Winds of change Steelers cut another fan favorite, leader
Saturday, March 03, 2012
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers' March Massacre, three days of bloodletting for their fans, came to an end Friday when James Farrior was told his services were no longer needed.
The action began on Leap Day with the announcement, posted on the team's website, that Hines Ward would soon be released along with a few comments by team president Art Rooney II to send him along his way.
In rapid-fire succession over the next two days came the news that Aaron Smith and Chris Kemoeatu would be released, and, finally on Friday, that Farrior would follow, each time announced by the player's agent.
While most of this was not unexpected, the reality that it happened hit players and fans alike hard. None of the four players has spoken publicly, other than a statement Ward released through his lawyer. Many angry fans let the Steelers know how they felt in phone calls to the team, not to mention those placed to local sports talk radio shows and emails written to the media.
The painful process that began several weeks ago when Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle were released claimed captains of all three areas of the team -- offense (Ward), defense (Farrior) and special teams (Battle). Rooney and general manager Kevin Colbert had issued warnings that there were tough decisions to be made because of the bloated salary cap, and the Steelers have made them.
This week's efforts removed $12.5 million from their 2012 salary cap accounting ledger, although those four players will be replaced by others at more minimum salaries, and there is some additional hit they will take on accelerated signing bonus prorations. But they shaved enough off their cap to likely put them at least $10 million below the expected $120 million cap for each team for the year that begins March 13. The Steelers once were an estimated $25 million over the cap and used restructured contracts as well as terminations to whittle it down.
The Steelers will need that room for restricted free agent tenders, starting with Mike Wallace at roughly $2.7 million.
There was little sentiment publicly shown by the Steelers to the players they released. There were a few comments by Rooney about Farrior and Smith posted on the team's website by Friday afternoon. Coach Mike Tomlin has not been heard.
All but Smith seem intent on trying to resume their careers elsewhere, although Farrior's agent, Ralph Cindrich, hinted that his playing career could resume with the Steelers.
"There is no doubt that he wants to play, and he wants to play here,'' said Cindrich. "I don't see them having the room to be able to bring him back unless they have special needs and the ability to do so.''
Those special needs could occur if one of two inside linebackers -- Lawrence Timmons or Farrior's assumed replacement, Larry Foote -- gets hurt.
The Steelers decided they had to release either Foote or Farrior and the debate over which to let go ended this week, most likely because, at age 37, Farrior is 5 1/2 years older than his friend Foote, who turns 32 in June. But Farrior does not feel old.
"He just feels like he can still do it and play at that high level,'' Cindrich said. "It may come, he may sit down and review things and he may decide to retire, I don't know. I have to leave that to him."
Cindrich, a former player in the NFL after his days at Pitt, has represented enough athletes to understand what they go through at times like this.
"I don't care how old or successful you've been, there are all types of doubt that fill your mind and you have to work through those. Some say it was a great run, I'm walking out healthy. Others, they want to keep doing it.
"To me, if you're going to leave the Steelers, go to a contender, a team that has a shot at winning it all, or to me it's not worth it."
Farrior goes out as the best Steelers veteran free agent signing ever. The New York Jets chose him with the eighth pick in the first round of the 1997 draft, but they did not seem to know what to do with him. They miscast him as an outside linebacker and he was a regular in only two of his five seasons with them.
The Steelers put him at inside linebacker after signing him in 2002 and he flourished there. He made one All-Pro team and was voted the Steelers MVP in 2004. He was the leader of the defense for years.
"James was named one of our captains each of the past eight years and that speaks volumes to what he has meant to so many great defenses,'' Art Rooney said on the team's website. "He has been a leader for our defense on the field and an ambassador for the Steelers in the community. We appreciate everything James has done and truly wish him nothing but the best."
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