Jones the X Factor in the Off-season Equation?

Question: What is one way the Steelers can significantly improve their secondary and have the luxury of selecting the best player available with their first pick of the draft?<br><br> Answer: Sign Tebucky Jones

Among all the UFA safeties available, Jones has the most upside for the Steelers organization. Jones has excellent size (6-2, 218) and very good speed. His presence on the field would give cornerbacks DeWayne Washington and Chad Scott more confidence to take chances, knowing that Jones has the motor that Brent Alexander sorely lacks in coverage.

His addition to the team also takes care of a huge quality depth problem facing the Steelers. His addition would surely demote Alexander to a dime defense role, but he would be a solid back-up in case of injury. Mike Logan and Chris Hope would battle for the strong safety position. Scott would most likely not need to move to safety (this upcoming year), solidifying the cornerback position.

When Logan went down with a season-ending injury in the wild-card round, the Steelers were left with only 2 proven safeties (Alexander and Lee Flowers) and one rookie (Chris Hope). More important than experience was the speed and athleticism Logan brought to the secondary. This is where Jones' addition would be so important.

In case you needed any more proof, consider the ramifications on draft day of a Jones signing. The Steelers would not be forced to take a safety or cornerback with the first pick. With the 27th pick, they could instead take the best player available (no experiments please), relieving the war room of the intense pressure of choosing a defensive back ready to step into a starting role on a championship-caliber team.

The Steelers could then focus on stocking up with young, talented defensive backs throughout the rest of the draft. The Steelers would be effectively dictating their draft rather than the draft dictating them.

Jones is not a savior by any stretch of the imagination. There are questions about his consistency. There have also been question marks about his playmaking abilities. In his 5-year career he's only had 4 interceptions and 2.5 sacks.

But, he's young and entering only his sixth year. He's missed just 3 games in the past 3 years. And most importantly, he's won a Super Bowl.

And let's face it, Jones is the best option available. Donovin Darius is just as slow as Lee Flowers, while Dexter Jackson has "Larry Brown" written all over his forehead.

Although it will be tough for the Steelers to come up with the money Jones will likely demand, it's not out of the question. More than likely the Steelers would offer him a high signing bonus in conjunction with a back-loaded contract.

The Steelers would need to restructure some contracts and Mark Bruener seems a prime candidate with his $2.65 million cap hit. Center Jeff Hartings also appears to be a prime candidate as his cap-hit is over $4 million, but he's already restructured his contract once. Plus, the probability that this season may be his last in a Steeler uniform may cause Hartings to refuse.

Chad Scott may be the best option available when it comes to restructuring a contract. His career in Pittsburgh is safe for the next few years (and longer should he move to safety in the future) and his contract runs through the 2006 season. His cap-hit this year exceeds $4.3 million, but he may be convinced to do the front office a favor if, say, Bill Cowher promises not to force Scott to safety in the next two years. That's probably longer than Cowher wants to wait, but not long enough that Scott becomes a complete liability.

Along with restructuring the contracts of a few players, the Steelers may be forced to make a surprising cut to acquire the resources for Jones. Jerome Bettis would seem the obvious choice, but by the time June 1st rolls around Jones will be off the market. Once again, Bruener may be a prime candidate as $2 million dollars may be too much for a player with multiple season-ending injuries.

Another possibility for a surprise cut is Kimo Von Oelhoffen and his $2.9 million cap-hit. With the emergence of Rodney Bailey and Brett Keisel, one can't help but think that Kimo's days are numbered. Bailey would need to work on his run-stopping abilities, but with Casey Hampton in the middle the run defense should be just as strong.

In the end, the idea of signing Jones may be a moot point. There have been recent whispers that New England may tag Jones with the "transition" label, ending any serious bid the Steelers are prepared to offer.

--The Steel Apple

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