The Randle El conspiracy

I just realized why the Steelers didn’t utilize Antwaan Randle El more in yesterday’s game, and it wasn’t entirely because of bone-headed play-calling by Bill Cowher and Ken Whisenhunt. It’s because management doesn’t want to give him a big contract during the offseason.

Randle El is in the last year of his current contract. If the Steelers put him in there at QB against the Ravens yesterday, and he ends up winning the game for them, he’s going to be much more valuable in the open market. The Steelers held him back so that they could keep his market value down, thereby allowing them to lowball him during contract talks.

At this point, the Steelers may not even offer him a contract for next season. They don’t have much cap room, they’ve already shelled out the cash for Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson over the long term, and they may prefer taller targets like Fred Gibson and Quincy Morgan for their 3- and 4-receiver packages. Perhaps they don’t think Randle El is worth it in the long run. Perhaps they don’t want another “Slash” in there distracting the team from doing what they do.

I think they’re making a mistake. Randle El is a weapon on the field, and his presence can easily confuse a defense. Confused defenses give up big plays. While losing Randle El may not be the end of the world for Pittsburgh, it would be a most unfortunate loss in the long run.

Because I have a hunch where Randle El might end up in 2006 — San Diego, where Cam Cameron, his former college coach at Indiana, is the current offensive coordinator. Cameron isn’t afraid to mix things up a bit and let other players throw the ball. LaDainian Tomlinson has 3 TD passes in 3 attempts this year. Cameron could do even more in that offense with a weapon like Randle El. Plus, the Chargers have about $16 million worth of space under the salary cap for next season.

Of course, the situation in San Diego is fluid. The rumor mill is spinning Cameron as the next head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Whether he would want that horrid gig remains to be seen. Also, San Diego has not bothered to discuss a long-term deal with Drew Brees as of yet. Can you imagine if the Chargers decided Philip Rivers was their guy in 2006 and let Brees pursue the open market, even after his performance yesterday moved him up to 3rd in NFL in passer rating — behind Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning, and ahead of Tom Brady? That’s good company, and teams like the Jets, Dolphins, Ravens, Redskins and Lions would be more than happy to take Brees off San Diego’s hands if that’s what the team wants.

Here’s a thought. What if the Chargers decide to dump Marty Schottenheimer, who doesn’t have the best relationship with GM A.J. Smith, and promote Cameron from within? Then Smith lets Brees go to maintain the cap space, and Cameron lures Randle El to town with the promise that he’ll get a lot more touches than he’s getting in Pittsburgh. That’s a little scary…

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