The "Muck City" tattoo on his hands is meant to remind Santonio Holmes of the hardscrabble life he would have led without football.
Being traded to the New York Jets on Sunday should make Holmes realize just how close he is to wallowing in the mire.
A blossoming wide receiver coming off his best season doesn't get dealt -- let alone for a paltry fifth-round draft choice -- without good reason. Holmes gave the Pittsburgh Steelers plenty this offseason.
A franchise already reeling from Ben Roethlisberger's sexual escapades suffered further embarrassment from Holmes' antics. A woman filed a civil lawsuit against Holmes after he allegedly threw a glass in her face at an Orlando nightclub. Holmes, who already had a history of off-field problems, got into more hot water through his Twitter account. He wrote "kill urself" to a follower who made a disparaging comment about the nightclub incident. Holmes later sent another Tweet saying it was time to "wake n bake," which is considered a reference to smoking marijuana.
That posting may have gotten Holmes cooked. As first reported Saturday by profootballtalk.com, Holmes is now facing a four-game suspension for once again violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
That was the final straw for a team looking to prove it isn't becoming this decade's version of the Cincinnati Bengals. The fact Holmes was traded so quickly and for such modest compensation doesn't just show how badly Pittsburgh wanted to cut ties. It also indicates the Steelers don't think Holmes will get his act together.
Just 14 months ago, Holmes was championing himself as a role model. During the week leading into Super Bowl XLIII, Holmes told the media that he dealt drugs as a kid in his poverty-ridden hometown of Belle Glade, Fla. Holmes said he stopped because "I wanted to play football. I didn't want to end up like a lot of my friends -- in jail, standing on the corner, not going to school."
Holmes' perseverance paid off just 200 miles from "Muck City," a nickname that refers to the dark, soggy Belle Glade soil that is used for sugar cultivation. He took Super Bowl MVP honors in Tampa by catching the game-winning touchdown. Holmes shook the football afterward like it was a bottle of powder and celebrated by throwing his hands in the air a la LeBron James. Viewed symbolically, Holmes also was tossing his past into the wind.
Or so we thought.
At 26, Holmes is still young enough to overcome this setback. He established himself as one of the NFL's top targets in 2009, catching 79 passes for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns. Holmes could prove a steal for New York if he matures, kicks the drug problems and remembers how much he stands to lose with another screw-up.
If he doesn't, here's a hands-down guess as to what Holmes will receive from the Jets: A one-way ticket back to Muck City.
CAUSE AND EFFECT: The Holmes trade.
The cause: Pittsburgh's motivation is chronicled above. The Jets were seeking another veteran wideout to pair with Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery.
The effect: Like with last month's trade for ex-San Diego cornerback Antonio Cromartie, this is a boom-or-bust Jets move. Along with Edwards, Holmes gives Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez the NFL's best deep-threat combination. But such a pairing could be short-lived. Holmes and Edwards are set to become unrestricted free agents in 2011 and the Jets likely won't be able to sign both to contract extensions. As for the Steelers, 2009 rookie standout Mike Williams will step into Holmes' role as the team's No. 1 wideout opposite Hines Ward. Free-agent acquisitions Antwaan Randle-El and Arnaz Battle will fill backup roles, although the Steelers could turn to the draft for more depth since 2008 second-round pick Limas Sweed is looking like a bust. Beyond Xs and Os, the Steelers sent a message to their entire roster that even a star player is expendable if the off-field transgressions are severe enough. Are you listening, Ben Roethlisberger?
My guess at how the Top 5 draft picks will shake out:
1. St. Louis - Sam Bradford
2. Detroit - Ndamukong Suh
3. Tampa Bay - Gerald McCoy
4. Washington - Russell Okung
5. Kansas City - Eric Berry
... I don't see the relationship between Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth improving any time soon. With the Redskins not having a second- or third-round pick, I could see Haynesworth being traded on the second day of the draft even though Washington paid him a $21 million roster bonus earlier this month. The Redskins also may be able to wrangle something for quarterback Jason Campbell, who's on the outs with Washington acquiring Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia
... Baltimore left tackle Jared Gaither could be on the move soon as well. He would be a nice fit in Dallas, which could use another hulking left tackle to replace the released Flozell Adams. Michael Oher proved he could protect Joe Flacco's blindside when starting for Gaither in 2009.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Big winner: HBO. The New York Jets were already a fascinating story even before Holmes, Cromartie and LaDainian Tomlinson were added. Hard Knocks should be a hoot this summer.
Big loser: Restricted free agents. The signing period ends Friday with little movement expected. Even with plenty of big names on the market, very few signed offer sheets elsewhere or were traded this offseason as NFL teams hoarded picks for what is considered a deep draft.
Under-the-radar move: New Orleans re-signed defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove to his RFA tender. The addition of ex-Chicago end Alex Brown wasn't the only good news for the Saints defense. Hargrove -- a valuable reserve and spot starter last season -- was receiving strong interest from Detroit. Hargrove, though, never inked an offer sheet and will return to the Saints for 2010.