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Madden: Shaw, Holmes took risks, lost

Saturday, April 06, 2002

There's a fine line separating guts and stupidity, and wide receiver Bobby Shaw chose to walk that tightrope when he signed with Jacksonville this week.

Shaw passed up a three-year deal with the Steelers that would have included a $300,000 signing bonus to take a one-year deal with Jacksonville that pays a $25,000 signing bonus and a $525,000 salary, the minimum a player of Shaw's NFL experience can earn.

With wide receiver Keenan McCardell about to be cut by the Jaguars, Shaw senses a chance to start, excel, then cash in big-time when his contract expires. But Jacksonville also signed Baltimore backup Patrick Johnson to compete for the vacancy that will be created when McCardell becomes a salary-cap victim.

If Shaw winds up on the bench for Jacksonville, he looks like a fool. If Shaw starts, but struggles, he looks like a fool. Either way, he has passed up superior money and exposed himself as a guy who has been a career backup because that's what his talent warrants. He also has gone from a great team that's favored to make the Super Bowl to a lousy one that's paying the price for prior cap manipulation.

I give Shaw credit for having confidence in his abilities. If he starts, he could get good numbers because Jacksonville certainly tries to air it out.

But there are too many potential pitfalls in Shaw's situation to justify passing up $275,000 in guaranteed money. Shaw can never get that cash back.

Steelers starting receiver Hines Ward, as we all know and glory in, plays a style that borders on suicidal. Ward being injured significantly at some point is not only a possibility, it's a probability. Shaw might have gotten a chance to show his stuff as a starter then. Sure, that's hardly certain. But it's no less certain than the situation he faces in Jacksonville.

Bobby, one bit of advice: Don't show off the "Superman" T-shirt when you're losing. Which figures to be most of the time for the Jaguars.

At least Shaw decided his own fate. He didn't have to come to the Steelers with hat (and tin cup) in hand like Earl Holmes did this week.

I was dumbfounded when the denouement to the Holmes saga turned out to be former New York Jet James Farrior signing with the Steelers and Holmes going to the hated Cleveland Browns. Holmes talked grandly about coming "home" when he visited the Steelers Thursday, and there seemed to be no indication that negotiations were about to crumble. But crumble they did.

Before last season, Holmes was offered a deal that would have reportedly paid him a $5 million signing bonus. Thursday, Holmes was offered a package that would have reportedly paid him less than $2 million per year. When the cameras and microphones were turned off and the numbers put on the table, Holmes couldn't hide his disappointment. The Steelers figured Holmes' disappointment would only grow and likely suspected that his play and/or locker-room demeanor would be negatively affected at some point.

Don't blame Holmes for potentially taking a sour taste into the season had he stayed with the Steelers at a cut-rate price. After Levon Kirkland got cut after the 2000 season, the Steelers made noise about bringing Kirkland back via the bargain-basement route. But Kirkland nixed that notion before it even had a chance to gain momentum. Kirkland felt that his teammates wouldn't respect him if he crawled back for table scraps after being served filet mignon for so many years.

Farrior got a three-year deal that's reportedly worth $5.4 million, which is roughly what the Steelers offered Holmes. Holmes didn't turn it down but did want to negotiate some more, which is what made the Steelers sign Farrior. At any rate, many in the Steelers' organization believe Farrior is the superior player. The Steelers' movers and shakers seemed to be generally dissatisfied with Holmes' play last season.

Holmes' critics say the Steelers' defense was designed to funnel ball carriers to him, hence his team lead in tackles. Farrior led the NFL in tackles last season, but the Jets gave Farrior a lot of freedom to roam all over the field, hence his outstanding numbers.

Replacing Holmes with Farrior will be a wash. Farrior played outside linebacker with the Jets, but he played inside linebacker in college at Virginia. He also played in a 3-4 defense -- albeit outside -- when Bill Parcells coached the Jets, so Farrior's adjustment to his new job shouldn't be exceedingly difficult. Farrior's experience at outside linebacker gives the Steelers future flexibility if they can't keep Joey Porter for the long haul.

It will be interesting to see who stays in the game when the Steelers go to the dime defense. Farrior reportedly has playing-time incentives built into his contract, so he might pout if he gets yanked.

Holmes is replaceable. So is Shaw, obviously. In fact, there's only one thing in the NFL that can't be replaced, only one thing that is precious beyond compare: A legitimate shot at winning a Super Bowl.

Holmes and Shaw are about to learn that the hard way.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show 3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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