It's Time To Punt Steelers' Gardocki

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Sunday, March 18, 2007
By John Smathers
Steelers Fever Columnist

I don't know about you, but I've had enough of March. Lions, lambs ... who cares? You have March Madness and that's it. The Pirates are in Florida enjoying the sun but mostly losing, and even NFL free agency, save for the signing of Sean Mahan, has been a yawner around these parts.

Chris GardockiCan we just end this month already and get on with April? It figures to be the best month of the year (so far) for me.

I love my gangster movies and TV and I'm a big fan of The Sopranos. Finally, the last installments of this much-heralded series will begin running on April 8. I'm excited about this season, even though last season was a disappointment (hmmmm, sounds familiar).

Of course, the month ends with the NFL draft on April 28 and 29. Again, I'm excited and no explanation is necessary.

Needless to say, I hope to get a real kick out of April.

Hey, kick out of April ... kick ... kick ...

Yeah, kick. That reminds me, it's time for the new capo to settle all Steelers family business.

You remember the first Godfather movie, right? It's the one where Michael Corleone becomes the new Don and he settles all family business at the end. Now the Steelers' new boss, Don Michael Tomlin, must do the same.

Tomlin's to-do list will be very long in April, but somewhere near the bottom there must be this: Whack a kicker ... from the roster, of course. No, not my man Skippy, because he's a made guy -- not to mention a wise guy. I'm talking about the 'other' kicker. It's time for punter Chris Gardocki to go.

Now much was made over the highlights and lowlights of Joey Porter's time with the Steelers when he was released at the beginning of March (talk about coming in like a lion). Among his less stellar moments (or maybe they were highlights for some) were his remarks about Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow's manhood last year and his ejection from a 2004 Steelers-Browns game for getting into a pregame verbal scuff with running back William Green.

Ah, Joey did like to mix it with those Brownies, didn't he? But those were only the more recent occasions. Go back a little further to an incident from 2000 that resulted in a fine, not for Joey, but for one Chris Gardocki, the then-punter of the Cleveland Browns. Porter plastered him after a punt and Gardocki responded with a one-finger salute.

"It wasn't meant for anybody except their sideline," said the unblocked one. "If I had to do it over again, I would have done it again."

Well, do tell.

Much later Gardocki joined the Steelers, kept his finger to himself and all was forgiven. Right? Well, some of us don't forgive or forget.

I have to wonder if Gardocki would have been accepted here if he'd flipped off the Steelers in front of a Pittsburgh crowd instead of in Cleveland. For me, it didn't matter. Sorry, Chris. You might have a Super Bowl ring, but when you flipped off the Steelers sideline, you flipped off all of us. You're not a real Steeler.

OK, forget the finger. How about this: You're too expensive and you stink.

Gardocki was the worst punter in the NFL last year for punts inside the 20 (percentage) at 16.9. His punting average of 41.3 yards per punt ranked third-worst.

It's all about the field position, and Gardocki just made the defense's job that much harder. He was inconsistent, at best. Gardocki's career achievement of no blocked punts is impressive, yes, but the tradeoff of crappy kicks doesn't make him worth it. Most punters in the league go through the season without a block and many of them boast much better numbers.

Bill Cowher personally pursued Gardocki in 2004. Gardocki signed a five-year contract worth $6.3 million and received a signing bonus of nearly $1.1 million. It made him the highest-paid punter in Steelers history. Gardocki counts $1,301,250 against the cap this year and ranks among the highest-paid punters in the league.

It's time to go.

I think Don Tomlin figured this out a long time ago. In fact, the Steelers family under Cowher was probably leaning in this direction last summer with Mike Barr but couldn't pull the trigger on Gardocki, figuratively speaking. But the Steelers must be serious this year, hence the offer sheet to Andy Lee.

So where do the Steelers go from here? More free agents are out there, such as Matt Turk (Rams), who is unrestricted. Derrick Frost (Redskins), Donnie Jones (Dolphins) and Kyle Larson (Bengals) are restricted free agents, like Lee before he decided to stay with the 49ers. All are at least a step up from Gardocki, but I wasn't wild about giving up a draft pick for Lee, so I'd rather see the Steelers look at punters in the draft and perhaps sign a rookie free agent immediately after (and Barr is probably still out there somewhere).

If the Steelers actually draft a punter, there are some attractive choices. The big buzz (if there can be a buzz over punters) surrounds Daniel Sepulveda of Baylor. His size (6-3, 228) dominates the picture -- until he punts. Sepulveda can boom it 60-plus yards and has been frequently clocked at better than 5.0. That's hang time, not his 40. However, unlike Gardocki, he can take too long to get off the punt and that brings all kinds of negative results.

Adam Podlesh of Maryland ranks right behind Sepulveda. His time is 4.55 -- his 40 time, not his hang time. Podlesh is more athletic and, unlike Gardocki, will help improve the Steelers' defensive field position. He can punt for distance and hang time. Podlesh doesn't do as well inside the 20 or with directional kicks, but that is correctable with good coaching.

Podlesh's athleticism also would give the Steelers some options. He would have fit in well with a Ken Whisenhunt-coached offense in Pittsburgh. Whiz could have used him on fakes and gadget plays. We'd have to see what the Tomlin/Bruce Arians regime would do with him.

Kody Bliss (Auburn), Adam Graessle (Pitt) and Brendan Carney (Syracuse) round out the top punting prospects in the draft.

But would, or should, the Steelers draft a punter? Well, it's been a long time. The Steelers took Harry Newsome in the eighth round (214th overall) in 1985. John Goodson was also drafted in the eighth round (209th) in 1982. You have to go back to 1978 to find an early-rounder, a guy named Craig Colquitt, who became a Steeler in the third round (76th).

Cowher never drafted a punter and I don't think he would ever consider going as high as the third round for a punter. If Tomlin is so inclined, we probably won't find out this year. Sepulveda and Podlesh may be highly touted, but both are much more likely to go early on day two.

Rest assured, though, this is one piece of family business that will soon be settled. It's time for Gardocki -- and his finger -- to go. And hey, maybe we'll finally see if Ben Roethlisberger can hold for kicks.