Roethlisberger, not free agents, is the key for Steelers
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One, none of it will matter unless quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is cleared of all wrongdoing in his sexual assault case in Georgia, gets his head right again and plays the same terrific football he played last season when he threw for 4,328 yards and in 2008 when he led the Steelers to their second Super Bowl in four years.
Two, the Clark signing is terrific, by far the best of the bunch.
Three, it's a lot harder to get excited about the other four moves, although the Steelers strengthened their depth.
And four, selecting wide receiver Limas Sweed in the second round of the '08 NFL draft almost certainly will go down as a franchise draft bust.
That first observation is self-explanatory. The Steelers always will be a Super Bowl contender as long as they have Roethlisberger, who is facing his second sexual assault allegation in eight months, this one from a 20-year-old college student as the result of an alleged incident in Milledgeville, Ga., early Friday morning. They will be also-rans without him or even with him if he's at less than his best. He is the classic definition of a franchise quarterback.
The second point also should be obvious. Clark would have left a big hole in the Steelers' defense if he had left as a free agent for Miami or some other NFL destination. He's a proven player. He knows the defense. He loves playing with safety Troy Polamalu, and Polamalu loves playing with him. This is where he belongs.
No. 3 is a more debatable point, at least by those who are more devoted fans of Randle El. But this is 2010, not 2005. Randle El will be 31 in August and averaged just 6.0 yards per punt return for the Washington Redskins last season. He has talked of coming back to the Steelers as the No. 3 receiver, but that's hard to imagine. You would put him ahead of Hines Ward? Santonio Holmes? Mike Wallace? Of course, not.
Finally, the fourth point about Sweed should not be overlooked, no matter how hard it is to see in the dark shadows cast by the Roethlisberger situation. It also deserves a little more attention.
The Steelers drafted Sweed two picks ahead of Rutgers running back Ray Rice, who has become a star with the Baltimore Ravens. Now, two years later, after the additions of Randle El and Battle, there doesn't appear to be a roster spot for him.
Definitely a bust so far.
Maybe not on the same level as some of the Steelers' No. 1 picks from the past 25 years -- Jermaine Stephens, Huey Richardson, Tom Ricketts, Aaron Jones and Darryl Sims. But right there with the team's recent second-round flops -- Alonzo Jackson, Scott Shields and Jeremy Staat.
NFL coaches value productivity and reliability above all else. Sweed gave neither to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. He dropped what should have been a touchdown pass in the AFC championship game against the Ravens after the '08 season, then compounded that by faking an injury and forcing the team to use a timeout. He had another big drop that would have been a touchdown in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in September.
It was after that game in Cincinnati that Tomlin tried to get to Sweed by publicly calling him out. He talked of how it might be a long time before Sweed got back in the lineup, "if" he did. It was after that same game, you might remember, that Tomlin also had harsh public words for running back Rashard Mendenhall, the team's No. 1 pick in '08. He told the world that Mendenhall was benched on offense that day because "he wasn't on the details" that week in practice.
Well, Mendenhall responded in the best possible way. He ran for 165 yards the next week against the San Diego Chargers and finished the season as one of the Steelers' top offensive players. Sweed? Not so much. He didn't have a catch the rest of the season and left the team in December with what Tomlin described as "personal issues." Management still hasn't elaborated, leading to much speculation that Sweed was battling severe depression.
If that's true, maybe a fresh start with another team is just what Sweed needs.