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Old 02-27-2009, 02:40 PM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Bires: Steelers shakeup on tap

Bires: Steelers shakeup on tap
By Mike Bires
Times Sports Staff

Published: Friday, February 27, 2009 12:10 AM EST

PITTSBURGH ó In the next few days, the Steelers will bid farewell to some significant contributors from their Super Bowl team. But donít worry. The franchise wonít crumble.

With the free-agent signing period under way, the Steelers could lose starting cornerback Bryant McFadden, starting guard Chris Kemoeatu, No. 3 wide receiver Nate Washington, backup quarterback Byron Leftwich and Marvel Smith, who was the starting left tackle before his chronically bad back ended his 2008 season after five weeks.

Losing free agents is a fact of life in the NFL, especially for a team coming off a Super Bowl season.

Another fact is that the Steelers never overreact in free agency. They never overpay a player even though other teams do.

If the Steelers lose a key player, they move on.

Based on two Super Bowl wins in the last four years, thatís a good way to do business.

Hereís what should happen with the Steelersí top five unrestricted free agents:

* It would be tough to see McFadden go. Heís a solid corner who had trouble breaking into the starting lineup until last season because of the remarkable cover skills of Deshea Townsend. Donít be surprised if McFadden lands a lucrative deal in the next day or so.

If that happens, itís not a crippling loss. The Steelers are poised to replace McFadden with William Gay, a fifth-round pick in the í07 draft. You may have noticed in the Super Bowl that Gay got plenty of playing time in place of McFadden. And with the í09 draft deep in cornerbacks, the Steelers may take one in the first three rounds.

* As for Kemoeatu, well, letís just say he didnít make anyone forget about perennial All-Pro Alan Faneca, a free-agent defection after the í07 season.

Still, heís one of the highest-rated offensive linemen on the free-agent market. The Steelers have been talking to Kemoeatuís agent, and surely those talks will intensify now that Kendall Simmons has been cut. But the Steelers wonít break the bank to keep Kemoeatu in town.

Besides that, former Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday is begging the Steelers to sign him. Saturday says heíll come cheap and he can play guard.

* Washington improved dramatically last year, but heís never going to be starter in Pittsburgh. There are a few teams, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who believe Washington can be an every-down player and would pay him according.

Itís wouldnít be a major blow to the Steelers if Washington moves one. Even though second-round pick Limas Sweed was a disappointment last season as a rookie, heís still tall, athletic and fast. Coaches and scouts believe heíll be a good pro.

And with the draft deep with wide receivers, the Steelers will surely draft one. After all, Hines Ward can't play forever.

* Leftwich wants to start as he did in Jacksonville a few years ago. Heíll never start in Pittsburgh, so heís gone. Donít be shocked if the Steelers donít re-sign Charlie Batch, who sat out last season with a broken shoulder. Dennis Dixon, a fifth-round draft pick last year, may be the only extra QB the Steelers keep.

* Because heís missed so many games in recent years, Smith is not a priority.

With the Steelers willing to pay Max Starks $8.5 million as a franchise player, Smith would have to take a major pay cut to stay. He made $3.95 million last year.

It appears Smithís days in Pittsburgh are over.

Mike Bires can be reached online at mbires@timesnline.com.
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