The Future Of The Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Baltimore Ravens

With the Pittsburgh Penguins embarrassing flame out in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, Pittsburgh sports fans have entered the Twilight Zone in terms of rooting interests.  While the Pirates have a respectable young core, they’re still a couple years away from being interesting.   And with training camp a little less than three months away, it’s a tad early to be discussing the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers.

So of course I’m going to discuss the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers (and beyond).

Dennis Dixon, Mewelde Moore, Ike Taylor, and LaMarr Woodley are all in the final year of their contracts.  The Steelers have a long standing policy of not negotiating contract extensions DURING the season so if any of these guys are going to get new deals, it will have to be soon.

We’ll put MM aside for now since he’d be the least sought after free agent.  It looks more and more like the Steelers are going with Byron Leftwich while Pig Ben sits in time out which doesn’t bode well for Dix’s prospects here.   The Steelers are said to be very high on him but I’m sure he wants to go somewhere he’ll start.   Assuming Ben doesn’t rape any more women in the near future, he’s signed for the next five years.   I think Dixon has a world of potential and quarterbacking in the NFL is so thin right now that I’m sure a bunch of teams will line up for his services.

The more pressing issue is what to do with Taylor and Mister Woodley.   Steeler fans like to rag on Face Me Ike and while it was disgraceful how he dogged it at times last year, he’s still by far the best CB on the team.  Playing CB is like playing goalie in that Marc-Andre Fleury can make 18 fantastic saves but all anybody remembers is the one he lets in.  Same with Ike, who can shut down Ochocinco or T.O all game but everybody will bring up the INT he dropped in the 2nd quarter.  B-Mac is a solid #2 but if you put him on the other team’s top receiver snap after snap, things would get ugly in a hurry.

Unless one of their young CBs comes out of nowhere, they have to seriously think about extending his contract.   Make no mistake, he’ll be a highly sought after free agent if he hits the open market.   The Steelers could franchise him although that would probably require overpaying him.   He’s scheduled to make $6.5 million this season so a 3-4 year deal in the $5 million per range plus a nice signing bonus would probably be the starting point for a new deal.  Do they sign him?  Or do they roll the dice keeping mind an already shaky secondary can ill afford to lose the one decent cover corner they have?

LaMarr Woodley presents an even greater problem.  Since this is an uncapped year, there are special rules put into effect.   One of those rules states that no player can be re-signed to a contract greater than 30% more than he’ll earn in 2010.  Woodley is scheduled to make $900,000 this season.   Doing the math, this means if the Steelers want to re-sign him, the most they can offer him is about $1.2 million a year.  There’s no way on earth he’ll accept that nor should he since he’s easily worth triple that amount.  If he hits the open market, forget about it as he’d incite a huge bidding war.  Again, there’s always the franchise tag but that’s a short term solution.

This doesn’t even take into account the new collective bargaining agreement.  Assuming the NFL eventually resolves their labor dispute, I’m guessing they’ll keep some sort of salary cap.   When Woodley and/or Ike’s new deals get added to a team that was right up against the cap last season (and remember, Ben’s roofie budget salary is going to escalate dramatically in the next few years), you’re facing a crunch.  There will likely be cap casualties, most likely an older highly paid veteran like James Farrior or, yes, James Harrison.

Taking all those linebackers in the draft doesn’t seem so dumb now, does it?

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