Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kicking the Kicker

This post may be of little interest to those outside of western PA, but the kicker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jeff Reed, was cut today. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

First off, some background: Reed has been a kicker for nine years, all with the Steelers. Over this past summer he was making some noise about not being able to come to terms with the Steelers organization over a long-term contract. The Steelers have a policy of more or less stopping all negotiations once training camp starts, so he was understandably bitter, and the Steelers tagged him as a franchise player. (For those that don't know, each team can tag one player as a franchise player, where he can't negotiate with other teams but, as compensation, gets paid the average of the top five players in his position.)

Enter the season. Reed comes in being one of the top 10 most accurate kickers in NFL history. He does very, very well at Heinz field, which is a notoriously iffy place to kick--too much wind from the river, no turf, etc. Against that, he's had some off-field issues--mostly stupid stuff, but a drunken standoff with a cop on the South Side being the most serious--but not enough to get on the front pages too often. So Reed has a reason to want to stay in Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh has a reason to keep Reed. But they just can't come to terms. This is hardly a unique situation in the NFL.

Reed then proceeds to have an incredibly awful season. His stats are terrible, he loses the first game against Baltimore with two flubbed but easy kicks, and--finally--misses a gimme 26-yard field goal against the Patriots. This is all bad enough, but after the Pats game he then goes on record that while he isn't going to blame anyone but himself, he's going to blame the field, the weather, the management, the other players, and--worst of all--the fans.

That was Sunday. Today, he is no longer a Pittsburgh Steeler.

And I don't know what to think. On the one hand, I think Reed is a scapegoat--the Steelers have been good but sloppy this season. Yeah, they are 6-3, and everyone has made mistakes, but I think cutting Reed is simply some venting of frustration. And you can't really criticize him for his off-field behavior--if you're going to cut Ben Roethlisberger the biggest amount of slack anyone should ever be given, you can't say too much about punching towel dispensers and posting pictures of your junk online. And sending a message about contract negotiations the year before a potential lockout just seems heavy-handed and unproductive.

But...the post-game comments Reed made were nearly unforgivable. If he was having an awesome year and locked into a hefty contract, I think he would have been given a pass. But he was already on thin ice for about five other reasons, and I think that is what finally sunk him. I also think there is a business decision involved; he is a kicker, and while having an awesome kicker is important, there is a reason they don't get paid $100 million contracts. They are on the field for mere minutes of the entire game. The difference between the best kicker and the worst is significant but not insurmountable. And with the money they save from Reed, they can put towards a new offensive line or fixing any number of other holes in their roster.

I think it was a mistake to cut Reed, but I understand why. Reed should have kept his mouth shut both before the season and now. It's cost him a pretty sweet tenure with a good team that gave him more chances than he deserved.

I'm sorry about writing so much about football, by the way. I honestly don't know enough about football to warrant the amount of time I spend writing about it. I also commit the same sins I rail against; I hate sports radio and talk, where so-called experts blather endlessly about the blatantly obvious, and spend way too much time discussing useless statistics to make themselves feel better about how they were cut from the equipment squad in eight grade. Then again, just because I'm a hypocrite doesn't mean I'm wrong.

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