Steelers Team Report
Gerry Dulac, January 9, 2000
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers might have to take a long look at some of their high-priced veteran players in an attempt to remain under the salary cap and bounce back from consecutive losing seasons. The team will probably go into next season about $6 million under the projected new salary cap, but a lot of that will immediately be swallowed with big raises due to quarterback Kordell Stewart and left tackle Wayne Gandy. They will account for $4.7 million in raises.

Also, a number of players under contract are due significant raises in 2000, further cutting into the cap. That means a player such as nose tackle Joel Steed, a former Pro Bowler who is scheduled to make $3 million next season, could be in trouble. Steed has been bothered by arthritic knees that forced him to have surgery and miss the final two games of the season.

But the knees have been bothering Steed since at least the 10th game of the season and the decline in his performance was noticeable. What's more, Steed comes off the field in third-down passing situations, anyway, making him an expensive two-down player. Problem is, the Steelers are not sure if Steed's backup, Jeremy Staat, a No. 2 draft pick in 1998, can capably man the position.

And the Steelers are committed to the 3-4 defense because of the abundance and talent of their linebackers. They would not switch to a 4-3, at least not this year, because they could lose at least two defensive linemen in free agency -- Orpheus Roye and Nolan Harrison are unrestricted free agents. Signing Roye will be the top priority in the offseason. He is their best defensive lineman and the only one who appears capable of making plays in the backfield. . . .

Speaking of Gandy, the 6-5, 315-pound tackle was not suspended by the league for bumping referee Tom White during the season finale against the Titans. That means the Steelers do not have to start next season worrying about plugging in yet another player, even for a couple games, on an offensive line that has been the scene of much juggling the past two years. Gandy, though, was fined $20,000 by the league because it was determined he twice contacted the official after he was ejected from the game for fighting with Titans defensive end Mike Jones.

For all of the team's problems early in the season, Gandy was not one of them. The Steelers were happy with his play at left tackle, where he replaced Will Wolford, and coach Bill Cowher said he will be his starter in 2000. . . .

Cowher has been criticized for playing only veteran Mike Tomczak at quarterback after he benched Stewart with five games remaining in the regular season. Cowher's reasoning was that he thought the team needed a victory to end their prolonged losing streak, which reached six games, and Tomczak, a 16-year veteran, was the person who could best deliver it.

But, even when the team kept losing, Cowher did not take a look at the team's two young quarterbacks, Pete Gonzalez or Anthony Wright. Wright got some snaps with the first-team offense during the last week of practice with the intention of playing in the final game. But, even when the Steelers were behind, 31-7, at halftime against the Titans, Cowher came out with Tomczak in the second half and stuck with him the rest of the way.

That is fine if Tomczak is going to be your backup quarterback next season. But Cowher gave no indication that will be the case, and went so far as to say the team will try to bring in a No. 2 quarterback during the offseason. It was the perfect opportunity to take a look at Wright, whom the Steelers think has the physical tools to be a good quarterback. But Cowher did not do it, one of the reasons he has upset several people in the front office who think the eighth-year coach sacrificed player development even when the team was losing. . . .

Cowher also made it clear that he will not be so lenient with Stewart and will not merely hand him the starting position in 2000. Cowher would not say so, but he thinks he has not taken a hard enough stance with Stewart and, at times, has probably pampered him. One of the reasons Cowher benched Stewart was that he thought his fragile psyche would undergo even more harm with so many injuries to the wide receivers. Stewart did not play well at home and the coaching staff thought it was because he was not tough enough mentally to handle the strain.
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