Stupidity breaks up Steelers’ dynamic duo

Less than 15 months ago, it would have been easy to imagine quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes) and wide receiver Santonio Holmes(notes) producing great stats and highlight-reel plays year after year, many of them in the playoffs.

Holmes and Roethlisberger following the Steelers' Super Bowl win.
(Matt Cashore/US Presswire)

The great throw and catch they combined on in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl XLIII win against the Arizona Cardinals last year should have been the beginning of the best friendship since Rick Blaine and Captain Renault.

Instead, through their combined stupidity, they are no more. Both are on their way to New York this week, but hardly to take in a show. Roethlisberger is going to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and get a serious warning to stop embarrassing the league and his team.

Holmes is on his way there to play for the New York Jets after being discarded for a fifth-round NFL draft pick (or roughly the equivalent of a bag of used jockstraps when it comes to real value in the NFL). Of course, Holmes won’t play until he’s also done with the four-game suspension Goodell gave him for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but that’s beside the point.

The point is this: From a pure football standpoint, Roethlisberger and Holmes were great together. Truly great. Their talents were great complements to one another and to an extent that few observers really understand.

As good friend, Steelers fan and statistical analyst Dutch Wydo pointed out shortly after Holmes was dealt Sunday, Holmes was one of the best receivers in the league at truly moving the chains.

Last year, Holmes accounted for 63 first downs out of his 79 receptions. That 79.7 percent mark of creating a first down was the second highest among the NFL’s top 50 pass catchers (the San Diego ChargersVincent Jackson(notes) was first at a stunning 85.3 percent of his 68 catches).

Even if you take away Holmes’ five touchdowns (touchdowns count as first downs), he was a master of creating a fresh set of downs. To break that down further, there were only seven of the top 50 in the league who topped the 75 percent mark. By comparison, the NFL’s leading receiver, Wes Welker(notes), created 71 first downs. But Welker did that on 123 receptions, meaning that only 57.7 percent of his catches went for first downs.

Of course, Holmes and Welker serve different purposes in their respective offenses. Holmes, particularly when combined with Roethlisberger, was more of a downfield threat. Welker is more of a de facto element of the New England Patriots running game.

Still, Holmes was clearly better at what he did than highly regarded teammates Hines Ward(notes), who turned only 58 percent of his catches into first downs, and Heath Miller(notes) (48 percent). The Steelers do have up-and-coming receiver Mike Wallace(notes), but to say that Wallace will easily replace Holmes is being generous. Plus, it just means that someone will have to step into Wallace’s role (suddenly Antwaan Randle El(notes) is more important than most Steelers fans thought).

What Holmes provided was a quick receiver who never quit on plays even as they broke down. His willingness to work to get open all the way to the last moment can’t be overstated. When combined with Roethlisberger’s pump-faking, extend-the-play-to-the-last-second style, Holmes’ ability was maximized.

Holmes, who turned his catches into 1,248 yards last season in his best year to date, was also well on his way to taking over for Ward, who just turned 34 and is playing on borrowed time. In other words, Holmes was soon going to be in a position to catch 100 passes a year or more from a quarterback who suits him extremely well.

Ultimately, Holmes has some qualities that make him a truly elite player. Sadly, his penchant for irresponsible behavior is undermining what could be a great career. The other sad part about this is that Roethlisberger may have indirectly forced the Steelers to part with Holmes, who is going into the final season of his five-year contract, faster than they wanted. While it is impossible to quantify, the fact that Roethlisberger got in trouble just before Holmes’ latest shenanigans, it’s hard not to believe that Steelers management is getting a little weary of bad publicity these days.

Since winning the Super Bowl, the Steelers have had to deal with two sexual misconduct allegations against Roethlisberger and Holmes’ recent incident. This is on top of missing the playoffs last season.

In other words, bad news eventually begets a reaction. In this case, Holmes’ lengthy history of silliness away from the field was no longer tolerable, even if his play on the field was outstanding. Had there not been other issues, perhaps he would have survived that.

QUICK SLANTS

Roethlisberger punishment

It would be an oversight not to discuss Roethlisberger’s potential punishment from Goodell even after avoiding charges in Georgia on Monday.

While Roethlisberger hasn’t faced criminal charges in either of his cases in Nevada or Georgia, it’s completely fair to say that his judgment is, at best, questionable. Regardless of whether he did anything truly wrong, he is clearly willing to involve people in his life without truly having any measure of what might happen.

Is it fair to blame him for that? Welcome to an endless loop of a debate.

Is it fair to say he has embarrassed the NFL and the Steelers? There’s no debate about that, at all.

Thus, Roethlisberger deserves to have something happen to him. A $500,000 fine or perhaps a one-game suspension might be appropriate. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Monday that Roethlisberger may be asked to go into alcohol treatment.

Rumors of alcohol treatment started to swirl Sunday in Pittsburgh. That day, a source close to Roethlisberger strongly denied that he was going to go into treatment.

“If you report that, you’ll be wrong,” the source said.

Fair enough, but the bottom line is that something needs to happen to Roethlisberger. While the accusations against him aren’t as lengthy as the list of problems Pacman Jones or Tank Johnson(notes) got into, they are nonetheless serious. Moreover, Roethlisberger is in a higher-profile position. His actions resonate much deeper in the sports-loving community.

Thus, he needs to be far more careful. To this point, he hasn’t been.

This and that

Bryant missed most of last season for Oklahoma State.
(Paul Jasienski/US Presswire)

If some team is truly interested in drafting wide receiver Dez Bryant, they should use his history of irresponsible behavior against him right away. Bryant is being represented by agent Eugene Parker, who is one of the best in the history of the contract business but also has a lengthy history of holding out players, including Michael Crabtree(notes) last season. Bryant, considered the best receiver in the draft, could go anywhere from the top 10 picks to somewhere in the 20s. Parker acknowledged that two weeks ago. If Bryant does start to slide, a team interested in him would be smart to call Parker as the draft progresses and get at least an assurance that there will be no holdout or, at best, a contract agreed to as the draft went on. This type of tactic has happened numerous times in the past, including in 1996 when then-Miami coach Jimmy Johnson got defensive tackle Daryl Gardener to agree to sign on time for training camp.

It will be an odd day in the football universe if Jason Taylor(notes) ends up with New York after years of clashing with Jets fans. More than a few times, Taylor has tossed humorous insults at Jets fans before games, stoking the fire of a longtime hate-hate relationship. That said, Taylor desperately wants to win a championship and getting to New York would fit with his post-career plan of getting into show biz.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010