Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript

| Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011

Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon, all, on Thanksgiving Eve. I am thankful for a roomful of potential chatters ...

MattySteele: Hello Dejan and happy thanksgiving. What do think the keys are down the back half stretch of this season for the Steelers to win the AFC North• It seems to me that they haven't played there best football, but that being said they look like one of the best teams in the AFC if not the best.

Dejan Kovacevic: They haven't played their best, Matty, and Ben Roethlisberger had a terrific acknowledgement to that after the game in Cincy that I'm planning to cite for my Friday column. Thing is, the trend is upward, and that counts for a lot in the NFL. I'm not comparing these Steelers to the current Packers, but people forget the Packers were 8-6 last season before ... well, they haven't lost since. Upward trend is your friend in the NFL.

The key to that for the Steelers = Health.

Suckmeter: Dejan, who gets the luxury tax from teams that exceed the draft salary cap• Would some come back to the Pirates for being a low revenue team• Sucks if the Yankees/Red Sox see any of it.

Dejan Kovacevic: I made only a glancing reference to that in today's column about Major League Baseball sticking it to the Pirates. The luxury tax goes into some general development pool that pays for overseas ventures and vague stuff like that. No team gets any specific piece of it. And it's not much money, anyway. Only the Yankees and a couple other teams pay into it. It's merely meant as a deterrent.

Stu Pidazzle: With Crosby's return and his unbelievable performance, what if any of the pieces of history will be taken and put into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Did they keep he first goal puck, stick, etc?

Dejan Kovacevic: Never heard mention of the Hall of Fame in this. Maybe they were about as ready for Sidney Crosby to do something like that as the rest of us were.

PirateApologist: Under this new MLB agreement, would Josh Bell even have been drafted, let alone sign?

Dejan Kovacevic: I raised a similar point with Frank Coonelly in our interview yesterday, though without including it in the column. His view is that the difference for players like Bell or two-sport standouts who have to choose one will be measured in increments. A player who might have gotten $5 million or $7 million will now be offered $3 million. That's still not a bad piece of change.

Teke: Whatever happened to the veteran, been there, done that, backup QB in the NFL• Curtis Painter, Palko, the guy backing up Cutler in Chicago are all one snap away from having to lead a playoff bound team. Really?• Is it a salary cap problem to keep a vet qb around• Remember Don Strock, Hanratty, Jurgenson, Craig Morton• Seems like most teams have to get by on the cheap when it comes to adding depth. Your thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd have to see more evidence to know that this is an NFL-wide problem. Charlie Batch would appear to fit your Hanratty/Strock description with the Steelers. Others in the Jon Kitna mold are around.

If I'm a QB, I'd have to seriously wonder about holding a clipboard as the No. 3 guy vs. playing in the CFL. It's a great way to completely stunt your development, just practicing all the time. Maybe that trickles up to No. 2.

Jandy: DK, how will you spend your Thanksgiving holiday?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm planning to be at the Steelers' practice, then reading comics, then assembling this Lego thing we got, then eating, then sleeping, then watching Ravens-49ers.


Jay: Dejan, With Sid back and the Pens seeming to clicking on all cylinders almost do you see Shero making any deals• Any possibility of dumping Martin at this point, he seems to be way overpayed for the return they are getting out of him?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's probably got about $2 million in cap room, so a trade is a possibility. But Paul Martin ... look, can we dispense once and for all with the mythology that teams will take players you don't want in a trade?

Not being snarky, I swear, but this concept makes absolutely no sense, and yet it comes this way all the time on so many fronts. No one else will want to pay your minus-11-in-a-month defenseman $5 million a year for the next three years if you don't want to pay him that.

SuperMario66: Is there anyway that the new MLB agreement won't be implemented• Could the Pirates and enough other small market teams band together to force changes?

Dejan Kovacevic: Way, way late for that. Really, if you listen to all of these various entities, everyone is just great with this. It's part of the "myopic" baseball culture I describe in the column. They look at what the other three sports do and think, well, that's cute, would never work here. But no one ever thinks about why.

Seriously, in the case of Pittsburgh specifically, these people look at the market -- the market, not the team -- as some sort of liability. It's insane. Look at what this market has meant to football and hockey. Look at what it could mean for baseball, based on the extraordinary reaction this past summer to ... what, three-plus months of competence?

Jandy: Sounds like you have a great day planned. I plan to get up early and bake and cook since family is coming. I'll likely watch the football game and root for the 49ers to lose!

Dejan Kovacevic: Nice. You can finish my Friday column while you're at it. Forgot to mention that one on the list.

jcurtis2010: Hi Dejan! Love reading your articles! Why is it the MLB refuses to have a salary cap. Capping the draft would be great if teams like NY & Bos stole top talent, but unlike other major sports, Baseball is kind of hit or miss when drafting talent, so Free Agency is where teams tend to overpay and others like the Pirates get the short end of the stick. Why not have a salary cap and make it more competitive so teams like the Pirates can compete, instead of wait 3 years to see if their prospects produce. I know NH said he didn't think it was aimed at the Pirates but it sure seems that way.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's not that they refuse to have a salary cap. It's that it doesn't even cross their minds. Because they're baseball. And somehow they're different.

New York = Good.

Low-revenue teams = Albatrosses we have to find a way to prop up with small gestures from time to time.

Wild Bill: Do you think that Hines' loss of playing time is due to having simply lost a step, or is there some lingeing injury issue• It seems like the other receivers get open more consistently.

Dejan Kovacevic: There's no question something's missing from his game, Bill. The separation factor you cite might be the biggest. A slot receiver has less time and fewer strides to get that separation than, say, Mike Wallace flying 40 yards down the sideline. Every inch of every stride counts. And Ward, even when he was getting open and getting the ball, was getting taken down or outright creamed soon after.

Ward at his best not only gets the separation but also produces yards after the catch. Neither has been the case.

If he's got a lingering injury, that's his secret.

bennett8111: After being completely blown away by SWid's return, I wondered just what they would need for a cup run• Winger• Grittier forward• What is your opinion and do you feel they have a cup run in them as assembled?

Dejan Kovacevic: If I'm Ray Shero, I'm not touching anything with the Penguins right now. You've got depth, skill, toughness, cohesion and great goaltending. If it really is about $2 million of cap room, I'm clinging onto that in the event of covering for an injury. That's it.

Jandy: Send me the rough draft, I'll finish it out ;)

Dejan Kovacevic: OK, it starts off with something about the Four Horsemen ...

Tom: Any chance the Steerlers are going to focus more on the run in the next few games since Ben's thumb is hurt• Maybe it will give them a chance to show some physical dominance to teams for the upcoming playoffs.

Dejan Kovacevic: Not necessarily. Remember that one of Ben's biggest adjustments to the thumb issue is that he's thinking of trying handing off with the left hand to reduce some of the pressure on the right. That's probably not going to be any picnic after a lifetime of reps with the other hand.

In general, all things being equal, the Steelers will pass. I'm sure they'd like to get Rashard Mendenhall a little more involved than he's been the past three weeks, but not to any great extent. If I'm them, I'm a lot more interested in seeing more of this explosive version of Antonio Brown.

SuperMario66: Do you sense that a stonger ownership/management group would have fought this deal earlier and forced meaningful, competitive changes?

Dejan Kovacevic: Maybe, but they would have fought alone. Really, there's no will or guts or anything else in this equation. Maybe if the Brewers lose Prince Fielder after losing CC Sabathia, they'll continue being vocal. St. Louis, too, is exactly the size of Pittsburgh. Losing Albert Pujols would be devastating to their spirit as a franchise. Maybe them, too.

jcurtis2010: What Penguin prospect, outside of Simon Despres are you most excited about• It seems like most are in the NHL now or have been for a short period of time.

Dejan Kovacevic: Including Despres, for right now, it's Joe Morrow. Despres has a world of natural gifts, makes some tough plays look easy. But what Morrow did this fall in camp was exactly what you want out of a defenseman: He looks completely comfortable at the NHL role. Not overwhelmed. In charge. Aggressive but careful. And a great first pass.

Wild Bill: As a Penn State grad, my first concern is for the children victimized and for the university's future health - football comes later. But I'll still ask, even if Tom Bradley is clean in all this, do you think State is better off to make a clean break from all its football staff?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm on record in a recent column on Bradley as applauding the decision for now. Right man at the right time. He's clean as far as we know, as you say, and it's nice to have Penn State solve some of its problems from within.

But the university would be nuts, I think, to act in haste one way or the other with so, so much more information coming in the weeks and months ahead. The very last thing they'd need is to make some long-term commitment and have that blow up in their faces, as well.

Shag: I still keep thinking of that horrible loss to the Chiefs in 2009. It seemed like they just weren't prepared. Any chance of that happening again this Sun?

Dejan Kovacevic: I can see that, especially where Heath Miller is concerned. But the teams, especially Kansas City's, are really different now. Fans and people like me think about this stuff way more than the coaches and athletes involved.

There's no question that the Steelers need to run up significant points against a K.C. defense that's given up a lot, and there's no question their defense should be able to overwhelm Tyler Palko, even with LaMarr Woodley out again.

A lot of the games on the rest of this schedule, actually, fit this model where they just need to take care of business. A tie with the Ravens in the standings obviously won't cut it.

rkd: Why doesn't MLB establish a minimum spending threshold?

Dejan Kovacevic: Because former union chief Donald Fehr -- whose name still sends shudders through MLB offices and will for another century, probably -- used to say that, if he believed in a cap floor, then he'd believe in a cap ceiling.

Makes no sense, I know. And it hurt his players, too, because it took money out of some of their pockets.

SuperMario66: Hard to imagine that the most beautiful ball park in the nation just got a wrecking ball taken to it. Nobody will go watch if there is no chance of winning. Is this the lowest you ever remember feeling about the PBC Management?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not connecting your dots there at all. My feelings on this topic are in the column today, and they're nothing like what you describe there.

CoalportKid: Should we be worried about E. Sanders long term. He just can't seem to stay healthy. This is about his fourth injury in 2 years.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's been a knee, for the most part, and those should heal cleanly once addressed the right way. Wouldn't be surprised to see him find another arthroscope after the season is done.

But yeah, staying on the field is part of the game. Emmanuel Sanders, if nothing else, is losing a huge chance to break into the NFL right now.

Wild Bill: Thanks for sharing today. Does Green Bay go 16 - 0?

Dejan Kovacevic: Wasn't it pretty much this time last year that they lost to the Lions, 9-7?

Well, they've got two more with a much better version of the Lions, plus one with the Bears, who gave them a better-than-most-realized game in the NFC final last year. There's a reason it's so hard for teams to be perfect.

SeanE: Dk: With the return of Sid what can you identify as a weakneess for the Pens• To be honest it is very difficult for me to come up with one. This seems like a solid and deep team just about everywhere.

Dejan Kovacevic: Strange as this sounds, I still need to be convinced that the power play can work. I've talked with most of the participants, and they're saying all the right things, including James Neal about being the net-front guy. (He really isn't that, though he did some in Dallas.) There still is no quarterback, no clear half-wall guy, and you can't have three forwards all trying the same spin-into-the-slot move.

I'm not knocking the participants here, mind you. Just curious to see if they can figure this out.

Jordan: If the Pirates can't bring Derrick Lee back, whose out in FA market that would entice NH• (other than Pujols and Fielder of course)

Dejan Kovacevic: I wouldn't expect to see Derrek Lee back with the Pirates. If he isn't, the other realistic solutions aren't great. That's when I think you'll see them look for internal solutions, possibly tendering Garrett Jones.

CoalportKid: What's up with the young 1st round heavy D line• Seems like Heyward is below the pecking order to McClendon and that Ziggy has taken a step back this year. There were times late last season where Ziggy looked dominant. Not so much in 2011.

Dejan Kovacevic: Steve McClendon is seeing different duty, mostly backing up Casey Hampton, so he's in a separate category. Heyward isn't getting on the field nearly as much because Brett Keisel has rocketed right back to being really good again after a slow start. And I won't agree about Ziggy Hood, with all due respect. A lot of what he does plays off Woodley, and Woodley hasn't been there.

In the Steelers' 3-4, the D-line is at its best when the linebackers are making plays, not when they're noticed. One of those playmakers is out.

John: Who do you think leads the pens in points• and who do you think leads them in goals?

Dejan Kovacevic: If Crosby's healthy, I don't think that will be very interesting. And that's even if Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Neal continue going as they have.

Couple more today ...

SuperMario66: I'm just saying Dejan that with the unwillingness of the PBC management to fight for a better deal, it may well be perceived that managment truly does not care about winning, so why bother going at all?

Dejan Kovacevic: One team fighting out of 30 doesn't get anything done. And there has to be at least a legitimate common thread to get that started. That begins with the commissioner, who clearly had not a shred of appetite for anything other than kumbaya in this set of talks. It's probably Bud Selig's last one, and he didn't want a work stoppage on his hands.

SeanE: Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving DK! Truly love your work.

Dejan Kovacevic: I appreciate that, Sean. Hope everyone does the same.

The columns run Monday, Wednesday and Friday (Tuesday this week was an extra for the Crosby return), the chat will be back next Thursday, and the blog is like that goofy animal in "Ice Age" chasing the acorn. Always churning, no idea where it's going.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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