- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
This off-season the Steelers again will lead the league in marquee players on the free-agent market, with their top rusher (running back Jerome Bettis), leading interceptor (cornerback Rod Woodson), top sacker (linebacker Chad Brown) and leading receiver (wideout Andre Hastings) all eligible to sign with another team.
It's a particularly bad year for Pittsburgh to have all those jewels up for bid, because the salary cap is likely to be raised only about 2% to 4% next season. The Steelers won't have a lot of room to maneuver, and they refuse to mortgage the future by paying huge signing bonuses or exploiting other cap loopholes—one reason they didn't re-sign any of the 14 starters who became free agents the past four years.
Bettis and Brown will surely become $3 million-a-year players, after earning $620,000 and $348,000, respectively, this season. At 31, Woodson may have lost a step, but he will likely get an offer in the neighborhood of the $3 million he is making in 1996. Hastings could jump from $361,000 to $1.5 million, but with the depth the Steelers have at wide receiver, he won't make that leap in Pittsburgh.
Bettis, Brown and Woodson all appear comfortable with the Steelers' philosophy regarding free-agent negotiations. "I could take less money and be happy here," says Woodson, who is winding up his 10th season in Pittsburgh. "You've got to weigh what you have here—a winning team and knowing you'll always be in the playoffs—versus going to someone like the Bucs or the Jets and not knowing if you'll win in the next couple of years, or ever."
At 24, Bettis is on pace for his best rushing season ever, with 1,412 yards through 14 games. He knows he could make a killing on the open market, but he also knows he's in the perfect place for him: on a team that likes to run the football. "I know what numbers I could put up here, and history means something to me," he says. "The question is, How big will the gap be between what the Steelers offer and what is offered elsewhere?"
There's a division between Dolphins veterans and rookies because coach Jimmy Johnson continues to give the kids opportunities to take the older guys' jobs. Before Miami's 17-7 loss to the Giants on Sunday, Johnson made a new rule for his 6-8 team: The rookies no longer have to do demeaning chores for the vets, such as fetching sandwiches. "Tell those guys to shove their sandwiches up their ass," Johnson told the rookies....
Ricky Watters's teammates on the Eagles have quietly ripped his selfishness for two seasons, but in balloting to pick team award winners last week, the vote for offensive MVP spoke volumes: Watters, the NFL's fourth-leading rusher, finished third behind wideout Irving Fryar and quarterback Ty Detmer....
A bit of holiday cheer from the 1-13 Jets, who have lost 35-10, 35-10 and 34-10 in the last three weeks. Says rookie wideout Keyshawn Johnson, "I've never seen as much negativity as I've seen since I've been associated with this football program."
The End Zone