBA talks called off, NFL teams must get under the salary cap by midnight tonight, and the Steelers are no exception.

"Bloody Thursday" is on.

NFL owners met for less than an hour on Thursday morning and voted - supposedly with a single unanimous voice - to break off further talks with the NFL Players Association.

The move effectively shatters the image of labor peace that the NFL has enjoyed over the last decade, and puts in motion a free agency period that could result in some of the most draconian player cuts in recent memory.

In line with Scout.com's news-breaking reports last weekend, the salary cap will remain at $94.5 million, leaving many NFL clubs in the position of having to shed veteran players in order to be under the cap by midnight Thursday. Many around the NFL had placed the nickname of "Bloody Thursday" on such a turn of events.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are an estimated $4.5 million over the cap, but presumably could get under the cap with the retirement of RB Jerome Bettis. Bettis was due a salary of $5.351 million in 2006.

There are other issues, however.

Starting cornerback Ike Taylor, a restricted free agent, will likely receive the mid-level tender believed to be approximately $1,552 million. Starters WR Antwaan Randle El, FS Chris Hope, DE Kimo von Oelhoffen and reserve DE Brett Keisel, are the most notable unrestricted free agents the team would like to retain.

The Steelers will need to restructure the contracts of centers Jeff Hartings and Chukky Okobi before they can make any offers and have been talking with the agents of both players. Hartings has been open to a restructured deal, one that would likely add years to spread the damage, but has reportedly objected to a paycut.

Meanwhile, some progress has been made with Randle El, who would like to stay in Pittsburgh. Given the lukewarm interest thus far, his return is around 50-50. Hope's return is less optimistic, and the Steelers have their sights set firmly on the draft to find his replacement.

Around the National Football League, notable players such as Chad Pennington and Terrell Owens could be the subject of cuts. Veteran players like DT Trevor Pryce, RB Mike Anderson, and CB Sam Madison have already been released. The Steelers will likely release veteran CB Willie Williams, third-string QB Tommy Maddox, and possibly even DB Mike Logan before the stroke of midnight tonight.

A few NFL clubs are in a good cap shape and are in a position to take advantage of the talent windfall. Among the teams with cap room to allow spending are the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers. Other teams, such as the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs, are in a position where they will need to release a significant amount of payroll to get under the cap.

While short-term attention is focused on the impact to this year's free agency period, long-term impact is likely to be be more significant. The prospect of serious labor strife is now very real, and the NFL's concepts of guaranteed contracts, limited free agency, and even the NFL draft could be significantly changed. At present, the 2007 season will take place without a salary cap, a situation which may cause a significant change in the level of competitive balance the NFL has enjoyed in recent years.


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