Kevin Gorman: Trading Mike Tomlin could be disastrous for Steelers
Now that the rampant rumor has become a CBS Sports report that the Washington Redskins are interested in making a “strong push” to acquire Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, allow me to make a suggestion to those in support of it. Be careful what you wish for.
Steelers fans in favor of trading Tomlin point to the haul brought by the most prominent NFL coach to be dealt: When the Oakland Raiders sent Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, they received two first-round draft picks, two second-round draft picks and $8 million.
The Steelers clearly have a need for high draft picks. They don’t have a 2020 first-rounder after trading it to the Miami Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, or a 2020 third-rounder after including it in the deal with Denver to move up 10 spots to draft Devin Bush. So the prospect of adding draft capital is intriguing. That the Redskins are a one-win team could make for a top-five pick, which makes it even more enticing.
Tomlin is in danger of his first losing season in 13 years as a coach, and the Steelers also could be coming off a second consecutive season without making the playoffs. If that appears to diminish his demand, remember the Steelers extended Tomlin’s contract through the 2021 season, with an option year.
ESPN is calling the report “far-fetched” and says Tomlin has “zero interest” in the Redskins job, even though it makes sense on the surface. For one, it would be a homecoming. Tomlin is a native of Newport News, Va., and his son Dino is a freshman wide receiver at Maryland. For another, Tomlin was the Bucs defensive backs coach under Tony Dungy and Gruden, and Tomlin later broke Gruden’s record by becoming the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl (36), so he already has experienced first-hand what such a move would entail.
And it isn’t necessarily Tomlin’s choice. The Steelers also might be in the market for a quarterback, given Ben Roethlisberger will be 38 and returning from surgery on his throwing elbow. That alone makes trading Tomlin for a high first-round draft pick appear to be a no-brainer, if they can be positioned for their next franchise quarterback.
What we seem to be forgetting is trading Gruden was nothing short of disastrous for the Raiders, a deal with diminishing returns. They were coming off a controversial overtime loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC divisional playoffs — remember the Tom Brady tuck-rule game? — and played in the Super Bowl the next year.
Only to lose to Gruden and the Bucs.
That was the beginning of a dismal stretch in Oakland, where the Raiders changed coaches 10 times before luring Gruden out of the television booth with a 10-year, $100-million contract. The Raiders didn’t have a winning season from 2003 until 2016, when Jack Del Rio led them to a 12-4 record. (An interesting twist to this tale: Bill Callahan succeeded Gruden as Raiders coach and is serving as interim coach for the Redskins, which would make him an unfortunate player in this circuitous coach-trading drama).
Those draft picks the Raiders acquired didn’t amount to much in Oakland, either. The Raiders began an endless cycle of wheeling and dealing their draft capital, and ended up taking cornerback Phillip Buchanon 17th overall and offensive tackle Langston Walker in the second round in ‘02, defensive end Tyler Brayton No. 32 overall in ‘03 and center Jake Grove in the second round in ‘04.
Perhaps the Steelers would fare better, considering their eye for talent and how trading up in the first round has turned out. They have Troy Polamalu, Santonio Holmes and Bush to show for it, and Fitzpatrick looks like a perfect fit for their defense.
But you have to wonder whether the Steelers are ready to make major changes, not only with their coaching staff but at quarterback. I can’t imagine Roethlisberger would welcome a new coach calling the shots let alone plays at this point of his career, and he already shared how he feels about the Steelers spending an early-round draft pick on his potential successor.
None of this is meant to dismiss the possibility of such a deal. Stranger things have happened with the Steelers, especially this season. They’re down to starting a Duck — undrafted free agent rookie Devlin Hodges — at quarterback, so desperate times could call for desperate measures.
But here’s a warning: Desperate measure could prove disastrous.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .