Tim Benz: Reevaluating Mike Tomlin’s contract situation with Steelers
Highbrow sports columnists such as myself refer to it as “having a developing opinion.”
The real world says, “I’m changing my mind, n’at.”
Trolls on Twitter say, “You’re flip-flopping.”
However you choose to phrase it, I’m altering my view on Mike Tomlin’s contract situation based on some new information.
That’s allowed, by the way.
Tomlin has two years remaining on his deal. That’s when the Steelers normally extend head coaches. They attempted to do so with Bill Cowher after the 2005 Super Bowl. It didn’t work out. He coached one more year then retired.
In January, Art Rooney II put off any talk of an extension for Tomlin. He said: “Those things we’ll get to sort of later in the offseason. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
If we are talking bridges, Tomlin’s 2018 club caused far too many Steelers fans to consider leaping off one of the many available in Western Pennsylvania.
So once 2018 ended, I wrote that I was against a Tomlin extension. But I wasn’t going to fret about it because, well, it’s just Rooney’s money. And who cares? He has plenty of it.
It’s not as if Tomlin getting a contract extension does anything to the salary cap. But it might do something to Rooney’s sensibilities if he guarantees Tomlin a heap of cash on a new deal then feels the need to eat it upon an urge to fire him.
Previously, I didn’t think the sticker shock would ever prevent Rooney from making a football decision based on his coach.
Now, I’m not so sure.
Even by NFL owner bottomless-pocket standards, we are getting into commitment-level numbers as you approach eight figures for a head coach. Granted, Tomlin probably would get another job quickly. And offset language may come into play to mitigate concerns.
Keep in mind, though, amid the myriad big-picture issues surrounding Antonio Brown’s situation, the matter of his comparatively minor $2.5 million roster bonus was constantly in play during discussions.
A one-and-done season for Tomlin on a new deal could extend well beyond that figure depending on the circumstances by which Tomlin is shoved out.
The danger comes into play if 2019 is a 4-12 kind of disaster from which Tomlin simply can’t return.
Especially if Tomlin has $20 million-plus in new money looming. I guess I always knew that this was the monopoly money we were considering. But when you get into Bill Belichick territory — the story in The Athletic says he’s the top-paid coach at $12 million per year and no one else is paid more than $9 million — that seems to be a reality check.
Saying that Tomlin, with just three playoff victories since the 2010 AFC Championship Game, should be the second-highest paid coach in the NFL seems disproportionate.
Again, it’s Rooney’s plenty-porky piggy bank to use as he likes. So if he feels like security, continuity and consistency are that important to him, go ahead and sign the extension with two years left as he normally does.
I’d argue against it, though. The Steelers fan base is hungry, and it’s time for Tomlin to sing for his supper.
As we’ve established, if Tomlin hits the right notes, Rooney can afford to pony up next summer before his “lame duck” year.
What’s Tomlin going to do otherwise? Retire — and stay retired — like Cowher? Unlikely. And Belichick’s contract will always be an artificial cap, anyway.
So even after a potential Super Bowl win, it’s not as if Tomlin could write his own ticket.
The Steelers have done a lot of things this offseason that have deviated from the norms of their business practices.
• They traded up in the draft to select Devin Bush.
• They dismissed stars in the name of locker room continuity.
• A mediocre cornerback, Steven Nelson, got the largest free agent contract in team history.
Now it’s time to do something else differently. The team doesn’t have to extend its coach with two years remaining just because that’s what it has always done.
Especially at the price tag we are discussing.