Steel Quotes & Notes

These are the thoughts of a sportswriter who's worrying less about the Pittsburgh Steelers' next free safety than what he's going to dip into that little cup of melted butter on his plate:

* So Dexter Jackson was "choosing between filet mignon and lobster," according to his agent. Well, instead of the Steelers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jackson signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Guess he settled for lump crabmeat.

* That may keep Jackson in line to become part of that new wave of "flat-bellied" NFL officials some day, but that's a note more suited for end-of-column chuckles.

* He really wasn't supposed to be Larry Brown, that predictable bust of a past free-agent generation, but here's how this year's Super Bowl MVP morphed into that realm. At the price the Steelers were willing to pay, Jackson was a bit overpriced. Scouts joked about Jackson's lack of talent when he came out of college, but understood that players do get better sometimes in the NFL. That was allowed. But since Bill Bidwell -- the Cardinals' paper-champion of an owner -- made Jackson the second-highest paid free safety in the league, the comparisons to Brown become inevitable.

* You knew Bidwell, whose team was an incredible $34 million under the cap, had to have Jackson because of his newly gained status. Bidwell lost both his quarterback and top offensive player this off-season, but he gained the Super Bowl MVP. He'll surely put that on the cover of his media guide and attempt to sell the concept to those poor fans in the Valley of the Sun.

* Yeah, Jackson's alright, but by no means should it have been "a sad, sad day in Pittsburgh" as one caller to Stan Savran's talk show would have us believe. Savran didn't even rip into the poor sot because he sided, somewhat, with the caller. Look people, Jackson just isn't that good. Line up one of those young safeties rotting on the bench and get on with it. Really, it's not that great of a loss.

* To Savran's credit, at least he was talking about the subject. The other so-called sports talk station in town didn't even realize the news had broken.

* I know, I know. Please excuse my 15-minute lapse of judgment. The radio was quickly banished in favor of Richard Johnston's "Foot Hill Stomp". Sometimes I just have to hear the wailing of yinzers after a free agent spurns the beloved Steelers. It makes the music sound that much better.

* Why not Mike Logan? Good question. Here's a guy who lacks safety instincts but is physically suited for the position. Those two facts make him the ideal dime back, where a poor decision doesn't kill the team deep. But maybe it's time he gets his shot. And Chris Hope? He played great late in the season against Jacksonville and in limited time against Cleveland in the playoffs. Maybe it's time he gets his shot. Really, this wailing and gnashing of teeth has me confused.

* So Logan and Hope are two candidates. There's also the draft. Some of you may remember the draft. Yeah, in the old days needs were filled by drafting a young player out of college. I know, it's a wild concept, but it really did work at times.

* Assistant coaches, scouts and front-office personnel have been warned about talking to the media (you wouldn't want anyone writing stories about your team at this time of the year, agreed) but defensive coordinator Tim Lewis allowed a nugget to escape before the gag order was put in place. "It doesn't matter who we sign if they can't cover Todd Heap," Lewis said, and it makes sense. The Baltimore tight end will run past just about every free-agent safety on the shopping list. That gives even more reason to draft a young safety.

* USC strong safety Troy Polamalu ran four 40s under 4.4 on his school's fast track Wednesday. OK, so he's not considered a first-round guy because he's only 5 feet 10 inches tall, but I have no doubt he can cover Heap. How 'bout MAKING him a first-round guy?

* Someone ran down a list of the second-round studs who were only second rounders because there was something atypical about them. Levon Kirkland was on the list. So were Carnell Lake, Mike Singletary, Kendrell Bell, Sam Madison, Lawyer Milloy, Chad Brown and Dermontti Dawson. These were guys who were passed over in the first round because they didn't fit stereotypes, but picked in the second because scouts really, really liked them as players. Maybe the Steelers should remember that second thought at the end of the first round.

* Now, what do the Steelers do with the extra cap space they cleared for Jackson? The popular theory from the big paper in town is that they give more money to the starting quarterback in order to make it easier to sign a quality back-up quarterback. Uh, no. I'd do anything -- everything -- else, even extend Marvel Smith. Give him some Kona Gold for good measure.

* Why are rallies, particularly fourth-quarter rallies, always furious?

* And while we're pondering life's big questions, how can the NFL demand the resignations of eight NFL officials and none of them are named Phil Luckett?

* Lost among Luckett's many legendary gaffes is the touchdown he allowed the Browns to score in the playoffs this year after the play clock had struck zero. Even as a back judge, Luckett has been a miserable failure.

* Oh, that's right. He's not fat. But I smell a lawsuit in there somewhere.

By Jim Wexell
Steel City Sports


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