The Pittsburgh Steelers will have many tough decisions to make when it comes to the futures of some of their most important veteran players on the defensive side of the ball.
While the older players set to hit the unrestricted free agent (UFA) market (Ryan Clar, Brett Keisel, etc..) and the expensive ones still under contract (Ike Taylor) have garnered the most stay-or-go buzz lately, one veteran who has not been discussed much is inside linebacker Larry Foote.
Even though the former Michigan Wolverine is under contract through the 2015 regular season, his long-term status with the team could be up for debate among Pittsburgh’s brass this spring.
In terms of his price tag, keeping Foote would not be a terrible move for the rebuilding Steelers. Foote is only scheduled to earn $1.5 million as a base salary during the final two seasons of his current deal. As cheap as that figure is, Pittsburgh’s brass might even get the veteran to restructure his deal or allocate some of that money to future bonuses to save some cap space.
In terms of his experience, Foote will enter his 13th professional season in 2014. Drafted in 2002 by the Steelers, Foote has started 105 career games for the franchise. Although he is not the player he once was, Foote’s experience and knowledge of Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme definitely work in his favor.
Positives aside, not everything could be working in Foote’s favor if his name comes up among potential cuts this spring.
Experience and familiarity aside, one must remember that Foote missed almost the entirety of the 2013 regular season with a biceps injury. Due to his season-ending injury, his replacements in the forms of Vince Williams and Terence Garvin were able to develop and emerge as two of the team’s most pleasant surprises on the defensive side of the ball by the end of the season.
Although Williams struggled to with consistency early on and Garvin only saw playing time on defense towards the final part of the 2013 campaign, they still give the team some options to turn to at inside linebacker next season if Pittsburgh’s brass elect to part with Foote. It should also be noted that veteran Lawrence Timmons is experienced enough in LeBeau’s scheme to handle the pre-snap defensive calls and line everybody up in the correct place from his inside linebacker spot as well.
Both second-year players are not only younger and more athletic than Foote is at the moment, but they are also much cheaper options to keep on their roster as well. Williams and Garvin will only combine to count for $900,000 against next season’s salary cap. For a cap-strapped franchise like Pittsburgh, choosing upside and price could be the way to go unless Foote is asked to restructure his deal or convert money into bonuses to lessen his cap hit.
Although Pittsburgh is in the midst of a rebuilding process, I think that the Steelers will stick it out with the veteran for at least one more season.
Like it or not, I have a hard time seeing the Steelers handing Williams and Garvin with extended playing time as long as Foote is healthy and LeBeau is the defensive coordinator of this team. Remember, this franchise held on to James Farrior in spite of the fact he was a complete and total liability in pass coverage and gap-shooting against the run for much of the end of his solid career.
Regardless of how promising the talent on the bench is in Pittsburgh, the status quo under LeBeau is that the veterans will receive a bulk if not all of the playing time unless injuries strike or a total lack of personnel exist at a specific position.
I will certainly be intrigued to see what the Steelers do with Foote if they hire a new defensive coordinator. Yet unless LeBeau leaves, I have a hard time believing that Williams or Garvin will be suiting up at inside linebacker for any significant reps this fall since Foote is the more experienced player and will likely stick around for at least one more season.
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