Thursday, August 05, 2004

I guess it's a question of character

Say what you want about the Steelers slumping in 2003, but one thing you never saw during an abysmal season, or during offseason contract talks and rookie contract negotiations, were players disrespecting the Rooney's, Cowher, the team or themselves during times of adversity.

And while these facts don't exactly make up for a 6-10 season, after seeing what's transpiring across the NFL, it's at least encouraging. Two specific examples are on the Steelers schedule this season. The Browns first round pick, Kellen Winslow II (who has on more than one occasion referred to himself as K2) -- who is represented by the Postons -- seems to think that he was the first player taken in the draft -- and should be paid accordingly. The only problem is that he was taken sixth overall.

If you're a Browns fan, the good news is that it won't matter. The Browns, at least on paper, are in worse shape than they were going into the previous two seasons. Their offensive line is atrocious, their running back situation is a mess, and the head coach seems to spend more time cleaning house in the front office than game-planning for the '04 season.

With Winslow or not, the Browns will be lucky to win four games (I'm an optimist, I have them winning six games). But the fact remains, that this kind of nonsense usually isn't tolerated in Pittsburgh.

The other example I mentioned above concerns the Redskins first-round pick, the enigmatic Sean Taylor. Who would have guessed this guy has so much personal baggage. On April 24 he's the fifth player taken and what does he do? Promptly fires his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. He then goes to minicamp agent-less and doesn't finally decide on representation until days before training camp starts. He settles on Eugene Mato and Jeff Moorad, who quickly negotiate a contract so Taylor can start training camp on time and then Taylor promptly fires them both after seeing other first-round picks sign more lucrative deals (get all that?). My advice to Taylor: don't get mad, get better.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Earlier this summer Taylor skipped out on a mandatory rookie orientation and has subsequently been fined $25,000 by the league. Apparently he missed the lecture on "How to pick an agent and not screw yourself financially." Maybe the NFL should make him repeat rookie year.

The thing is, you hear stories like this every season, and every season fans roll their eyes because it's hard to fathom how athletes with the potential to make so much money can be so petty, shallow and short-sighted.

But here's the other thing. You seldom see this kind of thing happen in Pittsburgh. Granted, Roethlisberger held out until he and his agent got what they thought was fair, but never was it contentious. Nor did you get the impression that Roethlisberger felt entitled to a big payday (unlike K2 and Taylor). He just kept out of the spotlight, said the right things and when the contract was signed he reported for work.

And the biggest thing to happen in Pittsburgh this offseason in the way of drama was (a) Plax taking Mother's Day (and minicamp) off or (b) Hines being upset about not being able to restructure his deal after an exception was made for Tommy Maddox.

And guess what -- both Hines and Plax are in camp, reportedly in great shape, and are eager to play some football. Not once has either of them bad-mouthed the organization about their respective futures despite the fact that they may have legitimate long-term financial concerns (Hines more than Plax).

And in addition to reflecting well on the players -- and what kind of people they are -- it also reflects well on the Steelers organization. Like him or not, players seem to respect Bill Cowher. And while no one seems to really know how much power Kevin Colbert yields, you have to guess he has some hand in which players are traded, signed, drafted or released based on what type of people they are.

And while player personalities away from the field may seem innocuous (the old out of sight, out of mind mentality), it inevitably comes back to bite the organization on the ass more times than not. Let's see, you can pick from your garden-variety criminals: Christian Peters, Lawerence Phillips, Rae Carruth, and to a lesser extent Ray and Jamal Lewis; or you have your run-of-the-mill malcontents: Keyshawn Johnson, Kenan McCardell, Randy Moss and most recently Ricky Williams. The point is, you have any number of examples where an organization took a chance on a "once-in-a-lifetime" player, or a "can't-miss" prospect only to get double-crossed and end up with egg on their faces.

What's interesting is that the closest the Steelers come to having any player of such ill repute is Plax. He got busted with an open can of beer in Cleveland and he had a party in Pittsburgh where some dope was packing heat. Both incidents could happen to anyone and in no way do they make Burress incorrigible (at least in comparison).

So I guess my point is this: while the Steelers suffered through a 10-loss season in 2003, there is nothing worse than having a guy on your team that is such a malcontent that it's hard to pull for him (and the team) to succeed. And no matter what kind of "greatness" the Kellen Winslows and Sean Taylors bring to their respective teams, those are two guys, despite their God-given gifts, that I would never want on the Steelers. And the good news is, at the rate the Winslow negotiations are going, we may not have to worry about him playing for the Browns either.