Monday, April 26, 2004

Amazingly, the Pittsburgh media was wrong again
Way back on March 16 I had a post (rightly) criticizing the Pittsburgh media for prematurely jumping all over the Steelers for being slow on the draw to sign high-profile free agents (see also here and here). Well, it looks like the chickens are coming home to roost.

At the time the media was clamoring that the Pittsburgh front office was a day late and a dollar short when it came to the big-time free agency game. Going into free agency they had definite needs at cornerback, offensive tackle, linebacker and running back.

A bevy of free agents made Pittsburgh their stopover as they ultimately negotiated better deals with other teams. A partial list of free agents lost included linebacker Marcus Washington and cornerbacks Fernando Bryant, Reggie Howard and David Barrett. The Steelers didn't even seriously consider any offensive lineman through free agency because for many players the asking price was too steep. Pittsburgh did pull off one blockbuster acquisition that brought running back Duce Staley to western Pennsylvania, and although not obvious at the time, it proved to be an important move when the Steelers were on the clock with the 11th pick in last weekend's draft. Despite some questions about the Steelers guarded approach to free agency, their conservative strategy made it possible for them to take the quarterback of the future in Ben Roethlisberger.

Consider this: What if Pittsburgh didn't sign Duce Staley? They would have had to deal with their other needs through free agency -- and probably would have been forced to overpay in a decidedly sellers market. Or they could have chosen to do nothing, and used the draft to address all of their personnel questions. Either way, the Steelers might have missed out on one of their best drafts in recent years. In addition to getting arguably the best quarterback in the draft, they also got a big-time cornerback in Ricardo Colclough and just a big offensive tackle in Max Starks -- and this was all on the first day.

Without Staley, Pittsburgh would have also needed a running back, and as a result, the whole landscape of the draft may have been altered. The Steelers might have been compelled to trade down, giving up their 11th pick, in order to get a running back later in the first round while also attending to other needs. And even if they were lucky enough to get running back Steven Jackson or Kevin Jones, a cornerback and an offensive tackle, there would still be the small question of who would be the quarterback in 2005 and beyond.

For all the myopic opinions articulated by critics earlier this year, Pittsburgh kept the long-range picture in full view by not breaking the bank during free agency. Instead they had a plan for the players they would target in free agency -- at the right price -- and still were able to draft the players that not only make them AFC North contenders in 2004, but also sets the table for a playoff run for the next decade.

Take that Madden and Smizik!