Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Armageddon is right around the corner
Bob Smizik and Mark Madden both wrote columns in today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette that are right on. I don't think I've ever said that before. Generally (Smizik more so than Madden) these two pen such outrageously inane stuff that it's hard not to talk about how silly they are (the articles, not the writers). But in this case I agree with both of them.

Smizik contends that QB is the wrong way to go in the draft for the Steelers -- and not only that he offers some evidence to back up his claims!
"The talk is the Steelers will take Philip Rivers of North Carolina State, a player who brings to mind Bernie Kosar, with their first pick. Rivers had a highly productive college career. So did Alex Van Pelt, who shattered Dan Marino's Pitt records.

Ben Roethlisberger of Miami (Ohio) is projected higher by most draft experts and also could be the Steelers' choice. Roethlisberger played in the Mid-American Conference, which means he's used to playing the game at a slower speed than what he'll see in the NFL. He, like Rivers, might some day be a fine NFL quarterback, but not in 2004 and not likely 2005."
Smizik goes on to point out that the Steelers don't have a pressing need at QB -- and he's right. No one made a peep when Tommy was having his 'comeback player of the year' season in 2002. A poor O-line, a poorer running game and no clear offensive gameplan made him the scapegoat of many of the Steelers' offensive failures in 2003. With the addition of Duce Staley and an upgrade in the O-line through the draft, we're more likely to see Tommy '02 instead of Tommy '03.

Smizik then goes on to say what I've been saying for two months (I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing):
"What would improve the team considerably more than a rookie quarterback is a cornerback who can cover NFL receivers, which is something the Steelers have had great difficulty in doing. Bill Cowher's hope that Chad Scott can still do the job seems to be more wishful thinking than reality.

There's a chance such a cornerback will be available when the Steelers pick. The two most highly regarded in the draft are DeAngelo Hall of Virginia Tech and Dunta Robinson of South Carolina. If neither is available, Chris Gamble of Ohio State almost certainly will be."
He finishes with the following observation:
"The Steelers don't need to break their bank with Maddox, but a restructuring, at least, of his 2004 contract with relatively easy-to-reach incentives is the fair thing to do.

Maddox has proven he can lead the Steelers to the playoffs. He can do it again with the right supporting cast, which the Steelers have a chance of developing if they draft properly."
Just when I'd written most of the Pittsburgh sportswriters off as lazy, know-nothings, Smizik comes up with this pearl -- finally.

Madden thinks the Steelers should keep Burress
Madden writes a column today that I also can't disagree with. Despite the rumors, Madden thinks the Steelers should keep Plax. He makes several valid (and if given any thought, obvious) points about why that should be the case:
"One prominent rumor (which seems fan generated, as opposed to anyone-who-might-remotely-know-what-they're-talking-about generated) has the Steelers using Burress and the 11th pick in the draft to trade up high enough to take Pitt receiver Larry Fitzgerald...Fitzgerald replacing Burress would provide only marginal improvement, especially initially...While slightly upgrading one position, the Steelers would sacrifice a chance to fill one of their many holes with a quality player.

If the Steelers trade up using Burress, they should do so to draft Iowa tackle Robert Gallery. This would be an actual recommitment to the run, as opposed to mere lip service.

But the Steelers should not trade Burress. In fact, they should begin negotiations to extend his contract immediately. Burress becomes a free agent after the coming season."
Yes, yes, yes and yes. I agree with Madden on all accounts. Trading Burress for Fitzgerald is as silly as the Redskins trying to trade Chris Samuels to the Raiders so they can draft Robert Gallery. Why trade a 26 year old Pro-Bowler to move up three spots -- especially when you have so many other important holes to fill? And if the Steelers do trade up they should address needs other than WR -- like OT. But in the end, I think it's in the Steelers best interest to resign Plax. As Madden points out:
"Burress has mostly underachieved in his four seasons in Pittsburgh, although he did top 1,000 yards receiving in 2001 and '02...He has not become as effective in the red zone as expected...But it's not as if Burress flat-out stinks...He's better than most...He had 60 catches for 860 yards last season. He ranked 11th in the AFC in receiving yardage...Given that 32 receivers per conference are considered starters, that's not so bad...It's no coincidence that Hines Ward has come into his own with Burress as his receiving partner.

Steelers fans might consider Ward the team's No. 1 receiver. But none of the opposing teams do. Foes take one look at Burress' 6-foot-5, 226-pound frame, at his long arms and his leaping ability, and they pay the lion's share of defensive attention to him."
These are all important points to remember and often the first things forgotten when trade rumors gain momentum. Burress is one of the most dangerous WRs in football -- and he's getting better. Did he have a crappy season in 2003? Yes -- but who didn't on offense. I think it's important to take a deep breath and think about what the alternatives are before selling Plax to the highest bidder (which probably isn't all that high -- if TO only garnered a 2nd round pick, what will the Steelers get for Plax?). Madden also gives Steeler fans something else to think about:
"What if the Steelers traded Burress, then Ward got hurt? Ward may be the toughest football player on the planet. But given his style, he has dodged many bullets when it comes to injuries."
Maddox's go-to guys would then be Antwaan Randle El and Chris Doering -- and you thought 6-10 was bad.