Captain Pantload Watch: John Harris Can’t Quit Ike

The usual disclaimer: apologies to Fire Joe Morgan for hacky-ing up what they did so well. If the NFL labor issues had been resolved last year — like Ike’s contract should have been (see what I did there?) — I wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of giving the Trib’s John Harris the FJM treatment, Captain Pantload Watch style.

In his latest column, Harris again makes the case for why the Steelers should re-sign Taylor. Like anybody — the organization included — doesn’t think that’s a grand idea.  Alright, let’s take a look at his argument. (The original column appears below in bold, my comments follow, unbolded.) My apologies in advance to everyone but Harris.

The Steelers want their cornerbacks to play like Ike Taylor, look like Ike Taylor and run like Ike Taylor.

That’s obviously what coach Mike Tomlin had in mind when he said new cornerback Cortez Allen, a fourth-round draft pick from The Citadel, is a “height, weight and speed prospect along the lines of Ike Taylor physically.”

Tomlin stretched the truth, but it made for a good sound bite.

Technically, yes, Tomlin lied. Cortez Allen is listed at 6-1, 197 pounds, Ike Taylor is 6-2, 195. Ike apparently ran a sub-4.2 at his pro day eight years ago; Allen managed a 4.5 at the combine in February.

Immediately after cornerback Keenan Lewis was drafted in the third round two years ago, former secondary coach Ray Horton parroted Tomlin’s words: “You would probably compare him to another Ike Taylor.”

To be fair, the Steelers had just drafted Lewis. What did you want Horton to say? “This guy is garbage. He’s fast, which I know will make John Harris happy, but he’s nothing like Ike once you get past the size, body type and skin color.”

If only the Steelers’ other cornerbacks performed like Taylor. Lewis is close to being considered a bust.

Nobody disagrees with this, not even Lewis.

Unless the Steelers acquire another cornerback who runs a 4.17 in the 40 as Taylor did at his pro day, never misses a game because of injury and starts in three Super Bowls in six years, their fruitless search for his successor will continue.

Using this logic, the Steelers shouldn’t re-sign Taylor since he only managed a 4.26 in the 40 two years ago. And generally speaking, people get slower as they age. Unless you’re Benjamin Button … which gives me a great idea for your next column.

Allen and third-rounder Curtis Brown of Texas ran in the 4.5 range in the 40 at the NFL Combine. That’s not quite Taylor speed.

Jairus Byrd ran 4.68 at his 2009 pro day. He had nine picks his rookie season. Ike got career interception No. 9 in the last game of his seventh season. Running fast doesn’t magically bless you with ball skills. Evidently, that wasn’t obvious.

If an appeals court in St. Louis rules in favor of NFL players, Taylor could become a free agent as early as this week.

So would Shaun Suisham. He’s not fast, but he scored more points than Ike last season.

So, why are the Steelers searching for an imitation of Taylor when they have the original?

BECAUSE IKE WON’T PLAY FOREVER. He’s 31 (Happy birthday, by the way, Ike!). If we’re lucky, he’ll be a really good NFL corner for another four seasons. But after that, guess what? The Steelers will have to replace him. They could wait until the moment Ike announces his retirement, or, you know, plan ahead for that eventuality. Common sense favors planning ahead. Then again, common sense doesn’t have Ike’s agent on speed dial telling it what to say.

Instead of re-signing Taylor last offseason as the team normally does with key players entering the final year of their contract, the Steelers gambled.

Big mistake.

Last offseason Ike had a year remaining on his contract. The Steelers re-signed Casey Hampton and Ryan Clark, who were both free agents. I suppose Colbert could have just given Taylor whatever he wanted and Pittsburgh wouldn’t have to worry about him now.

Of course, they would have to move Ziggy Hood to nose tackle and pray Aaron Smith can make it through a season without his arm falling off. Oh, and Ryan Mundy would be the Steelers’ starting free safety because Hampton and Clark would have gone unsigned. OR: sign Casey and Ryan last year and worry about Ike this year since, you know, that’s how the organization has handled free agents forever. The Steelers somehow managed three trips to the Super Bowl in six seasons using this personnel philosophy. Maybe there’s something to it.

By allowing Taylor to become an unrestricted free agent, the Steelers must bid against other suitors and meet Taylor’s price — bad business for an organization that prides itself on calling the shots.

Yes. That’s how free agency works. In 2004, the Steelers outbid 31 other teams for Duce Staley. In retrospect, that was a bad move. Two years before that, they outbid 31 other teams for James Farrior. Turns out, that was a swell move.

As for Steelers free agents who have left Pittsburgh and gone on to great things — let’s see, hmm. Plax walked after the ’04 season and the Steelers won the Super Bowl. Chris Hope left a year later and Ryan Clark hasn’t missed a beat since. Joey Porter was released prior to the ’07 season and the team drafted LaMarr Woodley. Okay, I’ll give you Mike Vrabel. The Steelers couldn’t find a role for him and he went to have a pretty good career in New England. Also worth pointing out: he left Pittsburgh 11 years ago.

Potential Taylor suitors Carolina, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis and the New York Jets didn’t draft a cornerback in the first round.

Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one surprised that the Panthers didn’t take a cornerback with their first-overall pick. They were the worst team in football last year because they were lacking a quality NFL CB. Brilliant.

Cornerbacks aren’t protecting Jay Cutler, Tony Romo or Mike Vick in Chicago, Dallas and Philly; nobody on Earth had the Broncos taking a CB with the No. 2 pick — and more than that, they had bigger needs among their front seven; and in a shocking development, the Vikings weren’t sold on Joe Webb as their QB of the future. The Jets have DARRELLE REVIS. They drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round a year ago. Oh, and Cromartie — like Ike — is a free agent. I’ll give you the Texans; their secondary was deplorable last season. So from your eight-team list, one team has a legit need at cornerback.

Here’s another list created using a random city generator: Foxboro, Buffalo, San Diego, Seattle, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Cleveland and New Orleans. They didn’t draft cornerbacks in the first round, either.

That’s telling, according to new Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake, who called Taylor “one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league. I hope we get him signed.”

Or maybe it’s what happens when teams have to fill one of the other 20 non-cornerback positions on the roster.

Lake said the lack of NFL-ready cornerbacks in the draft didn’t help the Steelers in their search for Taylor’s potential replacement. The Steelers selected cornerbacks in the third and fourth rounds.

These are facts. This column could use more of them.

“At the very elite level of cornerbacks, the talent was even shallower,” Lake said. “As you got in the second and third round, you saw teams really go after corners, especially in the third round. That’s where people saw the most depth at the position.”

The Steelers are in a bind. They have to re-sign Taylor, even if it means overpaying him. They wouldn’t have had to overpay if they had re-signed him a year ago.

Great news: several Pittsburgh media members are hearing that the Steelers will likely re-sign Ike, who would like to stay in town. How do I know this? Because you told me in a column you wrote last fall.

“I don’t want to play anywhere else, just knowing what we could be. Pittsburgh feels like home,” said Taylor, a fourth-round draft pick in 2003. “I’m playing for a Hall of Fame defensive coordinator (Dick LeBeau). I don’t want to go anywhere else, but it’s all on them.”

Director of football operations Kevin Colbert discussed the state of Steelers cornerbacks without Taylor:

“It’s an unknown. A lot of guys haven’t played a lot. You can look at it either way. Will they or will they not produce once given the opportunity? You feel good about the potential. But that’s the same thing we’re taking about with any draft pick. We’re not going to know until they get extensive playing time. If a kid hasn’t had the opportunity to prove himself, we’re just guessing.”

More facts = less bullshit. This is a strategy worth pursuing.

Makes you wonder who are the real stars on the team. If Taylor is so important to the defense, why did the Steelers permit him to become a free agent?

Just a hunch, but in terms of on-field performance, the real stars are, in order: Ben, Hines, Mike Wallace, Heath and Maurkice on offense; Troy, Deebo, Ike, LaMarr, and Casey on defense. No longer any need to wonder. I just told you. And the reason the Steelers didn’t re-sign Ike is because HE HAD A YEAR LEFT ON HIS CONTRACT.  If they had signed Ike, they wouldn’t have been able to sign Casey, Ryan and a handful of free agents last offseason. Please tell me you can comprehend how this works.

“A lot of teams realize if you prevent the receiver from catching the ball, you don’t have to worry about interceptions,” said Dave-Te’ Thomas of Scouting Services Inc., which produces the NFL Draft Report for 27 of the 32 teams. “But you do need that one big playmaker back there. When Troy Polamalu got hurt last year, they had Taylor but they didn’t have anyone on the other side. It put more pressure on Taylor because the other cornerback wasn’t covering his assignment the way he should. At least a third of Taylor’s plays were out of his territory.”

Oh, god. We have our first Dave-Te’ sighting. The same guy Harris quoted extensively in his last PR piece, presumably dictated to him by Ike’s agent. Dave-Te’ also proclaimed on a pre-draft podcast with Steelers Depot that the Steelers had serious needs at cornerback, and then announced that because Roethlisberger was an immobile quarterback they should take Danny Watkins with the 31st pick.

So is David-Te’ implying that Ike’s not that important? Or that Pittsburgh might have other needs, too? Like, say, Carolina, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis and the New York Jets all had other needs?

The Steelers are built for the next two seasons. Their future is now.

Other movie quotes that could work here:

I feel the need, the need for speed.
I love the smell of napalm in the morning.
Stay on target.
You’ll get nothing and like it.

As key players such as James Farrior (36), Hines Ward (35), Aaron Smith (35), Casey Hampton (33), James Harrison (32), Brett Keisel (32), Ryan Clark (31) and Polamalu (30) are phased out, they will take the heart of the team with them.

If No. 24 leaves, the Steelers’ rebuilding process could begin sooner than anyone thinks.

Right. There are currently no contingencies for Taylor leaving in free agency. And there is no correlation between the Steelers drafting two cornerbacks last weekend and the fact the Ike isn’t currently under contract. (Or that Pittsburgh has now taken five cornerbacks in the last three drafts.) If Taylor bolts, Colbert will be left standing there holding his willy because he didn’t see this coming. Thanks for the heads-up.

Even with the next Ike Taylor on the roster.

I have no idea what this means, which seems like a fitting way to end things.

This entry was posted in 2011 steelers, Captain Pantload Watch, Offseason and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Cols714

    What a tool.
    Of the players he mentions, James Farrior (36), Hines Ward (35), Aaron Smith (35), Casey Hampton (33), James Harrison (32), Brett Keisel (32), Ryan Clark (31) and Polamalu (30)

    We have replacements for Farrior (Sylvester), Ward (Sanders), Smith (Hood), Keisel (Heyward).

    Of the others, Harrison is signed for a while and we have Worilds, Clark just resigned last year, and Polamalu is pretty much a once in a decade player so we can’t replace him. He’s also only 30 and will hopefully be around 4-5 more years.

    • Ted

      That is a very optimistic assessment. However, you are right about Troy except that I would call a once in a millennium player who is the key to our defense. He plays healthy and we are the best defense in the NFL. He plays hurt and we are more vulnerable and less explosive. He is sidelined and we are not very good (see end of 2009 season). Unfortunately, his body is breaking down and I doubt he has another good 4-5 years, although I hope you are right.

      I could see everything you right turning out true and I am stoked about the future of our young back-up DEs. That said, Aaron Smith is probably the best 3-4 defensive end in NFL history, since that defense has essentially be just just in the past 20 years. Thus, while I think they will be very good, I doubt Hood or Heyward will be as good. I am very high on Sylvester, but right now he is just a raw, special-teams player who was a fifth-round pick last year. Calling him the replacement for the cerebral captain and a top tackler for our defense is a huge hope.

      Moreover, Sanders is already in our top 3 WRs (a set we employ on more than half our offensive plays now), so he is not a replacement for Ward,since he is essentially a starter. We are just hoping he increases his productivity and becomes a No. 2 WR this year while working on his footwork, because he falls down too often after cutting. Moreover, his game is nothing like Ward.

      The key, though, is Troy. We have no replacement for him and likely never will. In other words, let’s try to win another SB or two with him while he is healthy. But you cannot do so if BMac and Gay are your CBs.

      • Cols714

        Geez way to be the pessimist. Sanders is eventually going to start. So he is the replacement to Ward. And yeah, Smith is awesome but Hood looked pretty good last year so I don’t think the dropoff is all that.

        I agree with Troy, there is really no replacing him.

        And yes, you can definitely win a SB with BMac and Gay as your CBs. They did it in 2008! And they came really really close to doing it last year. A Ben pick six, an untimely Mendenhall fumble, and a perfect pass and catch on 3rd and 10 (with the ball grazing Taylor’s fingers) and they lost. But it isn’t like they couldn’t just as easily have won.

        • Ted

          No, we did not win a SB in 08 with BMac and Gay as starting corners. We won it with one of them as a starting corner (they actually rotated when BMAc was healthy later in the year). Although he was not selected due to a lack of ints. and other quality players in the AFC (e.g., Revis, Bailey, etc.), Ike played at a Pro Bowl level in 08 and was even better last year when he regularly matched up in press coverage, man-to-man with the opponent’s top WR while the other outside CB played soft coverage with safety help.

          My point is that if we lose Ike, we will not be a Super Bowl contender next year. Period. Almost all experts (non-homers) will agree. Bring him back and we are a strong Super Bowl contender like last year, although we are still weak at No. 2-4 CB. Hey, you are correct in that Ike is good but not great. If ranking our best defensive players when everyone is healthy, you could theoretically put him as low as 8 or 9. That said, outside of Troy, I would rather lose any other player on defense than Ike due to our lack of depth and talent at his position.

          Lose Smith and/or Keisel and Hood and Heyward play more. Lose Hampton and Hoke leads you to a 15-1 record like 04. Lose either Harrison or Woodley and we either start Worilds, or move Timmons over while using Worilds as a pass-rushing specialist (see Miami game last year). Lose Farrior or Timmons and Foote comes in for run downs, while Farrior or Timmons stays on the field all game.

          Lose Clark and Mundy – who showed considerable improvement last year – is a drop-off but not a huge one. Lose BMac and who cares. You suck with him and without him at No. 2 CB. Lose Troy and obviously no one on any team can replace all he does. Same with Ed Reed in Baltimore, Peyton Manning in Indy, etc.

          Lose Ike, a top 20 CB in this league who may may not even be a top 10 overall CB, and we are absolutely awful at that position, which we have ignored too long in the premium rounds of the NFL draft. Until he is signed, sealed and delivered on a front-loaded deal that does not hinder our salary cap in 2014 (when there likely will be a tight cap again) as a 35-year-old corner, John Harris’ column was a correct assessment.

          • Cols714

            I think you are wrong. If we lose Ike we will still contend for the Super Bowl next year. The Steelers always lose players that we as fans think are irreplaceable and then they…replace them and contend for the Super Bowl.

            Of course they are better with Taylor than without him. But I think you are crazy if you think losing one player whose name is not Roethlisberger or Polamalu would cause the Steelers to not contend.

          • GlennW

            I suppose that just making the playoffs makes a team a “Super Bowl contender”, but as far as being one of the few serious favorites (like last season), I likewise have my doubts that the Steelers would be such again in the shortterm with the loss of Ike Taylor minus a like veteran replacement (where there likely isn’t one). Hell, when the team fell apart after the loss of Polamalu in 2009 we weren’t even a playoff contender in the end, and while Polamalu is certainly Taylor’s superior, I think a similar domino-effect slippage in the secondary is also possible with the loss of the team’s top (and only decent) CB. Especially with Polamalu and Clark only aging and/or more susceptible to injury.

            In any case, I just don’t take it for granted that the Steelers are *always* a Super Bowl contender, no matter who we lose or pick up. We’re not, not every season (only every other season on average over the past decade– and that was a damned good decade), and I’d just as soon eliminate one of the major factors that could prevent us from being a serious contender in 2011. I think Ted’s “100% metaphysical certitude” on such matters is exaggerated, but in this case the opinion is basically on target (I didn’t think that about Santonio Holmes– I was fine with the explanation for that move at the time, and think Taylor is a much less replaceable quantity than Holmes was).

          • Ted

            Bingo. I was upset with giving away Santonio for so little in what was primarily a PR move, IMHO. However, I still expected our WR to be good and they actually ended up very good. If we have, Santonio I think we may beat GB (assuming he does not get injured when Sanders does), because we lacked a true playmaker at the end. But the only other game where he could have potentially made a difference in the final result was NO, who played a lot of press coverage and blitzed, and we could not get guys open on slants. The reason for our optimism at WR was because we had so many other potentially serviceable options. Now, granted Sanders and especially Brown were better immediate contributors than most anyone projected, while Randle El (who I still love) was actually more over the hill than most thought.

            Still, we returned a productive speedster who became a star in Wallace and a solid, proven No. 2 in Hines Ward to build from and the major concern was who would be the No. 3. In contrast if Ike leaves, the concern will be who will be No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 at CB, with no one from last year’s team seemingly a good option for any of those spots save Ike.

          • Jason

            Long-time reader, first-time commenter. You can use revisionist history to talk about how you still had optimism in the WR’s after Holmes was traded, but most of your posts on this site talked about his absence and how it significantly hurt the Steelers chance to be a Super Bowl contender. Hell, reading the old mock draft posts you had the Steelers picking 15th overall in your first one, presumably because you (incorrectly, as it turned out) assumed the 2010 Steelers would not be very good; perhaps with a similar black-or-white, all-or-nothing mindset as you’re demonstrating in the Ike Taylor discussion.

          • Jason

            And speaking of that first Mock, here is what you wrote, word-for-word, in that post about Ike Taylor and his contract. Again, this is your writing, Ted, word-for-word: “However, this mock also assumes Pittsburgh will lose veteran cornerback Ike Taylor to unrestricted free agency, following the 2010 season. Taylor will be 31 before the 2011 season and Pittsburgh will be less likely to give a third, market-rate contract to an inconsistent CB at that age.

            If Taylor has a rebound year in 2010 similar to his stellar play in 2008, he will be way out of the Steelers’ price range. If he plays like he did in 2009, the Steelers likely will not want him back. Remember that there will be no franchise or transition tags for the 2011 free-agency period.

            Taylor loves Pittsburgh and is close to management, but how many older defensive players can the Steelers sign to third contracts after re-upping Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, James Farrior and Ryan Clark to similar contracts within the last two years? Pittsburgh will have the oldest starting defensive lineup in the NFL this year and could be too old by 2011.

            Doing the same with Taylor could be a bad move for an aging cornerback who has always relied on pure athleticism, but has some of the worst ball skills of any cornerback in the league, is psychologically fragile, and seemingly sometimes uninterested on the field.”

            That’s a complete 180 from what you’re arguing now. Which is it: Is Ike Taylor a must-sign, or is he an inconsistent cornerback at the age of 31 that will be another aging player under contract? And no matter the answer, why should I take anything you write seriously when you waffle more than a politician?

          • Ted

            Ouch. Damn good find. Kudos on that and reminding me of what I wrote. As stated before, I think we should have franchised Ike in Feb. if we could not reach a long-term deal and then strong-arm to quickly sign a hometown-friendly, final-deal like we did with Hampton last year by threatening to leave the tag on him. As soon as he signed, we then place it on Woodley, who still has no better than a 50-50 shot of being an UFA this year.

            That said, Ike was coming off a poor second-half of the 09 season, where he often lost focus, seemed dis-interested in the cold game at Cleveland, and seemingly brought his level play of down to the level of his less-talented secondary maters in the second half of the year after Troy was lost. That followed his complete psychological breakdown during the 06 season that resulted in him being benched.

            Still, he did play at a Pro Bowl-level in my opinion in 07, 08 and 10, and was darn good in 05. The key is that we cannot let him go at this point and that we should have been more proactive at CB in the past rather than hoping to solve problems by finding mid-round gems at a position where more and more teams are investing early-round picks and big-money contracts to keep players before entering free agency.

            I thought we would be a 9-7 team last year, as did most national experts after we traded Holmes, lost Colon to a freak off-season injury and had Roethlisberger suspended for four games. We over-achieved at the beginning, were fortunate to play a lot of bad/mediocre passing offenses, including both playoff games before the Super Bowl, and everyone under-estimated how much better our offensive line play could be due to new coaching, and that was before losing Max Starks and the struggles we had for a few games afterward. Plus, adding key depth in the offseason helped us overcome injuries and we had the best draft class for immediate impact since possibly 74.

            We do have a history of over-achieving when under-estimated (01, 04, 08, 10, etc.) and under-achieving when we were supposed to very good (02, 06, 09). Still, I don’t see how anyone can look at our cornerback roster and think we will be okay if Ike leaves. That area has already been exploited badly and the talent is just not present. Get him back and we will hopefully as good as last year on defense (with CB still a weakness after Ike) and better on offense with a healthy, deep offensive line.

          • GlennW

            I for one will admit that I wrote that the 2010 Steelers “are an 8-8 team until I see some good reason to believe otherwise”. That had little to do with dumping Holmes though, which I defended at the time– mostly because I think it was ultimately Mike Tomlin’s decision, and he knows his team and how to run it regarding its rules and the multiple ultimatums Holmes was given. Rather, it had to do with the way the 2009 season collapsed (which I couldn’t completely attribute to non-repeatable injury), and the Roethlisberger off-season fiasco. Who really expected a Super Bowl appearance? Regardless, I still don’t believe in Steeler front office infallibility, because we do have seasons like 2009 (9-7) and 2006 (8-8) which no one expected either. The 2006 season was bizarre and non-indicative, but I thought that 2009 was the start of a team-age slide. I was wrong, or at least my timing was off by a couple years. Whatever. I still dread the loss of Ike Taylor (which I don’t think will happen). But we’ll see.

          • ryan

            2009 confirmed for me that Troy, not Ben, is the most valuable player on this team.

          • Ted

            Agree, but that will become less the case in the next couple of years.

          • GlennW

            I don’t think I can go quite that far. Lose Troy, and we lose that game-changing capability within what is still a very solid defense (I think we saw a somewhat exaggerated anomaly with that losing streak in 2009– just about everything could and did go wrong). Lose Ben, and our offense completely sucks. Also (and perhaps this wasn’t a consideration in the straight-up comparison, but it should be), Troy’s SS position should be more easily filled with a free agent or draft pick replacement. If it’s not, I’m not feeling real good about this franchise’s future, because I don’t think Troy is long for this league as an elite playmaker. However that’s not the case– rather as long as we have a healthy Ben I think we have at least a puncher’s chance, and (as with all the elite QBs in the league) he’s the only single player on the team I can say that about.

          • Cols714

            Yes, if we lose Troy or Ben we will not contend for the Super Bowl.

            If we lose Ike, we will still contend. I am also 100% certain.

            CBs on this team just don’t impact the game as much as we think. I mean, we came within a play or two of going to the championship game with Dewayne Washington and Chad Scott at CB with even lesser talents at safety.

  • Mike L

    I would not say Casey is 5th best on the defense. I would place Juan Timmons ahead of Casey as well as Keisel. Ike should have come before both Ryan Clark and Casey Hampton. First of all, he could provide 4 good years of service I would love to have that said of Ryan or Casey but I don’t think that will happen. With teams passing so much against the Steelers, Casey’s only strength is in keeping teams from running out the clock. When the Steelers were in nickel, and Casey was on the bench, the Steelers were still very good against the run. I doubt in the current pass happy league the Steelers will use a high draft pick on a strict run stopping NT. What we will see is a NT drafted on day 3 in the mold of Chris Nield or Ian Williams. It would be far easier to use Smith or Heyward and Hood inside in the nickel package.

    • ryan

      Wherever you rank Casey, if the Steelers had re-signed Ike last offseason, they wouldn’t have re-signed Hampton or Clark. (They franchised Skippy, so that wasn’t an option.)

      And while Casey isn’t a three-down player, he had a very good 2010 season. And Clark was Clark. Not flashy but steady. Without two of their starters on defense the Steelers probably don’t go to the Super Bowl. I’m not saying Hampton and Clark are hall of famers, but they offered mostly positive contributions, which shouldn’t be discounted.

      • Ted

        Why could the front office not have resigned Ike as well last year? That is an incorrect, definitive statement by you based on no facts whatsoever. First, there was no salary cap last year. Second, Ike did not have to get more money in 2010 than he was originally slated for if he signed an extension before the season, which undoubtedly would have cost the Steelers less than it will now. Thus, the Steelers could have easily done all of the same deals/maneuvers for Hampton, Clark and Reed, and still extended Ike to a hometown discount, long-term deal, especially since they did not have the possibility of doing so for Woodley due to CBA rules.

        Your whole premise is based on no facts. Hampton, Clark and Reed were all free agents. Ike was not. Historically, we have extended players a year before their contracts run out. We chose not to with the labor uncertainty and then elected to franchise Woodley instead of Ike this off-season.

        If 4th- and 5th-year players are granted free agency in a new CBA before 2011 that was undoubtedly the right call, because the 26-year-old Woodley would cost much more on the open market, while other CBs (e.g., Cromartie, Joseph, Richard Marshall, etc.) and other top younger players would be FAs as well, pushing Ike’s overall market-value down considerably. If not, it was a bonehead move that will either cost the Steelers a lot more $$$ for an aging CB on a 4-year, $30-36 million contract or cost them their Super Bowl chances with this aging team if they allow Ike to depart.

        Sorry, this Harris column was mostly spot on with plenty of good points, including our narrow window (2 years may be generous based on Troy’s health) to win another Super Bowl with the overall age of our key defensive players with the exceptions of Woodley and Timmons. What are our other contingency plans at CB, Nostradumus? The draft is over and although I loved the Curtis Brown pick, we did not get a likely immediate impact player at CB, particularly for LeBeau’s defense. As for free agency, Asomugha is obviously not coming to Pittsburgh due to his salary demands, which only leaves the injury-prone Carlos Rogers as the only other quality potential veteran free agent, and he is (A) likely to stay in Washington, and (B) not as good for our system as Ike.

        Further, you note that the Steelers have drafted five CBs in the last 3 years. Let’s see, Joe Burnett is no longer on the team and Keenan Lewis is seemingly a bust who is an underdog to make the team this year. I like Crezdon Butler’s potential as a nickleback, but he was a raw, fifth-round pick who eventually redshirted as a rookie. Then we brought in a good third-round pick this year (who initially projects as a nickleback) and a long-term project in the fourth round. No, Harris is spot on. We have no other contingency plans at CB.

        In other words, Ike leaves and we are likely to start William Gay and BMac at corner. There is absolutely no team in the NFL that would trade their starting CBs for that pair. Period. That is not even worth debate. Chad Scott and Dwayne Washington take too much abuse on this site, because that was a much better starting CB tandem than the notion of Gay and BMac together. Young children would need to be put to bed early when we play top-tier passing teams in prime time, because it is going to be horrific, although we can still win 10 games thanks to bad QBs and/or bad offensive lines in this league.

        Now, I think we will resign Ike. We absolutely have too. But I also think the Texans and maybe one or two other teams (no where near as many as Harris listed) will throw a big offer his way. Colbert and Rooney made a big gamble in not extending Ike before or during the 2010 season (we have that stupid in-season policy), and then another gamble in franchising Woodley (instead of just giving him the highest possible 1-year tender, meaning another team would have to give us 1st and 3rd picks to sign him if he is a RFA) instead of Ike. Let’s hope it does not backfire, essentially costing us another possible Super Bowl run.

        We needed to upgrade our CB play from last year and now we are essentially just hoping to have the same top three to begin next season, with the possibility of Butler or Brown working their way into the rotation by midseason. In other words, we are just hoping to be as good as last year when No. 2-4 CB was the weakness of our very good defense that led us to the Super Bowl. But that will not happen again without Ike, which was John Harris’ point in his fine column.

        • GlennW

          I agree with Ted. If we couldn’t sign Ike Taylor last year, then we can’t sign him now (when he’ll only be more expensive). I don’t personally believe that, as the timing of such a signing is only a matter of shifting the bonus-pay schedule (extension vs. new contract works out the same, or similar). It’s not as if the Steelers wouldn’t have been able to make payroll if they’d given that bonus to Taylor last year instead of this year. Now, the lockout risk might have factored into it, but that didn’t appear to apply to Hampton.

  • crummy

    Perhaps Horton’s quote about Lewis was pared down from something like “You would probably compare him to another Ike Taylor, you know as opposed to the one wearing #24.”

  • GlennW

    While most of Harris’s commentary rivals that of our own Dr. Obvious, it is a fair point that our DB draft selections since Ike Taylor have been crap (and there certainly was much post-draft happy-talk around Lewis and Burnett in 2009, whether they were being compared to Ike or not). Compared to everything else, DB has been our weak spot in the draft and on the field, which yeah, increases Taylor’s value and the priority in signing him. Perhaps we expect more in-depth analysis from the mainstream media, but this column doesn’t rival the CPW-worthiness of the Ben-bashing after the 2004 draft (for one example) or anything.

    Bottom line: if we lose Taylor, we screwed up badly (the thrust of this column). I’m not yet convinced that’s going to happen though…

    • ryan

      Look, I don’t disagree that the CBs the Steelers have drafted in recent years have been disappointments. But it’s not like the organization isn’t even trying to add depth at the position.

      Harris wrote, “If No. 24 leaves, the Steelers’ rebuilding process could begin sooner than anyone thinks.” No one would be surprised that the team would be in a lurch without Ike, least of all the Steelers.

      Why Pittsburgh didn’t sign Taylor last offseason I have no idea. (As Ted so eloquently put it below, I was wrong above to say that they wouldn’t have been able to lock up Hampton and Clark. But other than those two sentences, I stand by everything else.) Still, that doesn’t make Harris’ column any less hacky.

      He makes illogical leaps of faith (what does running 4.17 have to do with being a good NFL CB? In one sentence he asks why the Steelers are searching for Ike imitators; another sentence warns that the team could be rebuilding sooner than anyone thinks. Well, which is it?), and repeatedly quotes a guy who called Big Ben “immobile,” and who suggested the Steelers should draft Danny Watkins even though he admitted they had a huge need at CB.

      No one disagrees that Ike must be re-signed, which is the thrust of Harris’ column. The point of a column is to learn something. Or in John Steigerwald’s words, make you think. Harris is awful in this regard.

  • Fred Gibson

    Sorry, needs to get laid.

  • Cols714

    I really think we as Steelers fans are over valuing Taylor. He’s a good, not great CB who is at his best in the Steelers system. Given that most Steelers FA underperform when they leave, I highly doubt teams are going to throw tons of cash at Taylor.

    Remember, pretty much every team’s fans think that their players are better than they really are. We all overvalue guys that are on our team and I think it’s happening here with Ike.

    He’ll be back.

    • GlennW

      I guess someone should tell this to Carnell Lake, who apparently is angling to become Taylor’s agent at the same time he’s acting as his coach. While I think Lake’s assessment is spot-on, he’s really not doing the Steelers– and by extension himself– any favors talking Ike up like that. Not likely to be a difference-maker, but it doesn’t help…

      • Anonymous

        I wouldn’t read too much into that. Coaches say what they think is best for their players and the public to hear, not what they’re really thinking. And Lake is coming from college, where you pretty much never say anything negative about a player’s game, and there’ no worry about contract negotiations.

        It’s possible Lake really is that impressed with Taylor. But I suspect there’s an aspect of trying to make Taylor feel like he’s already where’s he wanted and where he has a home.

  • Cols714

    Just want to point out that the Steelers were #2 according to Football Outsiders against the pass last year.

    Yeah, I know, take FO stats with a grain of salt, but we weren’t awful against the pass. Even with BMac and Gay.

    So without Ike, we fall to #10? #15? Still not the end of the world.

    • GlennW

      Not the end of the world, but goodbye going back to the Super Bowl (imo), which I believe is the claim. We already struggle against the best passing teams, and those are the teams we’ll eventually run up against in the playoffs. That’s the only point here– that the Steelers won’t be a “serious Super Bowl contender” with such a secondary, not that they’ll be awful. Also, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with setting that championship goal in each in every season that we still have Ben, Troy, Deebo and a deep cast around them. I’m not one of these types that considers falling short of that goal a “failure” either– all kinds of things can happen, and only one team wins it all– just that upfront the team should be put in the best position possible to do so. But if the Steelers can’t retain Ike, they can’t, and we’ll all move on.

  • ryan

    Keeping in mind all FO-related caveats…

    As a point of reference, the 2003 Steelers (6-10) featured a secondary that included DeWayne Washington, Chad Scott, Mike Logan, Brent Alexander, and Deshea as the nickelback before he took over full-time duties late in the year (and did well, I might add). According to FO, the ’03 Steelers ranked 20th against the pass.

    I can’t imagine an Ike-less 2011 Steelers outfit would do worse. (One other thing: Tim Lewis, not Dick LeBeau was the defensive coordinator.) That’s not to say everything will be fine if Ike bolts, just that Pittsburgh isn’t destined to win six games, either.

    • Gretz

      And that team was quarterbacked by Tommy Maddox. With Amos Zereoue as its running back.

  • MVelo

    I’m not ready to jump into the “sign Ike or Steeler Nation will crumble” pool just yet. I think one thing most of us are forgetting is that we’re not going to be playing Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning every week. In fact, we really only face three top tier quarterbacks this year. While I do agree that the odds of us winning a Super Bowl with Ike are way higher than without, I don’t think we’ll instantly turn into the Browns or Bengals. Looking at our schedule we face:

    Bal – Joe Flacco and whichever possession wide receiver you’d like to call their number 1
    Sea – Whichever quarterback Pete decides to roll out this year, maybe Chuck Whitehurst?
    Ind – Peyton
    Hou – Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson
    Ten – Really, we get to play against Jake Locker right away? I think Deebo is salivating already
    Jac – David Garrard (maybe) and maybe their best receiver Marcedes Lewis (TE)
    Az – lol
    NE – Tom Terrific
    Bal – Joe again
    Cinci – Yaaaay another rookie QB
    KC – Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe
    Cinci – Still excited over the rookie QBs!
    Cleveland – lol
    SF – Alex Smith, yessssss
    STL – Sam Bradford
    Cle- lol

    So looking back at the teams we play, what is there really to be afraid of? If we win the games we’re supposed to on paper, that’s easily a 10 win season at worst. That most likely would be a wild card spot and that’s worst case scenario. Hell, if anything, I’m expecting a 13-3 year. Of the QB – WR tandems we face, only Peyton, Tom, and maybe Matt Schaub scare me. And honestly, even with Ike, they would still be pretty scary. This also gives us a year to finally see what the hell we have at cornerback. Now, I’m not expecting much beyond a couple of hopeful nickelbacks, but at least for once we know. Maybe then going into the next draft, K Colbert will look at taking a first round talent at db if it’s available. Again, I’m all for signing Ike, but not anywhere close to 10 mil/yr. he’s on the wrong side of 30 and he’s a system type of guy. he’s not going to turn into Nhamdi or Darelle via free agency. Just my thoughts.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Lombardis are the goal. It is rare for a team to have an Achilles heel, with one flaw that significantly reduces their odds of winning the Super Bowl. But I think we’d be one of those teams without Ike. I think this would be true if we lost Ben or Troy, too. Even if we have to overpay some, we need Ike back. There’s a limit, of course, but the noises from Ike imply that we won’t hit it. So I’m not currently nervous.

    As for Scott and Washington, I thought they were pretty good early on and then dropped off pretty significantly. So, there’s evidence for both sides of the debate about whether they were underrated or sucked.

    • GlennW

      Yeah, I wouldn’t be saying that about losing Ben, for the reasons detailed earlier. But since we’re in no imminent danger of that (knock on wood), there’s not much point in worrying about it at this time.

      It’s even possible to be underrated and to suck at the exact same time. Your reputation just has to be awful, as was Scott’s and Washington’s. Or maybe our current O-line’s, at least before last season.