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DeepSouth
01-04-2005, 11:28 AM
I found this ariticle amusing. The Steelers finished 6-10 in 2003. Some of this stuff sounds familiar to what Chiefs fans are thinking about the 2004 season. Cowher ended up firing his defensive coordinator (Tim Lewis) and their WR coach (Kenny Jackson). I still have hopes that the Chiefs can turn it around for 2005.
http://www.pghsports.com/psr0401/04010109.html

By Jerry DiPaola

For weeks late in a season of despair and misery, Steelers' coach Bill Cowher refused to talk about his plans for the 2004 season.

Even when the team had been eliminated from playoff contention in mid-December with just two meaningless games left on the schedule, he had no taste for preparing young players for next season.

The focus, rightly, was on the season at hand. He coached and prepared for those games with the same single-minded approach that has marked his 12-year career as Steelers' coach. The idea was to win those games - not to satisfy fans' curiosity about under-utilized rookie pass rusher Alonzo Jackson or veteran backup quarterback Charlie Batch.

"You don't have a choice," he said. "It is an obligation that you have to this football team and this organization and to the game itself."

But now the season is over. The Steelers will be absent from the NFL's postseason tournament for the fourth time in six years - but the first time in three years - when wild-card playoff games get underway Jan. 3.

First up are a few days off and a series of one-on-one meetings with every player on the roster. Then, Cowher will sit down with team president Art Rooney II, chairman Dan Rooney, director of football operations Kevin Colbert, salary-cap specialist Omar Khan and other front-office officials and discuss what went wrong in 2003 and how to fix it in 2004.

And whether it's actually repairable in one off-season.

There is so much to fix that the process could take more than one year.

The Steelers have holes or developing holes in almost every area of their team, including wide receiver, which has been a strength the past three years, and especially in the secondary and along the offensive line. A marquee pass rusher and running back wouldn't hurt, either.



Free Agency

The first order of business will be to determine if any of the unrestricted free agents are worth re-signing and bringing back to the cap at a higher charge. That should be a short meeting because only two starters - strong safety Mike Logan and fullback Dan Kreider - plus backup outside linebacker Clark Haggans and long snapper Mike Schneck are eligible to become UFAs.

Although no decision has been made on those players' futures - the free-agency signing period doesn't begin until March - it's safe to assume that Logan, Kreider, Haggans and Schneck won't be among the team's highest priorities in the off-season.

Logan, who was a regular starter in only the latest of his three seasons in Pittsburgh, was phased out of the passing-down defenses late in the year, in favor of second-year safety Chris Hope.

Kreider is little more than a blocking back. Although he's a good one, he had only seven carries and nine receptions through 15 games.

Haggans, the special-teams captain, started two games while Joey Porter was recovering from his gunshot wound, but he was not a big part of the pass-rush schemes this season. He had only one sack after recording six last year.

Schneck is one of the game's best long snappers, but he probably would accept any reasonable long-term contract proposal put in front of him.

Starting right guard Keydrick Vincent and special-teams ace Chidi Iwuoma can become restricted free agents. The other RFAs are backups: offensive linemen Chukky Okobi and Mathias Nkwenti, defensive end Rodney Bailey and nose tackle Chris Hoke.

Vincent filled in when All-Pro left guard Alan Faneca moved to left tackle to replace Marvel Smith, and Okobi could be the eventual replacement for 31-year-old center Jeff Hartings. Nkwenti did not dress for a game in his first two years in the league and played in only one game this season before going on injured reserve Oct. 22 with a back injury that required surgery.

Kicker Jeff Reed has no contract for 2004, but with only two years in the league, he has no freedom of movement. After Reed's late-season slump, the Steelers have to decide if they want him for their kicker of the future, and then they will determine how rich his contract offer should be. No matter what that decision will be, expect Reed to have serious competition in training camp.

What to do with their free agents is the easy part for the Steelers. The tougher questions involve the many expected veterans who could get released before next training camp. That will change the face of the team significantly.



Roster Decisions

The Steelers missed the playoffs with several players earning millions of dollars each, including cornerback Dewayne Washington, who was benched for poor play at mid-season. Washington had the highest annual salary in 2003 ($3.75 million). Others with high salaries include running back Jerome Bettis ($2.75 million), outside linebacker Jason Gildon ($2.3 million), Hartings ($3.7 million), cornerback Chad Scott ($3.46 million) and running back Amos Zereoue ($1.462 million, with a raise to $2.2 million due this year). In addition, tight end Mark Bruener is due $2.395 million in '04.

Most of those players will be released or offered pay cuts in order to remain on the team. Bettis and Hartings could be two of those who could stay at wage reductions, if they agree. Bruener's pay was slashed in '03 from more than $2 million to $800,000. The Rooneys don't like to restructure contracts in that manner, but they could make another exception in the case of Bettis, their leading ground gainer.

The problem with cutting those players is that each of them is signed at least through 2005. If those players are released, their remaining pro-rated signing bonuses accelerate into this year's cap, meaning there will be charges to the cap for players no longer on the team. Dan Rooney is too wise a businessman to let that happen too often.

Nonetheless, it's a way to open up cap room that the Steelers will need if they are interested in making three major transactions that probably are necessary at this point.

Linebackers Kendrell Bell and James Farrior and wide receiver Plaxico Burress can become free agents after the 2004 season, and the Steelers would be wise to prevent them from hitting the open market where their price tags will undoubtedly skyrocket. Bell has slumped the past two years after an outstanding rookie season and Burress' receiving numbers fell off from 2002, but neither player will come cheap. Farrior, however, is the team's leading tackler and will probably want more than the $1.4 million he is scheduled to earn in 2004.

Plus, quarterback Tommy Maddox probably won't be satisfied earning his scheduled $750,000 next year, if he's still the starter. He has refused to discuss his contract since making minor noise about it last June, but he was expecting a pay raise at that time and his mind probably hasn't changed after throwing for more than 3,000 yards this season.



Help Wanted

The Steelers need help on the offensive line, running back, the secondary and at the key pass-rushing positions. Furthermore, what if the team decides that Maddox, 32, and Batch, who hasn't been a regular starter since 2001, need help solidifying the quarterback position? What if Burress can't be re-signed? Is Antwaan Randle El your second receiver?

After plucking only five players out of the college talent pool last year, the Steelers need to make the most of their selections this year.

They will pick in the top half of the first round, increasing the pressure to make the right choice. Before he drafted Burress with the eighth overall pick in 2000, Colbert said a player drafted that high must eventually become a star. Missing on a choice of that magnitude would set back the rebuilding process a full year.

The Steelers also must not ignore the free-agent market where they have found good starters such as Kevin Greene, Will Wolford, Wayne Gandy, Hartings, Farrior, Logan, Washington and defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen in recent seasons.

Rooney is normally at a disadvantage in such quests because he refuses to overpay for players who are coming from other teams, but veteran free agents might provide the quickest fix.

Especially at cornerback, where Washington may get released and Scott is coming off a poor season which ended with him on the injured reserve list after hand surgery.

The Steelers were one of the sorriest teams in the NFL in 2003, getting blown away by 21, 17, 20 and 16 points by Kansas City, Tennessee, Cleveland and San Francisco. Worse, the Browns and 49ers were not even playoff teams.

"It has been frustrating throughout the course of the season," said Cowher, who has had major power over personnel as well as coaching matters since Tom Donahoe was fired as director of football operations four years ago.

This is not the first time the Steelers have found themselves rebuilding. In 1998, they were 7-9 and followed that up with 6-10 and 9-7 seasons that did not end with playoff berths. The NFL landscape is littered with teams that have made quick recoveries, including recent Super Bowl champions Baltimore, St. Louis and New England.

The line between good and bad teams gets cloudier every year.

"I don't think we're far away from having a good football team," Cowher said, "just like I think some good football teams aren't far away from having a tough year. The league is that fine right now. So much of it is momentum and confidence and getting on a roll."

But good players are needed for that to happen. Right now, the Steelers don't have nearly enough of those.

KCTitus
01-04-2005, 11:45 AM
Perspective sometimes helps...I appreciate the irony in the number of responses this article has garnered.

DeepSouth
01-04-2005, 11:52 AM
Perspective sometimes helps...I appreciate the irony in the number of responses this article has garnered.
I'm sure there were Steeler fans calling for Cowher's head just like Chiefs fans are calling for Vermeil's.

Parts of the article insinuate that it can't be fixed in one year. That there are two many holes, too many players needed.

I guess Cowher and the Steelers proved them wrong.

Count Zarth
01-04-2005, 11:55 AM
Cowher has been to the playoffs multiple times AND THE FREAKING SUPER BOWL.

There's no comparison as far as I'm concerned.

KCTitus
01-04-2005, 11:59 AM
Cowher has been to the playoffs multiple times AND THE FREAKING SUPER BOWL.

There's no comparison as far as I'm concerned.

no comparison to who?

KCTitus
01-04-2005, 12:00 PM
I'm sure there were Steeler fans calling for Cowher's head just like Chiefs fans are calling for Vermeil's.

Parts of the article insinuate that it can't be fixed in one year. That there are two many holes, too many players needed.

I guess Cowher and the Steelers proved them wrong.

Yeah, it's interesting...in Pitt's case, Rothlisberger turned out to be the catalyst that turned their season around.

If KC could find something like that on the defense, this team would be wholly different.

DeepSouth
01-04-2005, 12:04 PM
Cowher has been to the playoffs multiple times AND THE FREAKING SUPER BOWL.

There's no comparison as far as I'm concerned.

The article stated the Steelers missed the playoffs four out of six years.

Vermiel has been to the Super Bowl.

What the hell are you talking about?

Mile High Mania
01-04-2005, 12:04 PM
It just goes to show that in this era of the NFL... unless you are a fan of the Browns, Cardinals and similar teams... it's not always as good nor as bad as it seems.

Just keep it all in perspective.

The thing that the Chiefs' decision makers can no longer distance from is defense... after 3 years of horrid play, I can't imagine that there won't be drastic measures taken towards that side of the ball.

Offensively, no major concerns unless you are looking at improving your receivers wisely via FA, there's no need to dump money just to dump it. A solid WR can be acquired for reasonable $ to work in this offense.

It's all about that secondary and a couple of other positions on that defense.

Most will laugh at the notion, but I wonder what KC could get in return for Holmes. Sure, it sounds like blasphemy, but make LJ the starter - resign Blaylock as depth if the $ isn't too high and draft another RB somewhere around R4.

Holmes could definitely bring a quality starting defensive play maker and likely a R3 pick if the situation is right.

Holmes is a badass ... but, he's on the wrong side of 30 and injuries are something that appear to be unavoidable. LJ has proven he can rock in this offense, so think outside the box.

DeepSouth
01-04-2005, 12:04 PM
Yeah, it's interesting...in Pitt's case, Rothlisberger turned out to be the catalyst that turned their season around.

If KC could find something like that on the defense, this team would be wholly different.
Exactly.

Brock
01-04-2005, 12:05 PM
If they go one and out in the playoffs, it's a moot point.

ChiTown
01-04-2005, 12:05 PM
Perspective sometimes helps...I appreciate the irony in the number of responses this article has garnered.

Where's the irony?

;)

HC_Chief
01-04-2005, 12:05 PM
Hmm, Pitt had an EXCELLENT receiving corps, a decent OL, and a solid defense.

They needed a RB and improved QB play.

They made a MOVE in free agency to OBTAIN an improvement at RB (Staley) and had some luck with Roethlesberger.

KC has a great O, and the most putrid _efense in the league. Let's see what MOVES KC makes to OBTAIN replacement talent.

My guess, using past offseasons as a reference, is KC will make a couple of token personnel moves and improve just enough to compete, but still come up short.

Mile High Mania
01-04-2005, 12:07 PM
The article stated the Steelers missed the playoffs four out of six years.

Vermiel has been to the Super Bowl.

What the hell are you talking about?

I think he's just comparing Cowher's time in Pitt to Vermeil's time in KC... Vermeil has only done better than .500 once in 4 seasons with KC.

KCTitus
01-04-2005, 12:20 PM
Hmm, Pitt had an EXCELLENT receiving corps, a decent OL, and a solid defense.

They needed a RB and improved QB play.

They made a MOVE in free agency to OBTAIN an improvement at RB (Staley) and had some luck with Roethlesberger.

Luck is right...the draft is a crap shoot. While they did go after Staley, he wasnt the workhorse down the stretch, it was the washed up RB they tried to replace that was getting it done.

As for Pitt's receiving corps, it wasnt excellent until they had someone that could get them the ball. Burress was on his way out prior to this season because Maddox/Stewart wouldnt get him the ball.

Cochise
01-04-2005, 12:22 PM
Did anyone watch them at all last year? They were freaking awful. Worse than we were this year probably, at least we were losing close games instead of getting hammered like they did at Arrowhead last year.

HC_Chief
01-04-2005, 12:24 PM
Maddox was serviceable. Burress was on his way out because he's a bit of a head case.

Staley had an injury which forced Bettis into a more prominent role than they wanted him to have. The running game was shredding with Staley carrying, then Bettis battering on the goal-line (sucked for my FFL team tho').

They had some luck at QB and RB, which are the most significant positions on O. The rest of the team however, was already solid.

KC is set on O (need a replacement for Morton), and completely screwed on D. I don't see the two as comparalbe. They made moves to improve in the offseason, KC stood pat with the worst defensive unit in the league and wideouts who choked away a home playoff game.

Count Zarth
01-04-2005, 12:28 PM
The article stated the Steelers missed the playoffs four out of six years.

Vermiel has been to the Super Bowl.

What the hell are you talking about?

Vermeil as a Chiefs coach vs Cowher as Steelers coach.

Cowher's teams have been to the playoffs 8 or 9 times in his tenure as Steelers head coach.

Mile High Mania
01-04-2005, 12:34 PM
Teams are starting to drastically flip flop from one year to the next, going from 6-10 to 10-6 and vice versa.

Sheduling based on record is partly to blame.

So, as a fan... don't pay too much attention to what one team did a year ago and try to apply it to your team's situation.

So many other things factor in ... schedule, age of players, FAs your team will lose, etc.