View Full Version : Bouchette on the Steelers: Team on a budget

05-17-2009, 11:32 PM
Bouchette on the Steelers: Team on a budget
Just because they've realized some recent savings doesn't mean they are flush with cap room
Sunday, May 17, 2009


By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers have their salary-cap savings from Larry Foote, Hines Ward and Ike Taylor. So, what will they do with their newfound money and cap room?

Don't be surprised if it turns out they do little.

They have nine starters entering the final year of their contracts: tight end Heath Miller, halfback Willie Parker, nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive end Brett Keisel, tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon, free safety Ryan Clark, center Justin Hartwig and kicker Jeff Reed.

Most of those will finish the 2009 season without a contract extension and become free agents in March, and perhaps none will sign a new deal.

While the Steelers created more room with their recent moves, and the salary cap for each NFL team rose nearly $12 million since last season to $128 million, most of that cap room already has been gobbled up by higher salaries for 2009 to the point the Steelers were barely under the NFL cap before the draft. They also have their draft choices to sign.

One reason they don't have much wiggle room is the large increase in Ben Roethlisberger's cap figure. It was nearly $8 million last year, the first of his contract extension; it rises to more than $13.2 million this year. Other increases, although not as dramatic, include Keisel's climb of nearly $2 million to almost $5 million.

The Steelers have done a good job remaining not only competitive but winning two Super Bowls while managing the cap without wounding their future. They will be tested anew this year and next. They have paved the way to keep 20 of their 22 starters intact, but they may not be able to hold onto many or any of those nine who have one year left.

Kevin Colbert publicly proclaimed their desire to sign Starks to a contract extension, and Starks is open to a long-term deal. But with a guarantee of nearly $8.5 million this season as their franchise player, it does not seem plausible. The signing bonus alone would have to be enormous, in the $15 million range, for Starks to begin to entertain an extension. They tried last year after they guaranteed Starks a contract of nearly $8 million and could not do it. Why would anyone think they could pull it off this season?

They most likely will try to sign Miller and Reed to extensions as priorities, and perhaps Clark. They have no one behind either of those three who can measure up. Whether they can do so or not is another matter. The others may have to wait until after the season.

The unknown is whether a new collective bargaining agreement will occur before free agency in March. If not, players such as Miller and Colon will be restricted free agents rather than unrestricted, and each NFL team can tag two franchise players instead of one. That would, for instance, allow them to virtually keep four potential free agents -- Miller, Colon and two franchise players.
When these Steelers win, everyone wins

Steelers Nation may have gotten its start in the 1970s from four Super Bowl victories, but one of the Hall of Fame players from that era believes now is as good a time as any for the franchise.

"I just think we're witnessing some great times in the history of the Steelers,'' cornerback Mel Blount said. "We have a great fan base here, and the team produces. It's just a great situation. The Rooneys have done a good job. They're really embracing the community and becoming a major player in the community. It's spilled over into the fan base, and the respect people have for the Steelers."

Blount says he and most of the players from the 1970s dynasty revel in the team's recent successes. It has a spillover effect for them, too.

"I can't go anywhere without people coming up and wanting my autograph,'' Blount said. "And I haven't played in 25 years."

Blount said their winning benefits his Mel Blount Youth Home and his annual fund-raising dinner.

"A lot of people might not realize that. Every time the Steelers win the Super Bowl, the dinner we have, we see a big increase in sales of tables and our auction. Not just that but around the city, different businesses want you to appear and speak. It's big for us when these guys win and I hope those players realize that.

"We in no way at all envy them winning the Super Bowl. We love it.''

And, Blount thinks they can win another this season.

"I told Mike Tomlin at our dinner, 'Hey, man, go win another; seven sounds good.' I wouldn't be surprised because they have the nucleus -- the quarterback and good young players. I think they have a great coach."

If they would win another this season, it would be three in the past five. How would that stack up to four in six years for Blount's teams?

"It's kind of like asking whether guys could play in different eras," Blount said. "They have my respect right now as far as being up there with us if they don't ever win another.

"The Super Bowl they played this year, in my opinion, was the most exciting one I've seen since I've been a part of it.''
Only coaching in '09 will be at CBS

Bill Cowher says he won't rule out returning to coach in the NFL again, but he has no plans to do so.

"No, I'm not ruling it out. I feel like I'm still too young to do that,'' Cowher said from Raleigh, N.C., this week. He turned 52 last week. "But I really do enjoy the job right now at CBS. I know I'm doing CBS this year. Everything is good, and I don't have other plans right now.''

Cowher's youngest daughter, Lindsay, will graduate from high school in Raleigh soon and will attend Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where she will play basketball.

"It's only 3 1/2 hours away," Cowher noted. "We're excited about that. It's not far, very driveable."

For those optimistic Steelers fans looking ahead, CBS will broadcast Super Bowl XLIV, and Cowher will be right there with them.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.
First published on May 17, 2009 at 12:00 am