Holmes was the Steelers' first-round pick in 2006, No. 25 overall. In his four seasons with the Steelers he has grown into a reliable deep threat with sure hands and solid run-after-catch ability.
While he has had trouble off the field, Holmes put up very good numbers last season. He topped 1,000 yards for the first time, scoring five touchdowns. By every measure he is an up-and-coming, if troubled, star.
The problem isn't the trade itself—it is the value.
The Steelers have a variety of needs going into next week's draft. They lack a No. 2 cornerback, a stud offensive lineman, a playmaking free safety, and depth at running back, middle linebacker, and defensive line. Going into the draft, the Steelers had a limited range of options to address these needs.
Now they have created a new need without getting the trade value to meet it.
The addition of free agents Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle does not make up for the loss of Holmes. Mike Wallace, the Steelers' electrifying third-round pick last year, hasn't proven that he can step up and replace Holmes. Limas Sweed, their second-round pick in 2008, has some emotional issues that could prevent him from ever becoming a pro player.
There is also no way that the Steelers will be able to meet Santonio's skill level with a fifth-round pick.
Holmes had created a bad situation by continuing to draw attention to himself after he was accused of hitting a woman with a glass earlier this month. He tweeted excessively about the situation, no doubt angering the front office. He also faces a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. But giving him away at a fire-sale price is simply foolish.
If you can't get a third rounder or better for Holmes, keep him on the team and let him play for a new contract. The Steelers would have gotten his best this season, as he made every effort to boost his value in free agency. Even if it was only for the final 12 games of the season, having Santonio Holmes catching footballs for you is better than having him catch footballs for someone else. It is also better than a fifth-round draft pick.
There are some seasoned football watchers that are looking to justify the logic of this move by the Steelers. I can't see it. It is a great move by New York and a colossal blunder by the suits in Steeltown.
It isn't quite as bad as the fourth rounder Al Davis received to ship Randy Moss to New England or the first rounder Oakland gave Bill Belichick for Richard Seymour, but it may well go down in the annals for the NFL as the worst trade the black and gold has made in modern league history.
Pittsburgh faces the Jets in the coming season (the schedule has not yet been set), and it will be compelling TV to see Holmes face the team that gave him away at a bargain-basement price.
Even if Holmes is not hugely productive for the Jets, his absence will be felt by the Steelers offense—and it is highly unlikely that the player the Steelers draft with that fifth-round pick will ever develop into the caliber of player that Holmes is and will be, though he may be less of a headache.