No Respect For Special Teams

NFL coaches tell players that offense, defense and special teams are equally important. But with the release of special teams leader Anthony Madison on Saturday, the Steelers showed that they don't think so. And by Sunday, we'll know if any team really believes in that statement.

So far this weekend, there's been no better example of a roster cut being made based on money rather than talent than the one involving Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Anthony Madison

And it's a situation that contradicts a long-standing mantra among NFL coaches that special teams are just as important to a team's success as offense and defense.

The fourth-year player confirmed for me on Saturday morning that he had been released. And that's just unbelievable when you consider that the former University of Alabama player logged a team-leading 27 special teams tackles, followed by seven more during postseason play as the Steelers claimed the Lombardi Trophy.

"I did not see that coming," the personable and upbeat cornerback told me during a phone call Saturday morning. "But I'm not concerned about getting picked up over the next few days. I know that I can have an impact out there for a few more years."

While rookies Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis were working hard to take Madison's spot from him during training camp, they didn't clearly outplay the veteran. What appears to be driving the unexpected decision about Madison is that he signed a restricted free agent tender this year that would have paid him $1 million dollars. The ever-budget-conscious Steelers are most likely hoping that he will slip through waivers and that they can re-sign him at a lower rate.

But they are just as likely to lose their top special teams contributor through waivers--or even competitive bidding if he clears waivers. And with this move, the Steelers are sending a mixed message to their entire team in regards to the value they truly place on special teams versus their offense and their defense.

Just a few of the teams who might step up and put in a claim on Madison are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers.

Madison did a short stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2007, and from what I've heard, Mark Dominik--who was Director of Pro Player Personnel at the time--was high on the defensive back's abilities. Due to a roster crunch at the time, the Bucs had to release him in September and the Steelers grabbed the chance to bring Madison back to Pittsburgh. With Dominik now calling the shots as the General Manager, Tampa Bay could make a run at Madison again.


Anthony Madison helped the Steelers win a Super Bowl with seven postseason tackles in three games.
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

The Browns dropped veterans Rod Hood and Corey Ivy from their roster. "That leaves them with rookies and Hank Poteat from the group they brought in this off-season," said TheOBR.com's Barry McBride. "And (WR Josh) Cribbs was the team's gunner-supreme last season. I don't know if they want him doing that as much if he has, in fact, won the No. 2 wide receiver job."

Minnesota invested heavily in Brett Favre to address their quarterback situation, but their coverage teams were a weakness last year as well.

"The Vikings had historically bad coverage units last year, giving up seven touchdowns on special teams," VikingUpdate.com's Tim Yotter said. "They have a new coordinator this year and get their special teams ace (Heath Farwell) back from injury.

"Farwell didn't play Friday night and the Vikings gave up a punt return for a touchdown with their deep-roster reserves after a strange bounce of the ball. The question is if they would spend another roster spot for primarily a special-teams player."

And in Green Bay, injuries could drive some interest by the Packers.

"The Packers are pretty beat-up at corner, and I'm not sure who their fifth cornerback will be at this point," said Bill Huber of PackerReport.com.

But will one of those teams--or any of the others around the league who need special teams help--claim Madison off of waivers at his current level of pay? Or will they wait and enter the bidding the day after, hoping that they might get a deal by waiting like Pittsburgh? 

It'll be an interesting situation to watch--and an indication as to whether any NFL club truly places equal priority on their special teams as they do their offense and their defense. Because if no one claims Anthony Madison off of waivers--with his demonstrated ability as a high-impact player on special teams--NFL coaches need to be more honest and admit that special teams is secondary to their other two units. 

Quick Count

The Browns' release of linebacker Beau Bell was a bit of a surprise. Although the former UNLV star--who made 320 tackles during his college career--was a fourth-round pick in 2008, he was Cleveland's first overall choice of the draft. The Browns had traded away all of their higher picks. Bell saw some special teams action in 2008 until he injured his knee late in the season and finished on injured reserve ... It appears that Mark Brunell will log his 17th NFL season since Joey Harrington was released by the New Orleans Saints on Saturday. The left-handed quarterback will turn 39 in September and has thrown for 31,826 career yards--third highest among active quarterbacks behind the Colts' Peyton Manning and the Titans' Kerry Collins ... The Bills' reported release of Dominic Rhodes shouldn't keep him from finding a club in need of some veteran depth at the position. Buffalo had plenty of depth at the position with Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and rookie Xavier Omon. Also working against Rhodes was a $1 million cap hit, including a $750,000 salary versus Omon's $319,000 cap hit ... A veteran who should draw plenty of interest is Chiefs center Eric Ghiaciuc. A three-year starter with the Bengals, he didn't adjust to the Bengals scheme extremely fast, but once he got it, he played well. The Chiefs may have cut ties with him prematurely ... Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano is feeling much better about his team's depth this year than he did at this time last year. "A large part of that is due to developing some of these younger players.," he said. Sparano mentioned third-year linebacker Quentin Moses as one of those players who has made significant strides this year. 

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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com.

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