Pittsburgh Steelers: Business as Usual

Vicki FarriesCorrespondent IMarch 26, 2009

The NFL is a business. It remains one of the healthiest corporate entities with revenues continuing to grow despite the poor economy.  

One of the most pressing issues facing NFL teams today is how to ensure players are fully engaged and aligned with the organization’s critical business priorities in getting them to a successful season and ultimately a championship.

Player retention, especially of the best and most desirable, is a key challenge in any NFL team today.

At the beginning of free agency in the 1990s, teams sometimes looked past their own players at the chance to land a player from another team. But that wasn't always successful.

You had to assimilate players into what you wanted them to do for your team.

Retaining quality experienced players or drafting new recruits becomes an increasingly critical issue and if not managed properly, it could erode success and performance of any team.

The Steelers have rarely been major players during free agency.

The Steelers did not sign one player from another team thus far this year. They chose to keep the players they wanted that were on their roster the previous year. 

They found that keeping their own now is much more important than bringing in somebody else's castoffs.

If the Steelers do make any free-agent signings, it won’t happen until after the NFL Draft at the end of April, if at all.

The Steelers’ approach to free agency is methodical, patient, and unpredictable. Although the Steelers lost WR Nate Washington and CB Bryant McFadden to free agency, the Steelers did what they needed to do to maintain continuity and consistency by retaining most of the existing players on their current roster.  

Because of free agency and salary caps, it is difficult to keep top quality players and yet it's been a productive off-season for the Steelers office keeping current players.

This is how they won two Super Bowls in four years, and is considered one of the top contenders for the 2009-2010 seasons.

Losing Washington to the Titans, the Steelers have in line Limas Sweed and Martin Nance, second-year players ready to step in and play. Cornerback William Gay, a fifth-round draft pick in 2007 who started four games last season, is expected to get the first crack at McFadden’s old job.

The Steelers reinforced the offensive line by re-signing tackles Max Starks, Willie Colon and guard Chris Kemoeatu. Kemoeatu was signed the day after the Steelers released seven-year pro and 2002 first-round draft pick Kendall Simmons. 

Fortunately, most of the free agents want to stay with the Steelers. According to Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert, the players have a strong desire to stay and will give the organization an opportunity to keep them.

In addition, he feels its best when a team can keep their own, and be selective when adding a player when the need arises and the players available fits the need. Of course, there are always challenges concerning the structuring of new contracts for free agents who elevated their position with the team and or the league.

One such player is LB James Harrison who became the reigning defensive player of the year.  It is a hurdle that has become more of a challenge because of the constraint brought about by the lack of a collective bargaining agreement (C.B.A.) between the owners and players' union.

Signing Harrison to a long term deal is still top priority as he is going into the final year of his contract. The Steelers also intend on reaching an agreement to a multi-year deal with Max Starks, who signed a one-year, $8.45 million contract in February after the Steelers used a franchise tag on him to buy more negotiating time.

Another part of the equation to a successful business is recruiting. Finding the best possible talent is critical for any organization.

For the NFL, recruiting will take place during the annual event in NYC this April at Radio City Music Hall. Here the teams will select newly eligible players to their roster.  

Sports’ recruiting is similar to a roll of the dice.

When you go to Vegas, you know the odds are against you but there is that chance of beating the house. In professional football, owners bet millions on the hope that their new rookie will pay huge dividends. 

Before drafting college athletes, most teams perform background checks, personality and intelligence tests, drug screening and probing interviews before offering any long term financial commitment.

But, that’s not always enough as bad apples will always get through.

Some athletes may suffer injuries or become injury–prone. Some never get a start because of attitudes, drug problems or are unable to adapt their talents to a higher caliber of competition.

For some teams, quality talent scouting mitigates the risk. Others just get lucky. But, no amount of evaluation can predict the future

If drafting college athletes was an exact science, every team that ever chose a lottery pick would be a lock to win a championship.

Usually just the opposite is true. Desperate teams often look for a short term fix to cure problems that developed over time. So urgency often trumps due-diligence

The Steelers have proved their formula of drafting for the best player and instead of meeting needs, keeping as many of their skill players as well as having replacements in place when it's time to let a player walk makes for consistent championship contenders and good business sense.


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