Q: Yesterday we were talking about the cloud hanging over management and whether it was affecting negotiations with the guys going into the last years of their contracts. Is it?
A: Apparently not (laughs). You're telling me that James Farrior just got a $5 million bonus. That's fairly good money for a 33-year-old linebacker. They gave Ben $102 million and they gave this guy $18 million. I don't know how you can make the point the ownership situation is impacting their ability to sign guys.
Q: Why did the team give Farrior so much?
A: I like James Farrior. I think that when it's all over, James Farrior is going to be one of the more underrated players in the history of this franchise. He is very good on the field. He is very solid as a player and he's solid in the other things you want your players to do: his leadership, his locker room, all of that stuff. If everybody approached it like James Farrior, the team would be better. So, I like the fact he's going to finish here. I think that he can still play, especially inside. He is in tremendous shape. He's not an injured guy; he has no history of that. He's pretty much a 12-month-a-year guy in terms of staying in shape, so you don't have to worry about what you're getting, or the first time you see him after three months. So I like the move, and I think he can be tremendous for Lawrence Timmons. Now you take Timmons and point him at Farrior and say, ‘Do what he does, kid. Take your talents and do what he does,' in terms of preparation and all of that stuff, and I think you've got something.
Q: When does Timmons start?
A: I would play him a lot in the opener. I don't know that I would start him in the opener, only because a lot of attention I think would be paid to it then. The Texans, that's a huge, huge game. When you go down the schedule and say, ‘Win, lose, win, lose, maybe, win, lose,' that's got to be a win. You've got too many other tough teams to play. You've got to beat the Texans at home. So, early on, I would prefer that nobody (screw) anything up big time. Be in the right spot and let's just try and play for a little bit. I don't want to be behind early because somebody made a mental mistake. That's what I think about Larry Foote starting. I would be playing Timmons a lot, and based on that maybe I make the Browns figure out how to deal with him from the beginning of the game when you go there the next Sunday night, because in that game all the pressure's on them.
Q: Interesting. OK, back to the business side. Why wouldn't you have worked instead on Marvel Smith, considering the future at the tackle position?
A: He's an injury guy. Marvel, you sign him today, his back goes and he's done. That's pretty much the only reason, because in everything else he's like Farrior. He's not as vocal and friendly, but that has nothing to do with it. That's personality. But he's an always-in-shape guy. He's here year around. He's all those good things, a solid guy in the community. But it's a neck and back. How do you predict that?
Q: Do you watch a couple more weeks or the whole year?
A: Oh, he's going to have to play the whole year. When's the last time he played the whole year? I can't have a 10-game left tackle, because if I've got a 10-game left tackle, I've got to have two, and the guy I've got for six games I might as well use him for the other 10.
Q: Good point. But if he does show he's healthy, he's gone.
A: That's going to be up to him. You know, for a long time, Marvel, Jeff Hartings and Alan Faneca were all in the top-five highest-paid players at their position for many years. Faneca's big bitch started after the Vikings went after Hutchinson, because he was the highest-paid guard, and then all of the sudden he was disrespected when another team went and did something crazy. So, I believe, personally, that there should be some consideration by a player. If you're highest-paid at your position for several years, don't ever come to me and tell me I'm disrespecting you later. If somebody else does something, don't come to me and tell me, ‘You don't appreciate me,' because I've appreciated you for a long time. Same thing with this guy. Now, I don't know if he's going to be as aggressive as Faneca was. And if he wants to go for the highest buck, you're right, he will be gone. I would really be interested if somebody could slip Faneca some truth serum about last December 15th, because I'd like to know what he thinks of the New York Football Jets.
Q: Left tackle's going to be a serious discussion.
Q: Shouldn't management think about it now?
A: No. I've got two right now.
Q: Well, three really.
A: That third guy is like having Brian St. Pierre as your third quarterback. It's not the way you really want to go. Again, Marvel's agent is rattling the saber pretty heavily right now, but also, Marvel Smith wouldn't take what Farrior took. You get done what you can get done.
Q: OK, that leads me to Chris Kemoeatu. Why couldn't you get that done?
A: Well, to me, if his agent wanted to do a deal at where the team was willing to pay him, based on what he has shown so far, the agent should be sued for malpractice. I mean, the guy is one year removed from unrestricted free agency with really not much of a track record at all, good or bad. He's not an injured guy; he's not an out-of-shape guy. But he doesn't have a lot of starts or playing time. I just don't think it would be smart by the team to pay him what the agent wants at this point, and I don't think it would be real smart for the agent to accept what the team would be willing to give at this point. The thing with him is, and you mentioned this: Chris, do you really want to go somewhere else and learn a new offense?
Q: What about Nate Washington?
A: I make him work for his money one time. I think Nate has grown up nicely, as opposed to some other guys on the team, but I still want to see. If I'm going to pay, I want to see. And if Nate catches 60 passes for 12 touchdowns this year, hey, good for us, yay us, and then you've got Limas Sweed. If Nate really wants to go for the big money, God bless him. It's kind of like Antwaan Randle El. The guy, if he really produces, has earned it here and he's earned the right to test the market. That's why they call it a market, because it has two sides. Nate is one of those guys; I would play it out.
Q: Randle El was a second-round pick. You hate to lose second-round picks and it looks like Bryant McFadden's going to go, too. Is that smart on the team's part?
A: McFadden, based on your own credibility within your own team, you can't pay him more than the guy who's starting ahead of him. And if you offer him less, again, I don't know if his agent would take that.
Q: OK, let's finish with Max Starks.
A: Starks is a prime example to me of the problem that can exist between coaches and the personnel department. Max Starks is a completely serviceable player. His name's on the Super Bowl. He was a starter that year. But coaches like certain things about certain players, or don't like certain things about certain players, and this guy's been really cast by the wayside and given no opportunity, real opportunity, to win a starting job in either of the last two training camps. Now, certainly, this year he didn't kick and scratch and fight till the end, and his performance at camp doesn't merit consideration for a starting job, but I think it was a foregone conclusion anyway. Sean Mahan was given a much more realistic opportunity to start at center, and that had no chance. I think Max is a little beaten down mentally, maybe, but he's not the kind of guy who's going to be a problem. Max has always been a guy who's looked bad in practice and played OK in games, so if he has to play I'm not really worried about that. But like I said, he really sees the handwriting on the wall and it's affected him.
Q: So how do you see the Steelers' chances this year?
A: When you look at the strength of schedule in the league, the Steelers are first, but all the other teams in the AFC North are in the top 10, so it's pretty much the same for everyone. When you look at a team in a preseason, you're looking at a team and judging it against what you think a good team should look like. Usually that's a vision of what the teams in the previous season's final four looked like. Well, that's not the way it works September 7th. You don't have to be a championship contender September 7th. You've got to be better than the Houston Texans at Heinz Field at 1 o'clock. Then you've got to be better than the Browns. I don't know about you, but I didn't think they looked all that good against those New York Giants last week. I'm not going to sit here and say this is a Super Bowl contender, or that they're going to win 11 or 12 games, but, in the division that we're in, I like my chances.