Starkey: Steelers taking unfair hits
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Fiscal negligence? Is that what the Steelers are being accused of?
How incredibly unfair.
Contrary to what the new order of revisionist Steeler historians are telling you, this franchise has deftly navigated the salary cap over the past decade. Its decision-makers brilliantly have combined a win-now philosophy with a willingness to part with still-productive players.
Why did they keep the core largely intact?
Because it was winning, silly!
The Steelers were in the Super Bowl three years ago. They were a botched series (home Baltimore game) away from a first-round bye in 2011. They were thick in the race last winter when a preposterous spate of injuries sabotaged their season. They haven't had a losing season since 2003.
And it's not like they've avoided tough financial decisions, parting with the likes of Joey Porter, Alan Faneca, Chris Hope, Plaxico Burress and now James Harrison.
In cases where prospective free agents were unwilling to accept less than what they could get on the open market, the Steelers simply said goodbye. Mike Wallace is a good example. He was going to chase every penny. I don't blame him, but the Steelers weren't going to play that game with a receiver.
They were going to have to make a decision between Wallace and Antonio Brown at some point — just as they did between Burress and Hines Ward — and chose Brown when it became clear Wallace was going for the gold.
The revisionists' most popular complaint is that the Steelers have been operating with too much of a credit card mentality, pushing debt into the future by way of restructured contracts instead of paying as they went along.
I hear it all the time …
“That's why they're up against the cap!” (as if that isn't the case most years).
“That's why they can't sign any big free agents!” (as if they ever do).
“That's why they can't sign some of their own best players!” (see above: it's happened before).
Listen to these people long enough, and you'd think Howard Baldwin was running the Steelers.
So tell me, revisionists, which contract should the Steelers not have signed? Whose deal should they not have restructured? Who should they have parted with earlier? Which difficult decision did they avoid and thus mortgage their future?
Willie Colon's $29 million deal might look terrible now, but how could anyone have predicted his body would fall apart?
What makes this offseason unusual is the departure of players in their mid-20s — and I believe the Steelers should have made an effort to sign cornerback Keenan Lewis. I'm not sure why they didn't. But it's not like some previous decision cost them a chance. They clearly could have afforded Lewis if they had so desired.
As for restructuring contracts, the Steelers have been incredibly selective. They have almost exclusively selected younger players who figure to be around, not players who will continue to eat cap space long after they're gone.
The issue isn't cap management. It's player procurement. If the Steelers have opened themselves to criticism, it's in the draft room, not the boardroom.
The way this franchise does business, it must hit consistently in the draft. It is supposed to have people ready to replace its departed. That has been the blueprint all along, but you look now and wonder who's next at various positions.
Willie Parker begat Rashard Mendenhall. Who replaces Mendenhall, who didn't make it to a second contract?
Joey Porter begat James Harrison (a lucky find as an undrafted free agent). Who replaces Harrison? The jury is very much out on Jason Worilds.
Santonio Holmes begat Wallace. Who replaces Wallace?
Aaron Smith led to Ziggy Hood, just as Brett Keisel will lead to Cam Heyward. Can Hood and Heyward make good as first-round picks?
Next season is very much a referendum on the drafting work of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin. It's time for recent draft picks to show themselves. We'll see if David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, Worilds, Hood, Heyward, Cortez Allen and others pass the test.
The Steelers' recent drafting prowess is absolutely up for debate. Their fiscal intelligence is not.
Every fan base in sports wants to win now. For the Steelers, “now” has lasted the better part of 12 years.
Consider yourselves lucky.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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