Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What the hell is happening with the Steelers?

Finesse: Earlier this morning I did a post about whether the Steelers should cut ties with All-Pro linebacker James Harrison in light of his recent comments about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (To be fair, a lot of what he says is really funny and he throws some red meat to Steeler fans with the accusation that the Patriots were stealing signals in the '04 AFC title game. Love that.). The topic has sparked a lot of passionate opinion on all sides; thus, we have to delve into this a little deeper. So, Artistry, what say you? Should the Steelers look to get rid of James Harrison and, looking at the bigger picture, what the f**k has been going on with the Steelers organization these past 4 years?

Artistry: Let's take these one at time. First, James Harrison. His inflammatory comments get a lot of play, it seems like his propensity for violence may not be limited to the football field, and he reportedly trashes his own teammates - notably Ben Roethisberger - in the new Men's Journal article. But get rid of him? No. You don't cut the cord on someone merely for being outspoken. Let me channel Ron Cook for a second: This is America, remember? I'm confident that there are plenty of morons, miscreants, and a--holes on every team in football, and we shouldn't be so offended every time somebody gives us evidence of that. Now, the Rooneys may well decide at some point that James Harrison is a liability, that some off-field controversy outweighs his contributions between the lines. We're not close to that point. He's not a (convicted) criminal. If you read his blog, he can actually be pretty thoughtful. He mostly just pushes buttons, though I reserve the right to come down harder on him once I see this alleged gay slur. Now, your second question is much more troubling to me. It's never a punter or backup lineman stirring up offseason controversy for the Steelers (though sometimes backup tight-ends and kickers cross-swords in the parking lot). It's the team captains. It's Hall of Fame level guys like Hines Ward, Harrison and Roethlisberger. It's major contributors like Santonio Holmes and Rashard Mendenhall and Jeff Reed. Is there a leadership vacuum here?

Finesse: I don't actually believe that the Steelers should let Harrison go because he is too good of a player and plays his ass off on the field. But it's worth asking the question, because the constant distraction caused by Harrison and the players you mentioned is getting, well, very annoying. There's no other way to put it. I'd just like it to stop so that I can watch ESPN NFL Countdown without the Steelers' "image" being discussed for 2 segments (joking, I'd never ever watch that show). As to whether there is a leadership vacuum, I'd say yes, there probably is. The first potential "leader" to look at is Tomlin who, while we love almost everything about him, has essentially seen all his best players do something embarrassing at various points during his tenure. Obviously he can't go to Georgia and take the keys away from Hines Ward (in fact, no one from the Steelers' organization should ever go back to Georgia), and he can't dive in front of Cedrick Wilson's  girlfriend. But is he letting the inmates run the asylum? Most of the veterans on the Steelers, for as fantastic and successful as they have been, are almost unbearable to listen to. They're arrogant with a persecution complex -- a deadly combination, that Tomlin may not perpetuate, but does enable. Of course, it doesn't help when your other supposed leader -- your star QB -- is the biggest culprit of them all.

Artistry: Go easy on Ben. He's a family man now. Besides, Harrison's comment about the quarterback is probably the one that will raise the most eyebrows:
“Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain’t that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does.”
Oh boy. Looks like someone just excused himself from the Band of Brothers. It's hard for me to put any of this on Tomlin. If anything, he's tougher on the players than Bill Cowher ever was. You hit it on the nose by suggesting we may be just looking at a bad batch of guys. We've got a potentially homophobic rage-a-holic linebacker, a possibly reformed but still largely insufferable alleged sexual predator QB, an alleged drunk driver, and a Bin Laden apologist leading the charge out of the Heinz Field tunnel. Lucky we cut the guy who destroyed the paper towel dispenser. Otherwise, we might have a PR issue.


  1. Hey fellas,

    I like and agree with what you guys are preaching. Nothing is more true than the fact that Harrison is just too freaking good to cut ties with him. But as soon as he starts to slip, I would not be surprised to see the team trade him for a mid-to-late-round pick (or just cut his 33 year old ass).

    However, the point I think needs to be stressed here is that NFL teams, more than any other teams in professional sports, are deeply affected by off the field issues and locker room controversies. As a Redskins loyalist I can tell you that the louder your team is in the off-season, the more likely they are to struggle when play gets under way. Players who have tumultuous off-seasons tend to be affected by their issues, the media, and the team dynamic during the regular season. One instance might not be a big deal, but put together 3 or 4 or more small to medium episodes, and you've got a potential 4-12 season on the way.

    I believe the Steelers are too talented and play with too much grit to end up at the bottom of the AFC North. However, if these shenanigans continue, the team will have to cut ties with their more troublesome player, or else the integrity of the organization will be lost and you will end up like the Bengals, Raiders, and dare I say Redskins.

  2. Great comment, Skones. It's one of those situations where no single incident is so bad that the Steelers have to cut ties (although the more I think about what Harrison said about Big Ben and Mendenhall, the more serious it becomes), but when you look at the entire picture of Harrison and THEN add in all of the stuff with the other players, you wonder when something has to be done.

    The good thing is that the Steelers management is a lot wiser and more stable than those other teams you mentioned - in fact, those three teams might have the three worst owners in the NFL. We have faith the Rooneys, Colbert, and Tomlin will sort this all out.

  3. A couple things that blew me away from Harrison's comments were when he called Mendenhall a "fumble machine" and told Big Ben to stop trying to be like Peyton Manning cause "you ain't that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does."

    1) Mendenhall had 2 fumbles in the regular season. With 324 rushes last season and 2 fumbles, that put Mendy at #3 in the NFL for lowest % of fumbles per rush, just after AP and the Burner. Ok, yes Mendy did have a costly fumble in the Superbowl, but calling him out as a fumblemachine is a joke and bush. Moreover, who calls out a teammate for an unfortunate play? It's not like Mendy forgot the play call, had a stupid personal foul, or wasn't playing hard. Harrison is digging himself a hole and setting up the season for a divided locker room.

    2) One thing players never do is call another player out for getting paid. Everyone knows an NFL player's longevity is short and can end at any time. Every single time a player holds out for money or goes to a different team, the other players never question that decision. Harrison has crossed a line by basically calling Big Ben overpaid. You don't mess with that.

    Both Mendy and Big Ben say they're ok and cool with Harrison's comments, but let's be honest, a pro athlete's contract is a personal and sensitive matter. Big Ben is taking the comment personally, whether or not he admits it. But he knows that he'll outlast Harrison in the NFL and so he can deal. But let's look at Mendy. He's young and stupid. Being called out by NFL Defensive Player of the Year is going to get to him. He says it doesn't, but then he posted a link to his stats from last year on his twitter account to show he didn't fumble much. Running Backs fear fumbling like Chuck Knoblauch feared throwing a man out at first base. 90% of the time it's half mental. Or something like that. All im saying is watch out for Mendy next year. I'd put my money on the over on fumbles.