Having A Clean Image Means A Lot to the Steelers

Perhaps more so than any other franchise in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a desire to be perceived as a force for good in the world of sports. The organization has long prided itself on not being a refuge for people of questionable character, even if their history of dealing with their own wayward players has been inconsistent at best. ↵

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↵The Steelers had been dealing with enough of a headache with the latest off-the-field incident involving their franchise quarterback when star wideout Santonio Holmes got himself involved in an alleged incident of violence at an Orlando night club. No stranger to trouble in his four years in the NFL, Holmes didn't help his case by disseminating a series of rancorous messages to fans over his Twitter account. But the final straw for the Steelers was Holmes landing a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, especially when the receiver already has a history of marijuana-related trouble. ↵

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↵Taken together with the pressure (either internal or external) to return their place as NFL do-gooders, the Steelers shocked the football world by agreeing last night to ship Holmes to the New York Jets in exchange for a 5th round draft pick. In accepting such a staggeringly low price for their no. 1 receiver, the Steelers presumably were trying to send a message that they would not tolerate untoward behavior from their athletes. But what does that say about their willingness to retain others, such as Jeff Reed and Ben Roethlisberger? No doubt questions will be raised similar to those that were posited after the team held onto James Harrison but dumped Cedric Wilson when each were hit with domestic violence charges. ↵

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↵In the meantime, the trade has significant ramifications for each team and perhaps for the AFC as well. Santonio has the suspension and is entering the final year of his contract, but his presence gives the Jets a potentially lethal tandem of wide receivers if both Santonio and Braylon Edwards can even sniff their respective potential for the team. If Mark Sanchez evolves into an adequate passer in his second season, the Jets would have to be among the favorites to take the conference title, which was almost already theirs last season. Those are a lot of ifs, but the stakes are considerably low when you consider what they surrendered for a receiver whose postseason feats are well known. ↵

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↵And what did the Steelers get in exchange for their 2009 leader in receiving yards other than a low-round draft pick? Not much, really. It would be hard to argue that anyone in the organization has a cleaner conscience after dumping one of their stars on a contending team from the same conference. If the idea was to give the team an instant PR boost, the timing couldn't have been any worse either, what with Georgia police later today announcing whether charges will be brought against Ben Roethlisberger for an allegation of sexual assault leveled against the quarterback last month. ↵

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↵The team can likely press on without Holmes, by virtue of a loaded receiving corps. Standout rookie Mike Wallace appears ready to assume a starting role opposite Hines Ward and the recently returned Antwaan Randle El is a perfectly reasonable option for a third receiver. However, instead of Wallace being groomed as an eventual replacement for an aging Ward, he's being forced into higher expectations sooner than expected. And now the team will have to consider taking another young receiver high in the draft either this year or the next. ↵

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↵Instead of admiring the Steelers class, the rest of the league is mostly befuddled why the Steelers would sell themselves short. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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