Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Random Havoc

OK, the last two days have been like what I can only imagine Kyle Boller goes through every time he drops back to pass: a blur. The only difference is that if you're a Steelers fan (or maybe more accurately, the Steelers front office), the ending is markedly better than what Boller usually experiences. Namely, frustration and embarrassment promptly followed by ridicule.

Anyway, a lot's happened in 48 hours. First, Pittsburgh re-signs Charlie Batch and Clint Kriewaldt. Then, they bring safety Ryan Clark in for a visit and figure, "What the hell ... he's here, we might as well offer him a contract" (by the way, here's an interesting story on Clark from last summer). And Clark obliges. And even though Kimo signed with the Jets (and honestly, who can blame him -- he got $9 million for three years with a $3 million signing bonus), Pittsburgh was able to bring Brett Keisel back for four more years.

So who does that leave? Well, obviously Chris Hope is still a free agent. And so are Jerame Tuman, Verron Haynes, Deshea Townsend and Quincy Morgan (and yes, I left Barrett Brooks off this list intentionally... Lee Mays was unintentionally intentional). Regarding Hope, here's what Ed Bouchette reported last night:
"... the Steelers turned to Clark, a Washington Redskins free agent, to fill their opening at free safety. They had tried to re-sign Hope, who started at the position the past two seasons, but he balked at their offer and is looking elsewhere."
(Before I go on, let me state, for the record, that if the Steelers can only sign two more of their UFAs, I want Deshea Townsend and Verron Haynes. I like Morgan, but let's be honest: he's expendable. Jerame Tuman is a solid #2 TE, but he's replaceable, which might explain why the Steelers had Browns' TE Aaron Shea in town. Deshea, on the other hand, is probably still the best cover corner, and he could play free safety if needed. Verron Haynes might be the most underrated player on the team, and perhaps more importantly, when it comes to dancing, he's got the skillz to pay da billz (sorry, I couldn't help it). Anyway ... )

Unless the Steelers offered Hope the veteran minimum, I'm not sure he's in any position to be "balking at offers." OK, that's overstating it -- Clark got a four-year, $7 million deal that included a $1.7 million signing bonus. Hope would've been well within his rights to turn down such an offer. But in all honestly, probably not too much more than that. As most of you know (since you guys actually reported the signings as they happened), a whole crapload of safeties signed deals with new teams this weekend while Hope sat at home honing his "watching paint dry" skills. In fact, he didn't even have a visit scheduled until yesterday (I think he's visiting the 49ers, Titans, and Dolphins). Anyway, here's the list of guys that teams thought were better fits for their systems than Hope (and here "better fit" could be physical skills, least ridiculous contract demands, or some combination of the two):
Name            2005  2006    YRS/TOTAL /BONUS
Adam Archuleta STL WAS 5 Y/$30 M/$10 M
Corey Chavous MIN STL 5 Y/$16 M/? M
Marlon McCree CAR SD 5 Y/$16 M/$6 M
Will Demps BAL NYG 5 Y/$12 M/$3 M
Marquand Manuel SEA GB 5 Y/$10 M/$2 M
Dexter Jackson TB CIN 4 Y/$7.6 M/? M
Ryan Clark WAS PIT 4 Y/$7 M/$1.7 M
Shaun Williams NYG CAR ? Y/? M/? M
Quentin Harris ARI NYG ? Y/? M/? M
As you look over this list, you automatically discount any contract coming out of Washington, because you're sure it's probably 150% over what Adam Archuleta went in asking for. Otherwise, these aren't big-time, cap-busting deals. I mean, Randle El makes more in bonus money than Marquand Manuel makes over the life of his new contract, for crimony's sake. So a couple of questions remain. First, did Hope's agent so misread the market that he cost his guy some dough just by immediately pricing himself out of most teams' salary range? Or does it have more to do with the fact that other teams around the league don't think Hope can play? Either way, it's very curious, especially since I was very high on him during the season, and was certainly banging the drum to have him re-signed. Hey, maybe Kevin Colbert knows what he's doing.

I really am going to miss Kimo. He had a great career in Pittsburgh and I hope he does exceedingly well in New York. I'm also glad Pittsburgh re-signed Keisel. It'll be interesting to see how he handles playing full-time. I know he battled injuries early in his career, but last season was pretty phenomenal. Two plays that stick out immediately are the playoff game in Denver when he had two humongous sacks, and the Monday Night game against the Ravens when he sacked Anthony Wright on the next to last play of the game as Baltimore was driving.

... Of course, we've been occupying ourselves until the draft by yapping about, well, the draft. Specifically, which position the Steelers should be most concerned with on Day 1. Actually all of the comments were well reasoned and got me thinking (and re-thinking) about who I actually think Pittsburgh should take in round one.

With Kimo gone and Keisel in, an obvious answer would be DE, especially since Aaron Smith will be 30 when the 2006 season rolls around. Another not-so-obvious answer (at least to me) would be to take a WR since we just lost Randle El and could potentially lose Quincy Morgan too. But then the question is, who do we take? An even more-not-so-obvious answer now that Ryan Clark is in the mix is safety. It was mentioned a couple of times yesterday that people aren't sold on the idea of taking a safety in the first round, especially since they're undervalued given the contracts established players have earned in the last four days. Fair enough. I would only point out that if Pittsburgh takes a player like Donte Whitner in the first round, they would basically be getting two-for-one. Some teams think Whitner can play CB in the NFL, and he's already the top-rated safety on some draft boards (that's if Michael Huff is considered a CB, of course). The upside with taking a player like Whitner -- even with the Clark signing -- is that he can play the slot effectively, as well as patrol centerfield. I'm not saying the Steelers should take a safety at 32, but if they did, it certainly wouldn't be the worse thing in the world. Alonzo Jackson -- now that's the worst thing in the world.

OK, I have plenty more to cover, but I'll save it for tomorrow, after what I can only guess will be another hectic day in free agency.