We can write off 2009 as a season of disappointing under-achievement. Teams almost never go back-to-back in the NFL, and Pittsburgh is no exception this year. And yes, I know we have three games left. But I'm already looking forward to an AFC North title next year as I sit in my office and get crap from Browns, Bengals and Chiefs fans.
The status of free agents is up in the air beause the league and the union are pissing towards each other regarding the collective bargaining agreement (which the owners opted out of last month) and the possibility of an uncapped year. in 2010. I'm going to ignore that because any deal is just speculation and assume we end up with something that keeps the current rules in place for one more year. Unlikely? Probably, but it's something to go on. So, what does the free agent front look like in 2010?
LB Patrick Bailey (RFA) - Hasn't seemed to be much of a special teams player in 2009 and I don't recall him playing linebacker. He made $385,000 in 2009. Possibly re-signed on the cheap for special teams. Although, Tomlin may overhaul that unit and get rid of several regulars.
QB Charlie Batch (UFA) - Batch has played one series the past two years due to injury. He's 35 years old. A good guy who fits the system, his cap hit in 2009 is $510,000. That's cheap for a backup QB, but he's too injury-prone now and Dennis Dixon seems to be capable. I don't think he'll be back.
S Tyrone Carter (UFA) $838,000 against the cap in 2009. He's 33 and had some pretty bad times out there replacing Troy P. this year (He was terrible in the Browns loss). I think he'll be replaced with a younger alternative.
S Ryan Clark (UFA) - 30 years old, he counted $2.4 million against the cap in 2009. He could be re-signed for a couple years; especially with Troy injury-prone. Another team may want him as a veteran presence in the secondary (think John Lynch in Denver). I think he's weak in coverage and spends too much time going for the big hit instead of wrapping up. I'd like to see him replaced with a decent free agent.
OL Willie Colon (RFA) - A young, experienced right tackle who made just under $2 million in 2009. Somebody is likely to offer Colon a notable increase. Pittsburgh will have to match or break in a new guy.
FB Carey Davis (RFA) - Hard to see him back since Bruce Arians doesn't believe in fullbacks. And he's not a particularly good one, either.
DE Nick Eason (UFA) - The 29 year old hasn't played a lot this year after a solid 2008. He counts $678,000 against the cap in 2009. With Smith, Kirschke and Kiesel aging and showing sings of wearing down, Eason remains a reasonably priced insurance policy who may be back for one more year, though I thought he'd be on the field more this year.
CB William Gay (RFA) - Gay is young and only cost $495,000 against the cap in 2009. He may have been disappointing, but it's hard to see Pittsburgh letting him go, with Lewis and Burnett not getting much experience this year. Don't see him getting a big offer like McFadden did. I do believe Gay is much more competent when Troy is out there.
NT Casey Hampton (UFA) - Big Snack is 32 years old and counts almost $6.7 million against the 2009 cap. He's been in Tomlin's doghouse for weight issues. I think somebody's gonna give him a lot of money to play run stuffer for a couple more years.
DE Travis Kirschke (UFA) - Hard to see giving a big contract to a 35 year old d-lineman who struggled with injuries this year. He only counted $1.3 million against the cap in 2009. He might be back for another year at a reasonable price.
CB Anthony Madison (UFA) - I don't know how much they signed Madison for, but it can't be much. Hopefully Tomlin keeps him for special teams.
RB Willie Parker (UFA) - Has actually performed well as an off-the-bench back. Wouldn't be re-signed for anywhere near the $4.5 million he hit the cap for in 2009.
K Jeff Reed (UFA) - Counted $1.958 million against the cap in 2009. It kinda seems like Skippy has worn out his welcome as a Steeler. With the Steelers' penchant for close games, they better have a sure-fire replacement if they let him go to save a few bucks.
P Daniel Sepulveda (RFA) - $575,000 against the 2009 cap and worth it. Not a great year, but better than Berger and he had a couple nice tackles. I expect him back.
TE Matt Spaeth (RFA) - After catching a few passes in 2008, pretty much invisible in 2009. Poor blocker. $648,000 against the cap. Won't be back. But I'm telling you, Spaeth can be a receiving threat. I think he has more potential for a successful season than Limas Sweed does.
OL Darnell Stapleton (RFA) - 2008's pleasant surprise missed all of 2009. Only counted $463,000 against the cap. Hard to envision somebody offering him big money. Could be back at a reasonable price.
CB Deshea Townsend (UFA) - He sure didn't earn his $2,373,000 cap hit this year. The 34 year old had a nice career in Pittsburgh, but it's hard to see him coming back.
LB Rocky Boiman (UFA) - Does it really matter?
Over the past few years, the Steelers have started making changes in how they give out contracts. Previously, the big, long-term contract was the exception. We got used to seeing favorite players leave via free agency.
But Big Ben was locked up with the biggest contract in team history. James Farrior was given a big deal that extends past his to-be-expected prime. So was James Harrison (linebackers who dominate games in their mid-thirties are few and far between). It will be interesting to see if this is a sign of change in how the Steelers do business.