Monday, February 21, 2005

Waiting for Plax

I saw Adam Schefter on the NFL Network this weekend commenting on various off-season free agent moves, and the discussion eventually turned to Plaxico Burress. Schefter thinks that the Steelers have no intention of franchising Plax, and will instead let him test the free agent market. He went on to say that the early money his on Plax ending up in Atlanta, Miami or San Diego, if he doesn't return to Pittsburgh.

Apparently he wants to (a) go somewhere that's warm, and (b) go to a team with a strong running game and a good tight end (presumably to free him up for more downfield opportunities). Furthermore, the Dolphins might be an eventual destination because (a) Plax has a home in Miami, and (b) Nick Saban, the new Dolphins coach, coached Plax for two years at Michigan State before leaving to take the LSU job.

A couple of thoughts. First, if the Steelers aren't going to tag Plax, that's probably not a good thing if you're of the opinion that Pittsburgh should try and keep him (currently, I think that group includes me and my buddy Andy). Furthermore, if he's going to test the free agent waters, there's certainly a team out there that's willing to give him an ungodly amount of money -- especially a team like the Chargers, who are currenlty $16.5 million under the salary cap. Also, given the fact that T.J. Houshmandzadeh is looking for something in the neighborhood of an $8 million signing bonus, can only mean that Plax will probably get something north of that.

Second, the Steelers have a lot of work to do in terms of their own salary cap, and they've already promised Hines Ward they'd give him a substantial raise. So if they're interested in keeping Plax, they're going to have to make some tough decisions.

In terms of Plax being interested in going someplace warm -- especially Miami -- here are a few more thoughts. If Plax decides to go to Atlanta, I'm guessing he'll see fewer passes than he's seen in his time as a Steeler -- and he'll probably have to endure much more in the way of losing. In 2004, the Falcons led the league in rushing -- and in case you've forgotten, they're in the same league as the Steelers, a team that ran the ball on 60% of their plays. Not only that, but Michael Vick ranked near the bottom in DPAR (in English: he threw only 14 TDs and 17 INTs), looked primarily to his tight end (in all fairness, having Peerless Price as his primary receiver probably had a lot to do with that), or ran the ball. Furthermore, Vick struggled to learn the West Coast offense -- a scheme that focuses more on quick passing routes, yards after carry and moving the chains (and in case you've been under a rock, "Plaxico Burress" and "yards after carry" will be used when they roll out the latest version of the SAT -- it'll be in the antonyms section).

If instead Plax ends up in San Diego, it better be for $1 billion ... guaranteed. The Chargers had one of the most unbelievable seasons in recent memory, but they just as easily could fall back to earth in 2005. And given that Drew Brees' future is still uncertain (he'll be in San Diego for at least one more season, but Philip Rivers will still be waiting in the wings), who knows what this team will look like in two or three years.

Finally, Miami might be more of a crapshoot than San Diego. First of all, this is a team that replaced five (five!) offensive linemen in 2004. Now they have a coach that's new not only to Miami, but also new to the NFL. And even though Schefter mentions that Miami might have the inside track on acquiring Plax because he has a home in Miami and because he played for Saban in college, Schefter failed to mention that Plax wasn't exactly ecstatic when, after his junior year Saban tried to convince him to stay in school because he didn't feel he was ready for the NFL (read: Saban wanted Plax to hang around one more season for Michigan State's benefit -- it's called Pete Carrollitis; just ask Mike Williams and Matt Leinhart). The only thing is, Saban left after Plax's junior year too ... to take the LSU job.

Of course anything can still happen. The Steelers have until Tuesday to franchise Plax; or if they do decide to let him court other teams, they may be able to "Patriotize" him and convince him to return for less money. And while that seems unlikely, it seems even more unlikely that the Dolphins, Chargers, and even the Falcons would be serious contenders for Plax's services. But stranger things have happened (see: Dolphins and David Boston, for example) , so like everybody else, I'll just have to wait and see.

One more thing. Paul of 'BurghSportsGuys sent an email last week informing me of a gallery of Steelers wallpaper that he put together. Good stuff. Check it out here.