32 Questions: More Steelers maneuvering?
This week’s The Gameface will run on Saturday
Since becoming the first franchise to win six Super Bowls, the Steelers have had a blessedly boring offseason. Other than losing free-agent cornerback Bryant McFadden to Arizona and owner Dan Rooney to Ireland, the team’s championship core is intact.
By all reasonable expectations, this weekend’s NFL draft figures to be short on glitz for Pittsburgh as well. The Steelers hold the 32nd and last pick in the first round, when guys such as Mark Sanchez and Michael Crabtree will be long gone, and they figure to try to assemble a cast of role players and backups from a decidedly unsexy talent pool.
Being boring makes a lot of sense, but I hope general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin are open to the alternative – and not merely for entertainment value. A bold move for an immediate contributor could make the Steelers even more formidable in 2009, and there’s a lot riding on this upcoming season.
Heading into 2008, it was presumed that the Patriots had essentially clinched the mythical title of Team of the Decade. With three Super Bowl triumphs, a narrow defeat to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII (following the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history) and near-universal status as the favorites to win another title, the Pats were penciled in as the heirs to the ’60s Packers, ’70s Steelers, ’80s 49ers and ’90s Cowboys.
Then Tom Brady’s knee got torn up in the season opener, the Steelers won a second Super Bowl crown in four years and the conversation got interesting. If Pittsburgh repeats in ’09, it will have matched New England ring for ring, and we’ll be forced to start looking at more arcane elements of each team’s body of work.
Where they stand as of now:
• Overall record: The Pats (116-45) have a decided edge over the Steelers (104-53-1).
• Playoff appearances: tied, six apiece
• Head to head: 5-2 Patriots, including a pair of AFC championships on the road
• Cheating scandals: 1-0 New England, and here come the emails!
At the very least, the Steelers, by winning Super Bowl XLIV, could make a case for sharing the distinction. I’m sure Tomlin would tell you such imaginary feats are not on his mind, that all he wants to do is win for the sake of winning. Whatever – windows can be exceptionally narrow in the modern NFL (as I was just discussing with members of the Seahawks, the Steelers’ foes in Super Bowl XL), and if Pittsburgh’s players are serious about avoiding a letdown, what better way for their bosses to reinforce that message than by being aggressive in the draft?
Coming off their last title three years ago, the Steelers did just that, trading up seven spots in the first round (sending third- and fourth-round picks to the Giants) to snag wideout Santonio Holmes.
True, it didn’t help avoid a slide the following season when, in Bill Cowher’s final year as coach, Pittsburgh lost six of its first eight games and finished 8-8. Yet it certainly paid off in the final moments of February’s Super Bowl when Holmes provided the winning points by making one of the great catches in NFL history.
Whatever the Steelers do this weekend, I expect them to contend for another title in ’09 – as I do the Patriots, upon Brady’s return to the lineup, and the talented Titans, who throttled Pittsburgh late in the ’08 regular season en route to earning the AFC’s top playoff seed.
As with last year’s predraft edition of 32Q, I’m putting the defending champs at the top of my rankings as a sign of respect. After that, it’s a highly subjective guessing game – a sense of where I think these teams are after a few months of offseason maneuverings and a hint as to where I expect them to be come September:
2. Tennessee Titans: When Vince Young says, “If they want me to sit on the sideline and be there to watch the game then that is OK with me, but at the same time I am getting my checks and I am fine,” how violently is Jeff Fisher cringing?
16. Indianapolis Colts: Will Bill Polian allow new coach Jim Caldwell into the war room, and if so, will Caldwell have to bring donuts?
20. Miami Dolphins: If new owner Stephen Ross doesn’t keep the war room stocked with really good food, will Bill Parcells threaten to walk away from the team during the draft?
22. Minnesota Vikings: Is it just me, or have these guys suddenly become the least interesting team in the NFC North?
24. Seattle Seahawks: Remember when this team had too many quality wide receivers?
26. Oakland Raiders: Will Al Davis bust out the overhead projector to show his scouts and coaches some Darrius Heyward-Bey highlights?
28. New York Jets: If the Jets don’t take a quarterback in the first round, how loud will the boos be at Radio City Music Hall?
29. Denver Broncos: Yo, Josh McDaniels: Any 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterbacks available in this draft?
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Is there anywhere they don’t need help?
31. St. Louis Rams: Given their offensive-line struggles the past two seasons, wouldn’t it be surprising if they didn’t take a tackle?
32. Detroit Lions: How weird is it that most Lions fans are against the idea of picking a quarterback first overall?