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Kovacevic: Steelers must keep cuts coming

| Friday, March 2, 2012

Nice of the Steelers to finally find time on their docket to show the franchise's greatest wide receiver the door.

Maybe it really did take 52 full days since the playoff loss in Denver for the front office to determine Hines Ward no longer was in their plans. Maybe they really were agonizing all that time. But if you believe that, then good luck explaining why they never approached Ward with any offer, even for the veteran minimum.

They knew they didn't want him. And yet they made him squirm for two months, reduced to begging to return on his Facebook page, before telling him Wednesday.

That was lousy, like so much else about this bizarre offseason for the seldom-bizarre Steelers.

But it's done now. And to repeat my oft-stated stance since season's end, it was absolutely the right move. Ward's tank was close to empty, as had become plainly and painfully evident.

Same was true, for that matter, of Aaron Smith and Chris Kemoeatu. Both were told Thursday that they, too, will be released.

No problem there, either.

Releasing Smith, 35, saves $2.11 million against the cap. This was a no-brainer after his many major injuries. He should have retired on his own. But he'd always said the team would have to "drag me kicking and screaming out of here," and that's how it played out.

Kemoeatu, 29, saved $2.39 million. His knee trouble had become so crippling he couldn't block a nuisance follower on Twitter.

Keep going with the cuts, I say.

A release of James Farrior, 37, would save $2.85 million against the cap. His performance fell off a cliff in 2011, as steeply as Ward's. His agent, Ralph Cindrich, hinted Thursday that Farrior will be next: "It's not a done deal, but the percentages just aren't there."

A release of Casey Hampton, 34, would save about $4.9 million, plus a $1 million "workout bonus." (Wouldn't you love to read the specifics of that clause?) Hampton hasn't played at an elite level in a while, and he tore his ACL for the third time in the Denver game. Kevin Colbert said last week he expects Hampton to return. I don't see why he should.

Hey, if Ward's fair game, who isn't?

Omar Khan, the Steelers' capologist, has slashed $37.39 million in 2012 salary in the past several weeks alone, mostly through players restructuring their contracts. It's been amazing work, really. If this man were in charge of the federal budget deficit, our nation could buy China by week's end.

But it still isn't enough.

Colbert estimated entering the offseason that the Steelers were $25 million over the cap. If so, they're now about $12.4 million under it. That might sound great, but it isn't. Not if this team is to remain a contender rather than undergo some sort of rebuilding.

The top need — and that's exactly the right term — is to sign Mike Wallace to a multiyear extension. And do it before March 13, after which teams will have at least a plausible chance of raiding the Steelers by offering huge up-front money.

This will cost, and it will cost big-time. But it would be well spent.

I've heard all kinds of goofy theories about how the Steelers might be better off letting Wallace walk, using his money on other needs and happily accepting a first-round draft pick as compensation.

It's nonsense.

For one, the money is there to be had. Just do more cutting.

For another, they preach in any business to build from your strengths. The receiving corps is the Steelers' primary positional strength — other than quarterback — but it would instantly become a weakness without Wallace. No receiver anywhere stretches the field like he does.

Some will suggest Antonio Brown could take his place at No. 1.

Come on.

If you're going to praise Brown for outplaying Wallace in the second half of last season — which Brown did — then you've also got to weigh that Wallace drew most of the double-coverage.

How would Brown fare in double-coverage, especially given his many route-running miscues?

Really want to find out?

Let's also see the Steelers keep Jerricho Cotchery for receiver depth. An experienced back to support Isaac Redman would be welcome, too. So would any help on the interior offensive line or middle linebacker.

Bottom line: It's paramount that the Steelers get younger. This was an old, slow roster in 2011, and it's only going to get older and slower without more moves like we've seen the past 48 hours.

Look out, China.

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