Labor uncertainty clouds Steelers' plans
DALLAS — Strong safety Troy Polamalu forced a smile as he posed with Rev. Jesse Jackson not far from the Steelers' locker room after Super Bowl XLV.
Inside linebacker James Farrior and tight end Heath Miller, both Steelers captains, embraced without saying a word before passing one another on the ground floor of Cowboys Stadium.
Finality hit the Steelers hard Sunday night. The offseason started as the Steelers came up short in their bid to win a third Super Bowl in six seasons.
This is probably of little consolation to the players, with the wounds still so fresh, but a 31-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers marked the end of a season — but not necessarily the end of an era.
"I think we still have a core group of players that we can build around and hopefully make another run at it," Steelers president Art Rooney II said.
Indeed, the Steelers have a franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, in place, and plenty of young talent around him. The defense may be aging, but it leans on a handful of young players such as linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, and defensive end Ziggy Hood.
"I love this group," said Farrior, who turned 36 last month but plans on returning next season. "There's still a lot of football in us, and we've just got to stay together. Hopefully everything will work out in the offseason."
They have already engaged in talks with starting cornerback Ike Taylor, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March, about a new contract. The Steelers also turn their full attention to the NFL Draft this week.
They are scheduled to have their first comprehensive draft meeting Wednesday, in advance of the NFL scouting combine.
The combine starts next week, and draft preparations will continue through the latter part of April. But offseason activity could otherwise come to a grinding halt in less than a month.
The collective bargaining agreement expires March 4, and the players are bracing for the owners to lock them out.
If intensive talks before then do not lead to a new deal and instead result in a lockout, both sides expect it to be a prolonged one. And no one has any idea what the impact will be if NFL labor peace is interrupted for the first time since 1987.
"We've always had a great nucleus but every year is different, especially with this lockout looming over our heads," veteran wide receiver Hines Ward said. "It's too early for me to (forecast) what's going to happen after March 4. If nothing's done, we're not even allowed to come into the (Steelers' practice) facility."
Said Farrior, "I haven't really thought about it yet. It's going to take awhile to digest this game. But hopefully we can get a deal worked out and we won't have a work stoppage."
The Steelers appear better equipped than most teams to deal with the loss of offseason practices if the players and owners do not reach a new CBA in the near future.
They are a veteran team and do not generally rely on free agency, which would be put on hold in the absence of a new CBA, or the draft for immediate help across the board.
"I don't think we'll be sitting here saying we're going to make a lot of changes," Rooney said. "We'll prepare for the draft and add some players here and there and be ready to go."Additional Information:
What are the odds?
R.J. Bell of Pregame.com in Las Vegas handicapped the NFL contenders in 2011, a couple of hours after the Green Bay Packers had won Super Bowl XLV. Here are the top five, according to Pregame.com.
• Patriots 9 to 2
• Packers 10 to 1
• Chargers 11 to 1
• Steelers 13 to 1
• Colts 13 to 1