Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Same ... But Better

And with this, the Steelers have wrapped things up in free agency. Okay, probably not, but re-signing Quincy Morgan certainly goes a long way in assuaging any concerns the front office (and more importantly, me) may have had with replacing Randle El, who after talking it over with the Lord, bolted for the Redskins.

So as it stands, the Steelers have re-signed eight players (nine if you include Shaun Nua) in addition to bringing in Ryan Clark to replace Chris Hope, and Rodney Bailey to add some depth to the defensive line. One of the ancillary benefits to the Morgan signing is that we can dismiss all the Eric Moulds-to-Pittsburgh talk (although I never really bought into it; Moulds is due $7 million next year, he's about the same age as Cowher, he quit on his team last year, he's not that good, and perhaps most importantly, PFT was reporting it).

Now the Steelers have their kickoff returner, and in all likelihood, their number 3 receiver. One of the intriguing things about Morgan is that for all the talk about this guy being a malcontent in Cleveland and Dallas, he showed none of it last season. I think a big part of that was having WR coach Bruce Arians on the staff (Arians was instrumental in drafting Morgan back when he was the offensive coordinator with the Browns and apparently they have a good relationship). I'm guessing playing with guys like Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger didn't hurt either.

So let's see, we have just over a month until the draft and I can't imagine Pittsburgh doing much else other than bringing prospects into town for workouts. I think it says a lot about the state of your home town team when they re-sign a bunch of solid role-players, sign a role player from another team to replace the starting free safety, and everybody's happy (I guess winning a Super Bowl will do that for you). Of course there's still time for another team to part with a first round pick in exchange for Ike Taylor (and as Eric pointed out, here's a great article by Joe Bendel -- yes, that Joe Bendel -- on Ike Taylor's off-season to date), but barring that, I think the Steelers are done. (I'm still holding out hope that they lock Ike up after the draft, but we'll just have to wait and see on that one.)

So look who's coming to dinner. That's right, the Steelers will host the Dolphins in the Thursday night opener ... on NBC. God that sounds weird. I remember back in the day when Merlin Olsen and Dick Engberg used to do the NBC games, but the last time that happened was 1989? (Jeebus, I feel old.) Now, it's ... well, I actually have no idea who it'll be, but I'm pretty sure it won't matter. Anyway, the last time these two teams met it was Roethlisberger's first start ... in the middle of a hurricane ... and just about everybody was sure the season was over after Tommy Maddox went down the week before. Yeah, a lot can change in 18 months.

It'll be interesting to see if Daunte Culpepper's actually ready to go by the opener. The last time the Steelers played the Vikings (prior to 2005) was in 2001 and Culpepper was hurt then too. (I mention it here not because of Culpepper, but because Kris Brown actually hit a 40-yard FG in Heinz Field, and given his Jean Van de Velde-esque meltdown during the 2001 season, it seems noteworthy).

And one more thing: it looks like the Steelers will open up the Cardinals' new stadium to start the preseason. Good thing that thing has a roof because Phoenix is August can get stuffy.

And there's even more Steelers news ...

Pittsburgh gets three compensatory picks next month, but unfortunately none of them were third round picks as we were speculating last week. Instead, the Steelers will end up with two fourths and one fifth; specifically, the 131st, 133rd and the 167th picks, to go along with seven other selections (I think ... were there picks leftover from last season that I'm missing?).

As Henigin points out, Pittsburgh now has three out of five picks to end the 4th round, and Countertorque makes the suggestion that the Steelers could stockpile picks in the 2007 draft if they think next year's crop might better suit their needs a year from now as opposed to just filling out the roster in 2006 just because they can.

Jim Russell wrote an interesting story last week about the Steelers' draft needs in 2007. (It's a pay site, so I won't quote it here, but essentially Porter, Aaron Smith, Faneca, Haggans and Polamalu's contract will be up; the Steelers will have some decisions to make, and if there's nobody they like in the 2006 draft to add depth -- and eventually start -- at these positions, it makes sense to wait. Plus, teams desperate to move up during the draft are more likely to overpay than, say, in the middle of June [unless of course, you're the Redskins, but you already knew that]). Just something else to think about -- you know, since the Steelers are basically done until late April.

Honestly, with the re-signing of Morgan and Haynes, I'm not even sure who Pittsburgh would trade up to get at this point. Things could shake out about a million different ways between now and April 29 so a lot could change, but unless Cowher falls in love during one of the private workouts, I can very easily see the Steelers standing pat, and maybe even trading picks for future considerations. For all the grief fans were giving Kevin Colbert the last few seasons, he certainly looks like he knows what he's doing, huh?

(And by the way, it's funny how nobody brings up the fact that Colbert brought in a lot of Lions players during his first few years in Pittsburgh. You know, Chidi, Kriewaldt, Hartings -- these guys were the butt of a lot of jokes during Steelers free agencies past, but not so much anymore. One more thing: maybe it's not the players in Detroit that are the problem. I mean, Pittsburgh can win with their players, so maybe it's ... I don't know ... the GM. Just putting that out there.)

... Related to the distribution of compensatory picks, yesterday somebody asked in the comments exactly why the Jets got a third round pick even though they only lost the likes of Anthony Becht, Jason Ferguson, LaMont Jordan and Kareem McKenzie. Well, according to Ian Whetstone of Scout.com, "Jordan's deal in Oakland has a high average annual value," and apparently money plays a large role in determining the compensation (which makes sense when it's put like that).

Either way, I tend to agree with GlennW and Eric about how this will play out from the Steelers' perspective.

... TMC, who day in and day out has some really interesting posts over at Steeler Nation, offers some insight into how Chris Hope's deal with the Titans breaks down. The good news -- other than the Steelers not breaking the bank on Hope -- is that given the lucrativeness of Hope's deal, Pittsburgh could be in line for a third round compensatory pick in 2007 (two things: yes, I made up the word, " lucrativeness," and how slow are things when we're talking about 2007 compensatory picks a full 12 months before they're announced?)

... I love when things like this happen because, well, it's really funny. Bottom line: Stealing is wrong. (And oh yeah, in the spirit of full disclosure, I ripped off the photo of Quincy Morgan at the top of this page from Steelers.com. I'm just mentioning it here so I'm not lumped in with Colin Cownerd as being a thief.)

... Last but not least: Dave Pinto is wrapping up his March pledge drive and if you check out his site on a semi-regular basis, I encourage you to support him. Blogging is his full time job and he's really good at what he does, so don't be afraid to throw some (electronic) coin his way. Plus, if things go according to plan, I can start charging here, if not to earn a living, at least to earn some beer money. You've been warned.