Here it goes for Part 3 of the Steelers Offseason Preview series. Part 3 will focus on the results of the offseason. You can read Part 1: Offense here and Part 2: Defense here. Now for what you have all been waiting for, the final offseason predictions.
(All contract and salary information is courtesy of Spotrac. All stats are courtesy of NFL.com and ESPN)
It has been well documented that the Steelers have had cap issues over the past several seasons. They are in the same situation, once again, for the 2014 offseason. They are going to have to make some very clever maneuvers with their players’ contracts during the
offseason to get under the cap. Here are restructurings, extensions, and cuts that the Steelers can make to get back under the cap.
Restructurings: Ike Taylor will be the first person to receive a contract restructuring this offseason. He has a $12 million cap hit, which is far too high for his level of play. If the team could reduce his cap hit in half, however, he could be an adequate starter for his
last year in Pittsburgh. The next player to get a restructuring will be Troy Polamalu. Polamalu has an $11 million dollar cap hit and is also getting older. Polamalu is still a very good starting player, and probably should have made the Pro Bowl this year. Keeping him on for another year or two, at a reduced rate, would be a good move. Lawrence Timmons should be the last player contacted for a restructuring. Timmons has a $12 million cap hit next year, followed by $12.5 and $12. Reducing his cap hit this year, and the next two, should be a priority for the Steelers’ brass.
Extensions: Ben Roethlisberger will be the first player contacted for an extension. Keeping him in Pittsburgh for the rest of his carrer and reducing his cap hit would be a good move. Heath Miller should be the next player contacted for an extension. Miller is a free agent next year, but he has at least another 3 years left in him. Keeping him in Pittsburgh past 2015 should be a high priority.
Cuts: The first cut should be obvious, Levi Brown. He has a $6 million cap hit and is only an average backup. This should be an easy decision for the teams’ front office. The next cut is a highly debated topic. LaMarr Woodley was one of the league’s best up until the 2012 season. Since then he has racked up a total of 18 sacks in three seasons. He should be released after June 1st, which will push most of his dead money to 2015.
Re-Signings: Jason Worilds 5-year $31 million, Jericho Cotchery 3-year $9 million, Al Woods 3-year $5 million, Ziggy Hood 3-year $6 million, David Johnson 1-year $730 thousand, Greg Warren 2-year $1.2 million, Will Allen 1-year $1 million, Fernando Velasco 2-year $2 million, Jonathan Dwyer 3-year $3 million, Brian Arnfelt 2-year $1 million
Free Agent Signings: Major Wright (Bears) 4-year $15.5 million
The free agents that the Steelers re-sign could have big roles in 2014. Jason Worilds and Major Wright receive the only $4 million plus per year contracts. The rest of the signings are players that can be brought in or kept for cheap. The Steelers’ front office must do everything they possibly can to keep Worilds, even if that means slapping the franchise tag on him. They can not afford to let another budding young star slip from their grasps. Jericho Cotchery should be kept, as he was very good as a possession receiver in 2013. Al Woods is very underrated as a backup, and can play any position on the defensive line. As bad as Ziggy Hood has been, he is actually very good for a backup. It would be a good idea for the Steelers to keep him in Pittsburgh for a reasonable price. David Johnson will get a veteran minimum contract to play the fullback position. Greg Warren has been a very reliable long snapper and should be brought back for next year and maybe beyond. Will Allen has proved himself to be a very valuable backup, and he should also be back for another season. Fernando Velasco did a very honorable job when he was signed to be the starting center. He should also be re-signed to be a backup. Jonathan Dwyer should be the first running back contacted for a new contract. He is a valuable 3rd down and short yardage back. The last player that gets re-signed should be Brian Arnfelt. Arnfelt showed potential in camp this past year, and deserves at least one more year to show that he can serve as a backup.
The Steelers will dip into the free agent market as well. They will stay true to their philosophy of not bringing in big name players, but they will be trying to find the next Ryan Clark or James Farrior. Major Wright could very well be that Ryan Clark type signing. He can be effective as a run defender or a pass defender, and he can start opposite Troy Polamalu this season.
Going into the draft the Steelers’ biggest needs are at defensive end, cornerback, and wide receiver. They also have secondary needs at inside linebacker, running back, offensive tackle, and outside linebacker. If the teams’ brass can fill all of these needs they will be
in a very favorable position for returning to the playoffs next season. Here is how the draft will shape out. I am projecting that the Steelers will trade pick 1(15) to San Diego for picks 1(25) and 2(57). I am also that they get third and fifth round compensatory picks for Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis.
1(15): Louis Nix III-DT-Notre Dame
Adding Louis Nix to the middle of this defense will make whoever plays linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons look like a pro-bowler. Nix is big enough to occupy multiple blockers, but also has the quickness that few others his size possess.
2(46): Bashaud Breeland-CB-Clemson
On film Breeland shows many of the qualities of the league’s best cornerbacks. Breeland and Cortez Allen could develop into a fearsome pair of corners.
2(57): Chris Borland-ILB-Wisconsin
Borland has been looked over by many draft analysts because of his size, or lack there of. However, he has arguably the best instincts of any player in the draft. He will be a good partner for Lawrence Timmons.
3(comp): Josh Huff-WR-Oregon
Huff is the clone of Emmanuel Sanders. There’s only one difference, he doesn’t
blow games with his stone hands struggle with drops. The receiving corps could be dangerous when Huff and Markus Wheaton are both fully developed.
4(114): Brandon Thomas-OT-Clemson
Thomas is just the type of versatile lineman that the Steelers like. He would be a very good backup at both tackle and guard positions.
5(145): Aaron Lynch-OLB-South Florida
Lynch had some flaws in his game exposed this past year, but he still has loads of potential. If one of the best defensive coaching staffs can coach him up, he could be a super star.
5(comp): Dexter McDougle-CB-Maryland
McDougle suffered a shoulder injury early in the year, but he will still workout at the combine. If he can develop on the skillset he already has, he could become the best nickel corner in the league.
6(176): Dri Archer-RB-Kent State
Watch Tavon Austin against Oklahoma during his senior year. That is the type of all around weapon that the Steelers could be getting with this pick.
7(207): Chris Coyle-TE-Arizona State
Coyle is the type of athletic tight end that would be a very good compliment to Heath Miller.
This draft class has the potential to be the Steelers’ best in the past few years. Some of these players can contribute immediately, while others have the potential to become elite starters.
Projected Depth Chart
Here is how the depth chart should play out heading into the year.
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
RB: Le’Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer, Dri Archer
FB: David Johnson
WR: Antonio Brown, Jericho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, Josh Huff, Derek Moye
TE: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Paulson, Chris Coyle
LT: Kelvin Beachum, Brandon Thomas
LG: Ramon Foster, Cody Wallace
C: Maurkice Pouncey, Fernando Velasco
RG: David DeCastro
RT: Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams
LDE: Cam Heyward, Brian Arnfelt
NT: Louis Nix III, Al Woods
RDE: Steve McLendon, Ziggy Hood
LOLB: Jason Worilds, Chris Carter
LILB: Chris Borland, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin
RILB: Lawrence Timmons, Sean Spence
ROLB: Jarvis Jones, Aaron Lynch
CB: Cortez Allen, Ike Taylor, William Gay, Bashaud Breeland, Dexter McDougle
FS: Major Wright, Will Allen, Robert Golden
SS: Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas
Playoff Seed: 5th
Playoff Results: Loss in divisional round
Pro Bowlers: Antonio Brown, David DeCastro, and Lawrence Timmons
All-Pros: Antonio Brown and David DeCastro
Leading Passer: Ben Roethlisberger (3,902 yds, 25 TDs, 10 ints)
Leading Rusher: Le’Veon Bell (1,206 yds, 9 TDs)
Leading Receiver: Antonio Brown (1,402 yds, 8 TDs)
Sack Leader: Jason Worilds (11 sacks)
Leading Tackler: Lawrence Timmons (137 tackles)
Interceptions Leader: Cortez Allen (4 interceptions)
All in all, I think this would be a very good result to the 2014 season. This Steelers team is inexperienced and has lots of room to grow. They have a bright future ahead of them, and it’s a realistic expectation for them to make another Super Bowl in the next five years.