Just wondering: If Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Greene graduated from North Texas State this afternoon as that defensive lineman who left campus 50 years ago for the Pittsburgh Steelers with those famously nasty ways, could he play in this NFL?
“Well, uh, I used the head slap that Deacon Jones started, but you can’t do that anymore, and I would go after quarterbacks below the knee, and you can’t do that anymore,” Greene said Wednesday over the phone from the University of North Texas, the new name for his alma mater in Denton. He’ll return there Friday for the presentation of a plaque in his honor as part of the “Hometown Hall of Famers” tributes across the nation presented by Ford Motor Company and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But back to my question and Greene’s answer, especially since it led to the question I really wanted to ask.
“I also used to just hit quarterbacks in the head, and you definitely can’t do that anymore, because that’s cause for ejection,” Greene said, searching for words. “So I don’t know. I really don’t know. We had a great coach in Chuck Noll, and he played by the rules. He coached by the rules, and I don’t think anything, given my faith in him and his teaching and his beliefs, I don’t think anything would have changed. But (under these rules), I still would give it my best to play up to his teaching and his coaching.”
Would you still make the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Greene thought a moment before he said: “Well, I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
A couple of corners of local offices have seen some distinctive decorations lately, honoring the memory of a giant of professional football.
The Pittsburgh Steelers recently enshrined Ernie Stautner in the team’s new Hall of Honor. His family, including his wife, Jill, brought some of the memorabilia home, including a metal football engraved with Stautner’s name, number and playing dates.
Stautner played when pro football was working its way from out of the shadows of the college game. Players generally played both offense and defense, and yes, they were tough.
They had to be.
Stautner played his entire 14-year pro career with the Steelers, from 1950 through 1963. Stautner, a tackle, was a stalwart on a Steelers team without many stars, but he was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969, his first year of eligibility.
First number retired
Stautner’s jersey number, 70, was the first number retired by the team. It was the Steelers’ only retired number until the team retired “Mean” Joe Greene’s No. 75 in 2015.
Stautner went on to a long career as a coach. He was the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator for 25 years and helped the team win two championships. He also coached for the Steelers, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos in the NFL and was the head coach of the Dallas Texans of an arena league and the Frankfurt Galaxy of the short-lived NFL Europe league.
The Stautners bought their first home in the Vail Valley in 1989 and spent a lot of time in the area. Ernie and Jill Stautner were married on Vail Mountain by Vail Municipal Judge Buck Allen. Ernie died in 2006.
Jill works in the town of Vail Human Resources Department. She and part of the family went to Pittsburgh for the Hall of Honor ceremony in November.
Jill was thrilled to attend, and even more thrilled to have a jersey, and a team jacket embroidered with Ernie’s name and number.
The gear only spent a few days at Vail’s town hall. A family member works on-mountain at Vail and took it there for a few days.
“There are a lot of Steelers fans (on the mountain),” Jill Stautner said.
The gear, though, will live at the Stautners’ home. That’s where it belongs.
After spending the past two years with the Oklahoma State receiving corps, LC Greenwood has changed positions to linebacker.
Greenwood, a third-year sophomore, played in three games last season but didn’t record any statistics. He was Scout’s No. 21 wide receiver prospect out of high school but also played linebacker.
“He came in and wanted to make the move,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. “He felt like that maybe he had hit a dead end at the wideout spot, so he wanted to make a move to the other side of the ball.”
Asked how the transition has been going, Gundy said: “It’s too early to tell. He’s just trying to get lined up right now. We should know a lot more three weeks into August.”
Moore targeted frequently
Former Union wideout C.J. Moore was thrown to multiple times during Saturday’s Orange Blitz, a sign that he will be an active member of the receiving rotation next season.
“I think he’s gained 30 pounds, so his body’s changed,” Gundy said. “He’s learning to handle it with body control and all the things the guys that play wideout here have to do in order to be successful. He’s growing into his body and learning.
“He’s going to need another year to where you can just say we’re going to leave you in there for 55-60 plays a game and play at a high level. I don’t know that he’ll be ready for that, but he should be able to give us a number of plays early in the year and we’ll see how he develops in live situations.”
Big recruiting opportunity
With only 11 other FBS teams hosting their spring game Saturday and none from the Big 12, the Orange Blitz provided a chance for recruits to attend. It is believed 70-80 high school athletes attended the practice as guests of OSU.
A chance to rub elbows with Pittsburgh Steelers alumni, including Pro Football Hall of Famers Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson, is part of the team’s 17th annual men’s fantasy camp experience this spring.
The three-day event will be held May 31-June 2 at Saint Vincent College in Unity Township, near Latrobe. Registration is open, and interested participants can call 412-697-7713 for more information. Campers will receive dorm housing, meals and a black Nike custom replica jersey with the particpant’s name and number of choice.
Dawson will participate in a food and beverage reception, and Woodson will be the special guest at a Saturday dinner.
The event will be hosted by Steelers alumni and broadcasters Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley. Others former Steelers players on hand for the event will be Chris Hoke, Arthur Moats and Louis Lipps.
A fantasy camp combine will take place on June 2 with prizes being awarded. Cost of the three-day event is $799 per person.
The biggest concert to come to Pittsburgh will take place on Saturday when country music legend Garth Brooks plays in front of a record crowd at Heinz Field for his Legacy tour.
And it’s only appropriate that the man playing to that many people, in the home of the Steelers, is a Steelers fan himself.
Brooks, who received a Steelers helmet from team President Art Rooney II, talked about his love of the Steelers during a press conference on Friday, first off sharing how he became a fan of the team.
“Where I was from everybody was a Dallas Cowboys fan,” said Brooks, who is from Oklahoma. “If I am going to go against the grain, the two teams going against Dallas at that point were the Washington Redskins and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh had (Jack) Lambert and (Jack) Ham. If you are a little kid and see those guys, that’s who you want to be.”
His love of all Pittsburgh sports teams grew through the years, as did his friendship with players, from Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Keisel, to newcomers like Mason Rudolph and James Washington, who both played at Oklahoma State.
“I’m in love with Ben Roethlisberger,” said Brooks. “He’s my guy. Any time I get down, I look in the mirror and say, ‘I am Ben Roethlisberger.’
“Ben always told me the difference between this city and others is that they expect you to get up here. If you get knocked on your (butt) you’re in the game, which means you’re living.
“I think that’s why I like Ben. I like the people here. They’re the kind of people I want to be.
“Keisel might be one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever met. Thank God that God put a sweet soul in a man that size. He is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, at the same time one of the most feared guys I have ever seen. You put him around children, and he becomes this teddy bear. That’s the kind of guy I want to be around. It’s pretty cool.”
In every city Brooks’ visits he reaches out to the community through the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation.
It’s an opportunity to share strong messages, based on the principles of attitude, character, courage, discipline, respect and love.
Brooks was joined by Coach Mike Tomlin on Friday at the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, speaking to a group of young people about the challenges they face in life and making sure that they don’t allow their differences to become a negative that divides but rather a positive that brings people together.
“It’s really great to be a part of something that is giving,” said Tomlin. “Garth comes to town and is entertaining and so forth. But for him to take time for this community and share some wisdom and some love, I feel honored to be included and glad to do so.”
The Squirrel Hill community was rocked last October when the lives of 11 people were senselessly taken at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Both of them shared the importance of diversity, accepting people for who they are, what they are, and sharing love.
“We need to focus on what we have in common, not our differences,” Brooks told the kids. “If you are going to focus on the differences, think of it this way. Nuclear war there are only 10 people that survive on this planet. Garth Brooks is one of those 10 people.”
Brooks went on to share that among those 10, you need diversity to survive because of skills, because of what everyone brings to the table.
“When there are only 10 of you against the world, you want diversity,” Brooks continued. “You want someone who is a dreamer. You want someone who is a defender. You need that. We need us all. We have differences, so what. The color of our skin might be different, so what. Our religions might be different, so what. In judging and separating, dig in and gain knowledge of other religions. Love one another. That’s it. It’s that concave part of love, the forgiveness, the tolerance. Be part of something bigger than you. That’s love.”
Tomlin, who lives in the Squirrel Hill area, related the importance of diversity to what happens in the locker room, where players come from all walks of life.
“There is a lot of diversity in an NFL locker room,” said Tomlin. “Guys come from various walks of life. We come together, but you don’t have to be in that locker room for long to know that we have a lot more similarities than differences. Most of the time when guys sit around and talk, they wish their family members had the understanding they have, the things that the game does as far as bringing people of various backgrounds together for one charge. I think the toughest thing is they want their loved ones back home to have the same understanding. They don’t realize how similar they are. But the men in that locker room do.”
Jack Lambert has kept an incredibly low profile since retiring from pro football nearly 35 years ago. Lambert, one of the most iconic Steelers of all-time, has spent his retirement years serving as a voluntary deputy wildlife officer, coaching youth baseball and basketball teams and taking care of his area’s local athletic fields.
Lambert did make a rare public appearance this weekend, taking part in a memorabilia signing that also included Pittsburgh Pirates legend, Dick Groat.
Lambert arrived in Pittsburgh in 1974 as a little known, undersized inside linebacker out of Kent State. Eleven years later, he retired as a four time Super Bowl champion, a nine time Pro Bowler, a six time All-Pro, the 1976 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lambert, arguably the most iconic player in franchise history, announced his retirement from the NFL in March of 1985. You can see highlights from his retirement press conference in the video below.
After missing just three games during his first decade with the Steelers, a painful toe injury sidelined Lambert for half of the 1984 season. Lambert explained the severity of his injury during his retirement press conference.
“I was making a tackle and I had my toe somehow positioned into the astroturf,” Lambert said. “When we hit, we hit so hard we jammed the toe and tore it out of its socket. It’s as simple as that.”
Despite his absence, the Steelers rallied to advance to the AFC title game, where they fell to Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in the highest scoring game in AFC championship history. Lambert, despite his tremendous contributions to the franchise over the years, did not feel like he deserved compensation for his limited impact during his final season with the Steelers.
“Last year was probably the most difficult year of my life in regard to football,” he said. “It was the first time in my life that I ever felt like I didn’t deserve a paycheck. I felt kind of embarrassed about going back and picking up my paycheck from Mr. Rooney. It was rather embarrassing, and I certainly didn’t wanna go through that again this year.”
Lambert, not wanting to go through another injury-riddled season in 1985, knew his time had come. That didn’t mean, however, that saying goodbye to the Steelers and the game of football was easy.
“It’s easy to say you’re going to retire, but to actually make the phone call to Mr. Rooney and say, ‘Mr. Rooney, I’m going to retire,'” Lambert said. “To call Chuck Noll and say, ‘Coach Noll, I’m going to retire.’ I’ve been playing football every year for 20 years, it’s just hard to imagine that it’s over. My only regret is that it went so fast.”
Lambert, over three decades removed from his final snap as a Steeler, remains one of the most popular players in franchise history. No. 58 jerseys can still be seen in the crowd at Heinz Field on game days, as fans that weren’t even alive to see him play in person celebrate his legacy in the steel city. And while his greatness as a player certainly helped make him an endearing presence in Pittsburgh, Lambert’s work ethic and downright toughness is what made him a Pittsburgh sports legend.
“I think that there are a lot of steel mill workers in this town; hard working people,” Lambert said. “This is a football city. I think they know their football very well, I think they know who is out there working hard. I think they thought I worked hard out there. I think they appreciated that.”
MIKE KELLEY FROM PHOENIX, AZ: One of my favorite players was Aaron Smith, a man who worked hard at his position without seeking to glorify himself, but to better the team. Have you heard anything about what he is doing?
ANSWER: What I can relay to you about Aaron Smith is what I learned from a story written by Joe Bendel that appeared in the Aug. 10, 2018 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. According to that story, Smith has lost 70 pounds from his playing weight and currently is an assistant basketball coach at North Allegheny High School, which is located north of the city of Pittsburgh. The following is a passage quoted directly from Bendel’s story:
“’I want to win a state championship,’ said Smith, who is down to 235 pounds. ‘That’s why I’m here. I’m not here just to pass time and just have fun with the kids. I want to win. I want to be the best.’
“Don’t get the wrong idea: Smith enjoys his time mentoring the North Allegheny interior players and overseeing the weight-training program. His mission, though, is to instill a championship mentality.
“’I approach this in the same way I approached football,’ Smith said. ‘I’m always watching videos, asking questions. I want to be the best coach I can be and give these kids the chance to be their very best.’
“Smith, 42, said basketball has always been his first love, going back to his days as an all-state player at Sierra High School in Colorado. But, because football offered the best route to athletic success, he attended the University of Northern Colorado, where he was part of a Division I-AA championship team.”
TIM SIVERD FROM SOUTH HILL, VA: I was surprised that we drafted a running back in the fourth round. I felt we were pretty deep at that position, and that was the least of our needs. What do you think?
ANSWER: The Steelers typically keep three running backs plus a fullback on their 53-man roster. Two of the three running back are James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, and the fullback is Rosie Nix. Who’s the No. 3 running back? Stevan Ridley was given a chance to be the No. 3 running back, but he fumbled too often. In the case of Benny Snell, I believe you need to look beyond just the position he plays to the manner in which he plays it. And the guy seems to be able to add a component to the backfield this current group is missing, which is a powerful runner who could be effective gaining yards on the ground when the other team knows the Steelers are going to be trying to gain yards on the ground. And the fourth round is the correct time to be adding the kind of player Snell is.
KEN MAULDIN FROM CLYDE, PA: The Steelers have not had a home opener since 2014. Does the NFL pay any attention to those kind of trends during scheduling?
ANSWER: What the NFL pays attention to in situations such as the one the Steelers have on the North Shore, meaning an NFL team and a Major League Baseball team sharing the same general geographic area and parking lots, is when the Pirates are at home or on the road during the months when baseball and football both are being played. This September, the Pirates are at home on Sept. 8 and Sept. 29, and so the Steelers are on the road on the first weekend of their regular season and then have a Monday night game at Heinz Field on Sept. 30.
DUANE ROBERTS FROM ALTOONA, PA: Is there a chance that Mark Barron ends up playing safety again since we drafted Devin Bush?
ANSWER: I really, really, really hate these questions so many readers have been submitting that pose a question in the form of “is there a chance” or “what are the odds?” I am not an oddsmaker, and life has taught me that with the exception of things that either are physically impossible or against the laws of nature, anything is possible. That said, when Mark Barron was a defensive back during the first couple of years of his NFL career, he played strong safety. Terrell Edmunds is the starting strong safety.
ANDREW SCHERBIK FROM DELRAN, NJ: I know that the Steelers have retired two jersey numbers – Ernie Stautner’s No. 70 and Joe Greene’s No. 75. Why is that? If they do retire another number, I think it should be Mel Blount’s No. 47.
ANSWER: Your contention that No. 47 should be the next jersey to be retired is one of the arguments for refraining – at least for a while – from adding to that exclusive club that so far counts only Ernie Stautner and Joe Greene as members. There are nine players from those great teams of the 1970s who are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Rooney family appreciates each of them. Mel Blount certainly would be a good choice, but so would Franco Harris, Jack Ham, and Jack Lambert. And that list doesn’t even include Terry Bradshaw. Where to start? Where to stop? Should it only be players from those 1970s teams? Mike Webster? What about Jerome Bettis? My personal belief is this conundrum is one of the reasons behind the Steelers coming up with the idea of a Hall of Honor as a way to identify and memorialize forever the great players and key contributors in franchise history. Because retiring all of those jersey numbers just isn’t practical, primarily because of the rules the NFL has regarding which numbers certain position players are eligible to wear.
ROBIN WALDRON FROM VERO BEACH, FL: Been a Steelers fan for ages. Former student Nehari Crawford is attending camp, and I was wondering how he is measuring up?
ANSWER: Nehari Crawford, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound wide receiver who played his college football at Duquesne University, attended rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. At the conclusion of the weekend, he was not offered a contract by the Steelers.
MITCHELL LONG FROM DURANT, OK: Had there been any consideration about signing Eric Berry? He’s not as young as he used to be, but it’s hard to ignore a name like his just sitting in free agency, and he would add quality depth and a good veteran presence to our defensive backfield.
ANSWER: You’re attracted by the name and reputation and not realizing the toll injuries have taken on Eric Berry. Based on his nine seasons with the Chiefs, Berry could have played in 144 NFL regular season games, but because of injuries he was able to play in 87. One season after making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Berry, now 30, tore his ACL in the first quarter of the opener, ending his season. That was the first of four seasons during his nine years in Kansas City that he missed almost an entire season. In 2014 season, he was diagnosed with lymphoma; his 2017 season ended after one game because of a torn Achilles, and he played in just three games in 2018 because of an ailing heel. Of the last 34 games during his time with the Chiefs, including playoffs, Berry played in only three.
MITCH HUTTON FROM WILMINGTON, NC: Do you think the Steelers should’ve taken a chance on Darron Lee? I think he has huge upside and also can replicate Ryan Shazier’s athleticism plus he’s young and possibly could’ve replaced Jon Bostic.
ANSWER: In case you missed it, the Steelers traded up 10 spots in the 2019 NFL Draft and picked Devin Bush, whose speed and agility performance at the Combine were similar to Ryan Shazier’s; he won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until July 18; and he did replace Jon Bostic.
CAL SABO FROM AKRON, OH: What is the status of Jake McGee?
ANSWER: Jake McGee, a tight end from Virginia who was trying to earn a spot with the Steelers in 2018, tore an Achilles during that year’s OTAs, and he wasn’t tendered a contract by the team after spending 2018 on injured reserve. I don’t believe he has signed with another NFL team.
Now go fight for the job opening you just thought you were hired to fill.
That is the message being sent by the Steelers to each of their three significant free-agent signees this offseason.
Inside linebacker Mark Barron, formerly of the Rams, inked a two-year, $12 million contract in March. Donte Moncrief’s deal was $9 million over two years after he bolted from Jacksonville. And Steven Nelson came on board for $25.5 million over three years to leave Kansas City.
After signing that trio to play linebacker, receiver and cornerback, respectively, general manager Kevin Colbert then proceeded to use his first three draft choices on Devin Bush, Diontae Johnson and Justin Layne to play — you guessed it — inside linebacker, wide receiver and cornerback.
The Steelers normally are loath to spend in free agency. To do so to the tune of $46.5 million dollars among three players, only then to replicate their positions in the draft, may seem odd.
That’s especially true when you consider free agency and draft capital was spent on inside linebacker and receiver a year ago in Jon Bostic and James Washington.
But those two added less than the Steelers hoped. In fact, Bostic already is gone from the inside linebacker depth chart, as is L.J. Fort. He went to Philadelphia in free agency.
When it comes to pass options downfield for Ben Roethlisberger, Washington’s failure to emerge as a weapon last season is compounded by Antonio Brown’s trade to Oakland.
So there’s room for multiple players at these positions. But are there enough snaps to go around to make these free agents feel they made the right choice?
Did they see the ranks being thin enough here to fit in, even if the Steelers used picks on bodies at their spots?
“It’s not surprising,” Barron said at the Steelers’ first OTA on Tuesday. “It’s a need they were looking to fill. I’m not surprised about it. I’m excited about the situation. (Bush) is a great young talent. I’m always excited to play with great young players.”
Nelson appears to have the least to worry about. And he appears to know it.
“If you pay a guy, you don’t want him sit the bench, right?” Nelson asked. “I’m not afraid of competition. I’ve been doing that my whole career.”
It’s not just money with Nelson. His competition appears to be the lightest from the draft choices. Layne is perceived to be a bit of a project since he was converted from wide receiver while at Michigan State.
Unless Nelson really stinks in the preseason, he has an excellent chance of starting at the cornerback position opposite of Joe Haden.
“It’s great to have somebody in the room like that, 10 years in the league,” Nelson said of Haden. “It definitely helps elevate my game. I ask a lot of questions and see from a different perspective. You want to see how he sees things, through his eyes.”
Nelson would have to get injured or completely whiff on learning the playbook, and Artie Burns, Cam Sutton, Brian Allen or Mike Hilton would have to look like Mel Blount to make him a backup.
For Barron—who pointed out he did get the first snap of the “Seven Shots” goal line drill—and Moncrief, however, reps could become pinched by the presence of Bush and Johnson.
Given the efforts Kevin Colbert made to trade up for Bush, the presumption is the Steelers would like for him to start at inside linebacker within the first few weeks of the season, if not right away.
That’s if he proves physically and mentally ready for that task.
“I’m just getting around him,” Barron said of Bush. “If I see something he needs help with, I’ll most definitely help him out.”
In fact, Barron may find himself fighting Vince Williams for playing time as much as Bush if the first-rounder plays as well as the organization hopes.
“We can all play football,” Barron said. “We are all good players. We’ll see how everything goes.”
Similarly, if Johnson lives up to his draft-day hype, which may be impossible, he’ll be hard to keep on the bench. Moncrief may find himself trying to take looks from Eli Rogers and James Washington more so than Johnson in multiple receiver sets.
“When you are on the board, you’ve gotta take the best guy,” Moncrief said of Johnson. “And obviously he was the best guy for us. You’ve gotta take him in and teach him the game.”
As we predicted weeks before the draft, the Steelers were expected to have this approach. The replication at positions of need isn’t overkill. Because in each case, the Steelers need depth and starters at cornerback, receiver and inside linebacker.
In a perfect world, the rookies will be dynamic enough that the free-agent veterans become the depth and the rookies become the starters.
But any upgrade — in any combination — at those spots will be a welcome relief for Steelers fans.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.
Devin Bush didn’t hesitate when asked to name his favorite Steeler shortly after being selected by Pittsburgh with the 10th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Bush, formerly an All-American linebacker at Michigan, is just the third player Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert has traded up to acquire in is 20 drafts with Pittsburgh.
“Troy Polamalu,” Bush said. “That would be my favorite Steeler.”
Polamalu, ironically, was the first player Colbert traded up to acquire when he traded up from the 27th overall pick to select Polamalu, a strong safety, with the 16th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. Polamalu, who enjoyed an extremely productive career at USC, would go onto earn eight Pro Bowl selections and four All-Pro nods along with earning the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2010. Polamalu, who also retired with two Super Bowl rings, will most likely be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020, his first year of eligibility.
The second player Colbert traded up to acquire was receiver Santonio Holmes, who came to Pittsburgh after helping Ohio State defeat Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Holmes would go onto make one of the greatest plays in NFL history, as his touchdown catch late in Super Bowl XLIII propelled Pittsburgh to a 27-23 victory over Arizona while making the Steelers the first franchise in NFL history to win six Vince Lombardi Trophies. Holmes, who caught nine passes for 131 yards against the Cardinals, was named the game’s MVP.
Bush was undaunted when asked about following in Polamalu and Holmes’ footsteps. In fact, Bush is embracing the challenge of living up to the careers of the two preview players Colbert has traded up to select.
“I wanna be both of those [a Hall of Famer and Super Bowl MVP]” Bush said. “I wanna try hard to be both of those.”
Bush also explained what it meant to him knowing how much the Steelers value his ability and potential.
“It means everything,” he said. “Just to be able to know that the Steelers were that high on me. They feel like I can be a game changer in their program. I know that they’re looking to win, and they feel I was the best pick to help them win. That means everything to me.”
Bush is also excited to play for head coach Mike Tomlin, who is trying to become only the 14th head coach in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowl titles.
“I know Coach Tomlin’s a player’s coach,” Bush said. “Just talking to guys at the Steelers…I know he’s a player’s coach; he’s all for his players. Actually meeting him, I know he’s that. I know he goes hard for his players and I know he’s also a coach that loves to win, and he’s looking to win.”
Le’Veon Bell has already surpassed the level of star power Carnell Lake received during his NFL career. Lake, who served as Pittsburgh’s defensive backs coach for seven years before retiring this past offseason, spent 10 of his 12 NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A linebacker in college, Lake transitioned to safety after being drafted in the second round of the 1989 NFL draft. In 1994, Lake started a streak of four consecutive Pro Bowl selections while playing both safety and cornerback for the Steelers while helping Pittsburgh win the 1995 AFC title. Lake earned All-Pro honors in 1997 after recording three interceptions and 6.0 sacks while helping the Steelers advance to the AFC title game.
During a recent interview with Ron Lippock of 247Sports/Steel City Insider, Lake was asked what advice he would give to Bell with regard to his current contract situation. Lake left the Steelers following the 1998 season after receiving a much more lucrative offer from Pittsburgh’s division rival, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like Bell, Lake was franchise tagged by Pittsburgh before leaving the team for Jacksonville.
“Well, he’s not the first one in Pittsburgh to hold out,” Lake said. “There were many that did before there was free agency. That was the only recourse then. I’ll say this, and it’s tricky. Mike [Tomlin] does a good job with that team and he’s doing a good job focusing on the game coming up and the 53 there now. He needs to keep the team focused. If Bell does show up, he’ll be a part of the Steelers. If he plays well, all will be brushed under the rug, in my opinion. You can’t tell him what to do.
“I’ll say this though. If I were talking with Le’Veon, I’d tell him to start asking around with other players who have gone through similar things. How did that work out for them? What are your expectations and what do you expect to accomplish holding out. What outcomes have resulted for guys that did what you’re doing? He just needs to be sure he knows what he’s doing and the potential consequences.”
While he ended up making another Pro Bowl in Jacksonville, Lake was still disappointed that he wasn’t able to end his career in Pittsburgh.
“I was fortunate that even though I left I had a good perspective watching other older players leave the team,” said Lake, who watched teammates such as Chad Brown, Willie Williams, Rod Woodson and Yancey Thigpen leave Pittsburgh in prior seasons. ‘I saw players leave ahead of me and thought that when I got to that point I may have to leave also. I didn’t take it personally. I made sure I said nothing negative in the press. I wanted to leave on good terms. I was thankful for them drafting me and for my time there. I had 10 awesome years there.
“I took the Jacksonville offer because none were even close to it. I didn’t want to leave, honestly. I was getting my MBA at Duquesne after Mr. Rooney wrote me a great recommendation to help get me in. I wanted to finish up there. I told myself if the offers were close I would stay, but the Jacksonville offer was not even close to the others.”
While each players’ financial situation is different, it’s clear that Lake feels that Bell should look at other past Steelers who fled Pittsburgh in free agency before ultimately making his free agency decision in 2019.