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Savran: Steelers can't wait to make their move

Saturday, March 02, 2002

It reads like the "B" list for Paul Tagliabue's next dinner party. Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe -- who will receive invitations to spend a steamy August Saturday in Canton, Ohio -- Leon Searcy and Qadry Ismail have been cut adrift by the once, and only once, Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

Jamie Sharper and Jermaine Lewis were jettisoned by a different method, but for the same reason.

Now the Ravens must ask themselves -- Was it worth it?

You load up with a Sharpe, a Woodson and a Sam Adams trying to win a championship, then reload with a Searcy and an Elvis Grbac in an attempt to win two while the window of opportunity is still open, you know that whether the mission is accomplished or aborted, you'll eventually pay the price for paying the price.

Now that Baltimore's time and money have run out, it's hard to imagine the Ravens being in contention for much of anything except high draft picks the next few years. Even with a genius as their coach.

Again, was it worth it?

The response in Baltimore would be different than in Jacksonville. But, examining below the surface, I'd say it's not necessary.

If the majority of your payroll is going to the team you've developed, if your nucleus is strong, relatively young, and the wrecking ball of free agency is at least a season away from destroying what you've built, recruiting a large number of mercenaries shouldn't be necessary.

But if you're more than three bricks shy of a load, then you most likely overpay for missing parts that have a lot of wear.

Although the Jaguars were seeking leadership and veteran presence as well as playing ability, they spent tons of money on 30-somethings Hardy Nickerson and Carnell Lake. If those two had quality football left in them, Jacksonville never got to see it because of injuries. By the time Nickerson was healthy, it was too late. Lake never did get healthy and was a cap casualty, gone to guess where? Baltimore.

San Francisco is the poster child for glamour recruits, although it appears they had to do some big-time book cookin' to do it. Nevertheless, four Vince Lombardi trophies in nine seasons in the '80s and a fifth in 1994 would seem to justify the means it took to achieve it.

But the 49ers were guilty of overkill. They recruited hired guns like nose tackle Jim Burt as a part-time player. He didn't come cheaply. Nor did Matt Millen. Charles Haley, Rickey Jackson and, most of all, Deion Sanders.

As talented as the 49ers were in those years, did they really need the the most expensive defensive back in the game to continue winning Super Bowls? I'm not saying Sanders didn't help, but was he the difference on that star-studded team? At that price?

The 49ers paid a high price for those championships, but they do have them.

So what's the best way to do it? Win now at any and all costs and eventually sit out the championship dance for a few years because you can no longer afford to participate? Or stay close virtually every year, hoping to break through?

The Steelers' charted course is obvious. In the game of NFL Caponomics, they've stayed close. Close enough to taste, but far enough away to remain hungry.

What's missing? Given the choices they've made this off-season, is there enough wiggle room to bring in that missing part?

Even if the cap fit is skin tight, they could make room if they thought one guy would make the difference.

And if you were part of team management, what would you identify as the missing link separating them from a championship?

A big-time veteran receiver with some tread on his tires, like Cris Carter? A monster pass-rushing specialist at defensive end? Or perhaps a lower profile, but invaluable special teams maniac? Or a kicker?

The Steelers' cap situation isn't so desperate that they couldn't make way for a player they believe might take them to the Super Bowl, even if they face the prospect of losing players such as Joey Porter, Aaron Smith and Amos Zereoue next season.

Right now, with their window very much open, this season is all that matters. If they're inclined to shift their philosophy ever so slightly, now would be the time to do it.

Stan Savran is the hosts of a sports talk show from 8 to 9 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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