Steelers not negotiating on contract extensions
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Peter Diana/Post-Gazette http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08219/902106-66.stm
Linebacker James Farrior looks for a running back during evening workouts at St Vincent College yesterday.Linebacker James Farrior landed with the Steelers six seasons ago, perhaps their best veteran free-agent signing in the 15 years under the current system.
In seven months, he can become a free agent again, and he has no idea if they want to keep him.
"I love this team, I want to be here," said Farrior, their defensive captain who has been team MVP and an All-Pro since he came over from the New York Jets. "I want to finish my career here, and I'm going to do everything possible to make that happen."
It takes two sides for that to occur, however, and with one month left before the Steelers' self-imposed deadline on contract extension talks, no talks are taking place.
Not with Farrior, not with tackle Marvel Smith, not with anyone.
If the team has issues with its offensive line now, next season could be disastrous because Smith and new left guard Chris Kemoeatu will become unrestricted free agents if they remain unsigned. So, too, will Max Starks and Trai Essex, their top two backup tackles. Starting right tackle Willie Colon will become a restricted free agent.
It's likely that Smith won't return if he's not signed to an extension over the next month.
"I guess we have four weeks to see if Marvel remains a Steeler after this year," said Ken Zuckerman, his agent.
The same could hold true for Kemoeatu, Starks and Essex, which would blow a hole through their line and its depth.
That's not all. Others who would become unrestricted are cornerback Bryant McFadden, wide receiver Nate Washington and quarterback Charlie Batch.
Perhaps the Steelers have a plan to accomplish something with these players over the next month, but no negotiations are taking place, according to sources. The same held true last season when, in the 11th hour, they signed starting right guard Kendall Simmons to a contract extension after it became apparent that veteran guard Alan Faneca wanted nothing to do with their last, best offer.
Simmons, though, was an exception and in the right place at the right time. First, the Faneca deal had to fall through and then Starks, targeted for a possible extension, lost his starting job to Colon. That prompted them to go after Simmons. Usually, if the Steelers want to extend the contract of a player entering his final season, talks to do so would have been ongoing.
"We're going to try to get something done," Farrior said, speaking for his agent, Ralph Cindrich. "They're in a tough situation right now with the team stuff, so we don't want to push anything."
He referred to the process by which the five Rooney brothers who own 80 percent of the team are negotiating contracts of far more importance to them. They are trying to determine ownership of the team either through the sale to an outside buyer or to keep it in the Rooney family, selling to brother Dan Rooney, the team's chairman, and his son Art II, the team's president.
Management might want to wait to see how the ownership unfolds before it commits to new contracts for players who still have a year left.
"I know they have a lot of stuff they have to consider with the team," Farrior said. "Mr. Rooney -- hopefully, he can work something out before the season starts. We'll see."
Their deadline to work something out with their players is when the regular season starts, a month from tomorrow. Sources say, however, that any ownership issues have no impact on negotiations with those players or, in this case, non-negotiations.
It appears unlikely that they would be able to sign either Smith or Kemoeatu before the start of the season. Smith is represented by Zuckerman and Priority Sports & Entertainment, which negotiated a lucrative deal for Faneca with the Jets. The problem with signing Kemoeatu is determining his value because he has started only two games in three years, but is Faneca's heir at left guard.
Smith, like Faneca, likely won't consider a contract after the season and would go elsewhere.
Farrior, though, said he would consider re-signing after the season.
"Yeah, I will consider that," he said. "I've had a great career here. I think it resurrected my career. I had a couple good years with the Jets, but never anything like this. I just feel like I'm at home here."