As we witnessed last year with Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh’s front office members have never made a habit of “talking contract extensions” during any regular season. Due to the franchise’s long-standing business practices, I can totally understand why Ryan Clark wants to get a contract extension inked before he enters the final year of his current deal.
Unfortunately for the veteran safety, potential extension talks between him and the front office have been non-existent this offseason according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via Pro Football Talk).
Pittsburgh’s brass are exercising patience at the moment in their situation with Clark, and I for one do not blame them for their stance on the issue. In fact, Clark will probably be asked to “take a number” by the front office as there will be a number of players who will be in-line to receive contract extensions after this season as well.
1. Maurkice Pouncey
Re-upping Pouncey before his contract expires should be at the top of Pittsburgh’s “To-Do-List.” In my opinion, he should not even be allowed to test the Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) market when his rookie deal ends in the spring of 2015. Although the Steelers’ offensive line has been a major cause for concern over the last decade, Pouncey has been a shining star since he was selected in the 1st round of the 2010 N.F.L. Draft.
Maurkice has earned Pro Bowl accolades after each of his first three seasons in the league, and he has been without a doubt the Pittsburgh’s most talented offensive lineman over that span. The former Florida Gator has a terrific mix of agility, speed, and strength, and those skills should serve to make him even more dangerous with the team adopting more of a zone-based running scheme.
Pouncey is sure to receive a huge pay-day on the open-market if he is allowed to test it, and there is no way the Steelers could compete with other teams in 2015 if they carry contracts like LaMarr Woodley’s on their payroll. If Pittsburgh’s brass actually let Pouncey walk so they can continue to extend guys in their mid-late thirties over the next couple of offseasons though, count me in as one person who will be extremely unhappy.
2. Cortez Allen
Allen has the tools to be a far better player than Keenan Lewis ever was for the Steelers, and Ike Taylor’s contract is set to expire after the 2014 season. Now that Lewis is in New Orleans, the starting job on the other side of Taylor is Allen’s to lose.
Behind Cortez however, the depth chart is barren in terms of experienced players except for William Gay. I should also mention that Allen can force and record takeaways, things which Pittsburgh’s defense has not been able to do with any sort of consistency over the last two years.
Allen improved each and every week last season, and he definitely took major strides developmentally. Overall, Cortez logged 55 tackles, recorded 10 passes defensed, snatched two interceptions, forced three fumbles, and recorded one for himself.
I understand that Allen’s professional sample size is smaller than Pouncey’s, and that itself makes him more of a risk to extend too early. Yet the soon-to-be third year cornerback has the physical tools to emerge as a terrific outside cornerback on first and second downs, and the type of size and strength to be a matchup nightmare in the slot on third downs.
Ike Taylor sees plenty of potential in Allen, and I am sure that Pittsburgh’s coaches do as well. I just hope that Colbert & Co. can extend the him if he can realize his potential, particularly before he becomes a UFA in 2015.
3. Emmanuel Sanders
My wish that the Steelers would have traded Sanders for a 3rd round pick to New England died in April, and now Pittsburgh’s brass will have to deal with the wide receiver’s expiring rookie contract.
To his credit, Sanders has been an effective slot receiver for the Steelers during his first three seasons. Unfortunately for him, his full potential has not yet been realized due to various injuries and problems with fumbling. Last year however, Sanders managed to set career-highs in receptions (44) and receiving yards (626) as he suited up for all 16 regular season games for the first time in his career.
I am sure that Ben Roethlisberger will have some sway in the decision to extend Sanders or not, but it is no guarantee that the Steelers will be able to reward their pass-catcher with the type of coin he is sure to earn on the open market. Sanders apparently garnered a large amount of interest as a RFA this past spring. As a UFA next spring, other teams will not have to fear losing draft picks when they try to sign him. Thus, it would shock me if Pittsburgh won any sort of bidding war for Manny’s services.
Personally, I think that the Steelers panicked and made a monumentally stupid decision when they did not take the chance to receive a 3rd round pick for Sanders this offseason. I just guess we will have to wait and see though if Colbert & Co. are serious about giving Manny an extension, or if they simply panicked and paid a one-year rental for slot receiver with an injury history and ball security issues.
4. Ziggy Hood
Let me begin by stating that I would not mind if the Steelers allowed Ziggy Hood to walk after his rookie contract expires next March. He’s far better suited to play as a gap-shooting tackle 4-3 defense, and the experiment to turn him into a 3-4 defensive end has been a mixed bag of results. My hope that Colbert & Co. would unload him via a trade to another team before his contract year did not happen, and now it appears that the team will have a big decision to make with their 2009 1st round pick.
To his credit though, Ziggy started 16 games for the first time in his career last fall, and he set season-highs in tackles (42) and sacks (3.0). Hood however struggled to consistently become a force at the point of attack, and his ability to anchor and maintain two-gap integrity is questionable as well. Although I have qualms about the front office extending him long-term, Pittsburgh’s brass might not have a choice in the matter due to the lack of experienced depth at defensive end.
Veteran Brett Keisel is also entering his contract year, and he could very well be deemed expendable if he is unwilling to take a paycut. Outside of Keisel, the only defensive end with any sort of extended experience on the roster is 2011 1st round pick Cameron Heyward. I should add that Heyward has rode the pine for much of his first two years in the league as well.
Make no mistake, Clark has been a big reason why the Steelers have been a competitive team during the Mike Tomlin regime. Moreover, the depth behind him is extremely inexperienced at the moment, so there is a chance that Clark will earn a new deal based on that fact alone.
However, Pittsburgh’s roster must get younger and cheaper over the next couple of offseasons. Clark will turn 35 years old in 2014 and they cannot afford to lose post-2014 impact players like Pouncey and Allen, both of whom will be instrumental to any sort of success this team enjoys in the future.
If Clark elects to take a pay-cut and ink a short-term deal (one or two years) though, I would not mind one bit if the franchise’s “salary cap wizard,” Omar Khan, could find some salary cap space for the free safety. Obviously Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden could benefit from Clark’s presence on the roster, and the veteran’s presence would not force the coaching staff to play the youngsters until they are ready.
Yet if Thomas and/or Golden look primed to contribute after this fall, what sense would it make for Clark to take playing-time away from them?
For now though, I am at least glad that Clark is handling himself like a professional in his current situation. Who knows though? Maybe the free safety can keep his projected replacements at bay for another season or two after this one. I just hope that the Steelers can lock-up current and future stars like Pouncey and Allen before they elect to deal with their veterans like Clark.
Readers: Should the Steelers’ brass keep Clark around past this year? Which players should they extend before him, if any?
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Stats Provided By: ESPN.com
Contract Info. Provided By: Spotrac.com