We are only a short time away before NFL teams start slashing and burning their rosters in order to make room for the salary cap restrictions in 2013. Some teams are far better off than others – like the Ravens who have $15.1 million in cap space or the Bengals who have a whopping $55.1 million to spare… and oh yeah, the Browns have around $48 million to spare. The Steelers are reported to be $10.8 million in the whole. That leaves almost zero room to negotiate for free agent contracts – which the Steelers aren’t really keen in doing anyways.
With a cap that is deep in the red, the team will need to dump a ton of dead weight and restructure contracts. What complicates matters even more is that the team needs to try and sign over 24 free agents…. that is if they choose to sign certain ones. Offense or defense, the Steelers are hard pressed with some critical decisions for some positional players. For the purpose of this post, I’m including free agents the Steelers could just choose to walk away from without making realistic offers.
James Harrison: With the recent news that Harrison will not take less money (but will restructure the length) to help the team out, the team could say thanks for the years of service but don’t let the door hit your Silver Back on the way out. With the knee, the slow recovery, and the fact that your franchise player (Big Ben) will more than likely restructure and take a little pay cut you don’t have very much leverage in negotiations. Harrison is owed $10 million in 2013 (6.5 salary and bonuses). Harrison knows he can go elsewhere and still get good money. Will he get the $10 million he’s owed? I’m not convinced, but he’s smart enough (as is his agent) to not back away from an opportunity to get the most value he can out of a contract. The Steelers will more than likely say goodbye in a move that was unexpected at the beginning of the season.
Willie Colon: Colon is owed quite a bit of cash next season, and his knack for getting injured and being one of the slower linemen will hurt his chances in the supposed new zone blocking scheme the offense may try out in 2013. There are a few linemen waiting in the wings to get their shot full time, and the team has the roster to make some moves to make the ‘perfect fit.’ Kelvin Beachum played really well near the end of the season and shook up the potential of making a permanent spot for himself. Will the Steelers get rid of him first, or hang on as long as the can?
Rashard Mendenhall: Mendenhall is a FA this offseason who is probably hoping the Steelers panic and jump the gun on offering a beefy contract early. I doubt this will happen. The question is will the Steelers offer the slumping and predictable running back a realistic deal? The Steelers certainly could roll the dice with Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman and hope for a solid draft pick this year in hopes that one of them will strike pay dirt for the offense and the running game.
Casey Hampton: The other FA that I think the Steelers will have no problems in parting ways with is Casey Hampton. No hard feelings here – football is a business after all. Hampton had a superb year in 2012, but he wants that final big paycheck before he rides off into that big lunch buffet sunset. The Steelers are in no position to offer a realistic large contract that Hampton can ummm…. sink his teeth into. With the emergence of Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon, the Steelers have them as options – as long as Brett Keisel stays healthy in his final year or two. Hampton’s a gonner – it’s just a matter of when.
ZiggyHood: Hood’s release is not that far from reality. A poor 2012 season and the emergence of the younger guys could put him in jeopardy. He’s owed $2 million in 2013, which would help open the coffers to maintain players like Keenan Lewis, Will Allen, or Emmanuel Sanders. Some may see this as a long shot, but I see it more as a matter of when the Steelers let go of a younger player who’s stalled heavily in development and production.
The day is approaching soon, so who are the Steelers going to dump first?