To their credit, Pittsburgh’s brass have recently tried to rebuild and restructure their franchise around younger and cheaper players.
As we already know, players like Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Hines Ward, James Harrison, Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis are no longer employed by the “Black & Gold.” Plus, it doesn’t appear that Max Starks and Casey Hampton will be back this fall unless injuries or poor play strike at their specific positions either.
While some are inclined to think that the “worst” of the “roster purges” ended a couple of months ago, I believe that the Steelers could be in for an enormous “roster overhaul” when the spring of 2014 gets underway.
Don’t believe me?
Just keep the following in mind when the 2013 regular season ends.
Unrestricted Free Agents (2014)
I for one wished that the Steelers would have tried to trade their 2009 1st Round pick at some point over the last year and a half. Unfortunately, the time has passed for Pittsburgh to find a willing trade partner for Hood, because no team will want to trade for a player who is set to reach UFA status once the 2013 season ends.
I cannot say that I blame Ziggy fully for his struggles and inconsistent play since he became a full-time starter in 2011, especially because I maintain that he is playing out-of-position in the first place.
Hood’s ability to gap-shoot and play in a single-gap scheme makes him a better fit as a 3-technique in a 4-3 scheme, the position he played in college at the University of Missouri. Ziggy is far less suited to succeed as a 2-gap defensive end in Pittsburgh’s 3-4, and he could be deemed expendable when his contract expires if he fails to show signs of improvement during the upcoming year.
Hood will likely need a monster performance during this year to warrant any sort of long-term deal next spring, and I do not believe that Colbert & Co. will want to offer him one if he plays at the level he has over the last few years. Who knows though? If Hood does not garner any lucrative offers from other teams on the open market next spring though, he might be worth bringing back on the cheap. Plus, the Steelers could be hurting for depth at the defensive end position.
Whenever it happens, I will truly hate to see “The Beard’s” tenure in Pittsburgh come to a close. But unless the Steelers and Keisel agree to a veteran minimum deal or none of the developmental prospects can show improvement during this season, 2013 might be Brett’s final season with the Steelers.
Keisel is one of a number of late-round success stories coached up by defensive line coach John Mitchell, and has been a lynch-pin along the Steelers’ defensive front since he assumed a starting gig back in 2006. To his credit, Keisel performed well last year and logged 4.5 sacks to go along with 46 tackles.
Unfortunately, Keisel’s contract is set to expire next spring, and Pittsburgh’s brass might be unwilling to re-up the soon-to-be 35 year old to another deal if the team needs to save some cap-space to re-sign players like Maurkice Pouncey. Granted, the Steelers could bring “The Beard” back for another go-around if they have zero faith in Ziggy Hood or Cameron Heyward. But Keisel could very well retire or end up wearing a different uniform by the time the 2013 campaign begins.
Worilds has flashed potential during his three-year career (5.0 sacks last season), so maybe a full-time starting gig will allow him to “learn on the job” and entrench himself as the full-time solution at outside linebacker. At this point in his career though, Jason is more of an “unknown entity” than a “known entity,” and it hasn’t helped his development that he rode the “pine pony” behind James Harrison and LaMarr “Stay Puft Marshmallow Man” Woodley either.
Jason however will finally receive his best chance to start on a regular basis this year with Harrison in Cincinnati. Still, the team did select Jarvis Jones with their 1st round pick in last month’s draft. And while I believe that Jones will likely be forced to rot on the bench by the coaching staff, I am sure that he will nevertheless be ready to compete for playing time with Worilds on the weak-side.
I for one am hopeful that Worilds can realize his potential this year and that the Steelers will ink him to a long-term deal. Woodley has been nothing short of invisible since he signed his lucrative deal back in 2011, so the more depth at the position, the better. The only depth behind Jason at the moment is Jones, 2011 5th round pick Chris Carter, and 2012 UDFA Adrian Robinson. Plus, if Woodley goes down with a bum hamstring again or cannot keep his weight in check, Worilds might just be asked to step in on the strong-side next year.
Sadly, a strong performance by Worilds could put Pittsburgh’s brass in a bit of a “Catch-22″ come next spring though. If the former Hokie performs well in his first extended audition though, then the Steelers might not be able to afford him when he hits the open market (i.e. Keenan Lewis) if offers begin to pour in for him to head elsewhere.
Make no mistake, Ryan Clark has performed way beyond the expectations many placed upon him when he was signed as a free agent before the 2006 season. Clark has been a model of stability on Pittsburgh’s back-end, earned a Pro Bowl berth after the 2011 season, and has been very solid compliment to Troy Polamalu over the last seven years.
Clark’s current deal though, the same one he signed after the 2009 season, is set to expire at the end of this year. And while Robert Golden (and possibly even Shamarko Thomas) is another year or two away from being an “every-down player,” it makes little to no sense to keep a soon to be 35 year-old safety with declining ball-skills and a liability regarding concussions and helmet-to-helmet hits.
Then again, Clark might be able to find a deal elsewhere on the open market like James Harrison did so the Steelers won’t have to go through the trouble of negotiating with him. Regardless of what happens, I will definitely intrigued to see what Pittsburgh’s brass do with the veteran safety when the upcoming regular season ends.
Emmanuel Sanders & Jerricho Cotchery
I’m not banking on Emmanuel Sanders to sticking around past the 2013 season. In fact, I believe that it was a bone-headed move to not let him walk to New England in the first place. The team needed (and still need) draft picks and cap space, the idea that they will be renting an injury-prone receiver for one-year is ridiculous.
Now that Manny will be starting at split end, he is likely to receive as many chances as possible to shine this fall if he can stay healthy. While numerous fans and analysts bagged on the Steelers for bringing Sanders back for the 2013 campaign, the former S.M.U. Mustang did manage to set career-highs in catches (44) and in receiving yards (626) last fall.
The Patriots were obviously interested in acquiring him this past offseason, and I am sure that the market for his services will increase if he can continue to improve. So, unless Manny plays poorly, gets hurt, or actually gives the Steelers a “hometown discount,” then I do not believe that Pittsburgh’s cap-strapped front office will be able to afford to re-up him beyond this year to a long-term deal.
On the other hand, Jerricho Cotchery (and even Plaxico Buress) knew that it would be difficult for him to earn a new contract beyond the upcoming season when Colbert & Co. selected Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown in the 3rd and 6th rounds during last month’s draft.
When he has received the chance to contribute during his two-year stint with Pittsburgh, Cotchery has performed well in the slot as a pass-catcher and a blocker. Overall, Jerricho has recorded 33 catches for 442 yards and 2 touchdowns, and his experience and leadership could pay huge dividends for some of the younger players at the position.
But as I alluded to before, the Steelers didn’t just draft Wheaton and Brown to simply ride the pine. Thus, if the rookies do prove to be capable pass-catchers and the front office can somehow extend Emmanuel Sanders, then Cotchery will be looking for a new team next spring or even before the regular season begins.
Isaac Redman & Jonathan Dwyer
I lumped Dwyer and Redman together because I believe that one of these two might be able to stay on Pittsburgh’s roster past this season, but not both of them. The selection of Le”Veon Bell basically guarantees that the Steelers are “all in” when it comes to Bell as a “3-down back,” and that one or both of the situational “battering rams” will be sent packing once the 2013 campaign comes to a close.
Last season, both Redman and Dwyer had prime chances to seize the starting running back role. Sadly, neither player proved that they were anything more than “situational backs.” Redman and Dwyer were unable to put up a string of consistent performances, and a battered offensive line did not help them gain any traction as well. The two only combined to rush for 1,033 yards on 266 carries and only 4 touchdowns. Worst of all, both backs rushed for less than 3.9 (3.88) yards per carry on the year!
I certainly would not blame Colbert & Co. if they allowed Redman and Dwyer to walk if neither player showed any improvement this year. Plus, I have a hard time believing that the franchise will keep both backs beyond this year, especially because Dwyer and Redman possess such similar skill-sets. So while depth at such an important position like running back is nice, don’t be surprised if neither “battering ram” is on the roster past the spring of 2014.