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Farmer among 13 waived by Steelers

Wright, Northern also cut as roster is trimmed to 53

Monday, August 28, 2000

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Steelers provided no surprises of stunning proportions when they cut their roster to 53 yesterday, but there were some mild ones, an historical one, and some expensive ones.

 
Anthony Wright (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette) 

When rookie wide receiver Danny Farmer, a fourth-round pick, was waived, he became the highest draft choice cut by the Steelers before his rookie season in 15 years.

And when Farmer ($297,000) joined veteran linebacker Gabe Northern ($185,000) and veteran safety Lance Brown ($100,000) on the cut list, they added up to $582,000 in signing bonuses that were paid -- and lost -- by the Steelers this year.

Not since safety Liffort Hobley, a third-rounder, was released during training camp in 1985, have the Steelers cut a higher pick than Farmer before the season. They cut two other fourth-round rookies -- safety Bill Callahan in 1986, and fullback Carlos King in 1998 -- but not until after the fourth game of the season.

Farmer fell victim to a sprained ankle he sustained in the middle of training camp and the veteran ability of Courtney Hawkins. Farmer caught three passes for 18 yards this summer.

 
 
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"Fourth-rounders are high draft choices," Coach Bill Cowher said. "But in this case, when you looked at Courtney and Danny, it was probably just a case of weighing what was in the best interests of this team. Courtney gives us a lot of experience at a position right now that's very young."

Hawkins is the only receiver of the six with more than two years experience in the NFL.

Among the other roster cuts, what they mean and what Cowher had to say about them:

Rookie Tee Martin was kept as the No. 3 quarterback and Anthony Wright, who made the team last season as the No. 4 quarterback, was waived after the Steelers tried to trade him and could not.

"He has a little bit of a presence," Cowher said of Martin, who quarterbacked Tennessee to the national championship last year. "He's not ready to play right now but he does have some intangibles that maybe are hard to describe. He has a chance to be a good player in this league."

Cowher said keeping four quarterbacks was a "luxury I didn't think we could afford to go with."

The Steelers kept two rookie free agents, 5-foot-11 inside linebacker Donnel Thompson and safety Ainsley Battles, and let two veterans go, linebacker Chad Kelsay and safety Lance Brown.

"Every year you have to re-establish yourself," Cowher said. "Both those young men made it, they earned it, they took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves."

Brown was a member of their dime passing defense, a job that will now belong to either cornerback Jason Simmons or safety Brent Alexander.

An invigorated Mike Vrabel and surprising rookie Clark Haggans knocked Northern out of the box.

The Steelers signed Northern, who started the past two seasons in Buffalo, expecting him to at least become their No. 1 backup at outside linebacker. But hamstring injuries prevented Northern from practicing or playing until the past two games.

"Mike Vrabel came in and probably had the best camp he's had since he's been here," Cowher said. "And Clark Haggans, coming out of minicamp I don't think anyone would have expected him to make the strides he made. They had a chance to play and would have been hard players to let go."

Guard Anthony Brown, a six-year veteran who started 11 games at right tackle for the Steelers last year, lost out to two other veteran guards, Roger Duffy and Tom Myslinski, both of whom can play center.

The Cinderella story that was rookie center-guard Hank Fraley of Robert Morris College temporarily ended when he was released, although he likely will join their practice squad today.

Defensive lineman Jeremy Staat made the team because defensive end Chris Sullivan is out with a back injury.

Other cuts: second-year players Ernie Brown, a defensive lineman, and Matt Cushing, a tight end; rookie free agents Dan Kreider, a fullback, and nose tackle Al Lucas; and two players signed during training camp because of injuries, guard Greg Huntington and halfback Pepe Pearson.

Unlike many times in past seasons, Cowher said the salary cap had no effect on yesterday's cuts. Indeed, they could cost the Steelers more under the cap.

If, for example, a team claims Farmer off waivers today, his entire $297,000 signing bonus will count against their cap this season. If he clears waivers, he will count only one-third, $99,000, this season and the rest in 2001.

Cutting Farmer was difficult because of that signing bonus and because they released a player in whom they obviously had high regard.

"You're looking at a guy you think has some skills," Cowher said.

But the Steelers have had problems with a young group of receivers, including their two starters, Troy Edwards and Plaxico Burress, and they're hoping Hawkins can help bring them along. Hawkins caught a 33-yard touchdown pass Friday night in Washington and another for 46 yards. He led the Steelers in receiving two years ago and started 11 games for them last season before he sustained an ankle injury.

He became an unrestricted free agent, and re-signed with the Steelers days before training camp opened for one year at the veteran minimum wage of $440,000.

"Receiver-wise, it's a very young group," Cowher said. "Courtney came in and went about his business as a professional each and every day, took advantage of the opportunities that were presented to him and gives us experience with a very young group of receivers.

"You would have liked to see Danny at full strength for the five games, but those are tough decisions to make and you have to look at the makeup of the team as much as the individual talent."

Cowher said he cannot foresee changing the 53-man roster this week, but he would not rule it out. The Steelers can add five rookies or first-year players to their practice squad today. Besides Fraley, Kreider, Lucas and Farmer would be candidates if no one claims them.



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