Bob Smizik raved in his Post-Gazette blog about the Steelers' moves to keep their offensive line together. But, you take that with a grain of salt because Bob is the great contrarian in town. And John Harris at the Tribune-Review did the same. But then again, this is the guy who prescribed over-the-hill Jeff Saturday as a tonic a few days before free agency. The capper, though – the bit that drove me to this slappy column here today – is that the normally sane Ed Bouchette believes the Steelers averted "a developing crisis" by re-signing Chris Kemoeatu..
If only the economic crisis were so overstated.
To make my point, that the Steelers simply did the obvious and the expected, let's go back and take this so-called brilliant bit of strategy apart piece by piece:
Feb. 19: Max Starks was franchised for $8.5 million and drew gasps from those who thought a Bertrand Berry was something you shouldn't eat in the wilds. That may be true, but he's the Cards' best pass rusher and was virtually worthless in the Super Bowl, thanks to Starks and his slow feet. That's right, it was the slow feet that put Starks on the bench last year, even though the front office realized that his solid techniques overcome those feet against all but the very best (and the Steelers have James Harrison anyway) and gave him the transition tag. The Steelers thought they could sign Starks long-term then, but he was a backup at the time and wasn't too interested in making that job description long term. This time, the Steelers believe they can sign Starks long-term, and now the coaching staff has to get behind that thinking after being so wrong last year.
Of course, with the more ordinary Vern Carey signing a long-term deal the same day for $7M per year, Starks' cap number won't come down very much with a long-term deal. In fact, even Jon Stink-bomb was rumored to be on the verge of making $7.5M per year. That deal never materialized, but it underscores the reason why the Steelers made the logical move with Starks: There aren't any left tackles out there, Marvel Smith can't bend over, and Tony Hills is still decades away from grandfathering someone who might be able to step into a preseason game and not get the QB killed.
Feb. 26: Willie Colon, a restricted free agent, was given a first-round tender by the Steelers and, if he's not extended, will earn $2.2 million this year. This only drew slight agitation from those who believe the Steelers should've given Colon the second-round tender. Either way, this was an easy move to make, considering Colon is at least the equal of Carey at right tackle, and probably better at guard – just in case there's "a developing crisis."
Later, that same day: Kendall Simmons is released a few weeks short of the one-year anniversary of signing Colbert's biggest mistake of a contract. Simmons has been the weak link on the line for years, yet, any astute talent judge would tell you that he was a better player than his replacement, Darnell Stapleton, and that consensus was underscored by Stapleton's poor Super Bowl performance. Darnell Dockett, the Cards' left DT, had three sacks and the Steelers' pathetic short-yardage game became a joke on the "live mike" feeds from Mike Tomlin. The problem with putting Simmons back in the lineup next season is that the injury-prone guard has not recovered from his Achilles' injury. So his release was not only expected, it spared fans a training-camp competition between he and Stapleton and forces – one can only hope – the Steelers to bolster their anemic interior on draft day.
Feb. 27: Chris Kemoeatu, the left guard who has needed every bit of his four seasons to learn enough of the offense to compete on every other snap, took less than $4M in bonus money on a five-year contract to come back with the team. The move may have relieved the alarmists in the media, but no one was more relieved than Kemoeatu himself, who won't have to attempt to learn another offense. His repeated calls back to the Steelers, after they had dropped out of the bidding, are being described as "loyalty." Ha. That bonus is so sparse the Steelers can release him after one year and not take a loss.
So it's being said that the Steelers averted a crisis at the guard position, when in reality the team had very little at the position anyway. Averting a crisis? No, a crisis is something Ben Roethlisberger undertakes every time he drops back to pass.
Of course, that strategy won them a ring, so, no, it's not all that bad. But can we at least hold down the "Steelers are genius" talk until draft day? That's when they'd better do something concrete about the interior of their offensive line.
Jim Wexell has been SCI's publisher since 2005. His new book, "Steeler Nation: A Pittsburgh Team, An American Phenomenon" is available here at Pittsburghsportspublishing.com and all Pittsburgh-area bookstores.