Steelers Off-Season To-Do List

Bumped. I'm absolutely beat to shreds from real work obligations this past week so I'm happy to promote something to the main page that's well written and a potential conversation starter. Thanks to Steelin for the post. Not sure I agree on every last front, at least in terms of how he rates the likelihood of each action item, but just about everything is still in play with the front office priorities noted below. - Blitz-


With everyone mocking the draft, here are some non-draft items that might or might not be on Kevin Colbert’s to-do list, along with my personal prediction of how likely each one is to be completed before the season starts. Please chime in with your thoughts on whether the Steelers should be doing these or other things.


1) Extend James Harrison’s Contract

As has been extensively discussed, Harrison’s contract expires after 2009. Harrison is a crucial part of the defense, and the team has indicated that extending Harrison is a top priority. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is likely to want a long-term deal for $8 million to $10 million per year, however, and the Steelers do not like to give big contracts to players that are over 30 years old. Even if the Steelers wanted to grant such a contract, it is not clear that they have the cap room to do so....LIKELIHOOD:  LOW


2) Sign Max Starks To A Long-Term Contract

For the second year in a row, the Steelers have tagged Starks to avoid losing him. Although Starks was the team’s starting left tackle throughout their Super Bowl season, he is generally not considered among the league’s elite OTs, yet the Steelers are slated to pay him nearly $8.5 million in 2009. Furthermore, if the Steelers are forced to tag Starks again for 2010, his salary would increase to more than $10 million. The Steelers should be able to negotiate a long-term contract at a fair salary of $6-$7 million per year, locking up their left tackle for multiple years and gaining cap room. Starks would benefit by having guaranteed money (the franchise salary is not guaranteed) and long-term stability. Thus, both sides should be motivated to make this happen....LIKELIHOOD:  HIGH


3) Extend Hines Ward’s Contract

Ward remains the Steelers’ #1 receiver, despite Santonio Holmes’ heroics in the Super Bowl (a game in which an injured Ward did not contribute at his usual level). In 2008, Ward posted his best season since 2004, gaining 1,043 yards on 81 receptions and scoring 7 touchdowns. Ward’s cap number for 2009, the final year of his current contract, is $7.8 million (third highest on the team). Although Ward’s production is likely to decline with age, he is more valuable to the Steelers than any other NFL team, due to his ferocious blocking and veteran leadership. If Ward and his agent realize this, they should accept a three-year extension at a moderate salary. Such a deal would reduce the Steeler’s 2009 cap number, help ensure that Ward retires as a Steeler, and give the team leverage when negotiating Holmes’ contract in 2010.....LIKELIHOOD:  MEDIUM TO HIGH


4) Extend Heath Miller’s Contract

Starting TE Miller, playing in the last year of his rookie contract, is set to make only $800,000 in 2009, counting $2.4 million against the cap due to prorated bonuses. Miller has never made the Pro Bowl but is one of the better tight ends in the NFL and a solid contributor to the Steelers’ offense, both as a blocker and as a receiver. His backup, Matt Spaeth, has not shown consistency in either area, despite being a third-round draft pick, and does not appear ready to step in to a starting role. Thus, the Steelers would be well served to sign Miller to new long-term contract. If the contract is structured as an extension, with a signing bonus paid in 2009, it should not significantly burden the Steeler’s 2009 cap figure. But if Miller’s agent demands a top-end salary, the deal might not get done. ....LIKELIHOOD:  MEDIUM TO HIGH


5) Sign A Veteran Wide Receiver

With the departure of Nate Washington, the inexperienced Limas Sweed is penciled into the #3 receiver role, and the #4 receiver could be an even less experienced Dallas Baker, Martin Nance, or a rookie draft pick. Given how often the Steelers line up in three- and four-wide sets, this lineup is problematic. A veteran WR would provide insurance in case Sweed falters or if an injury occurs to Ward, Holmes, or Sweed. The Steelers can’t afford to pay a significant salary to a player likely to be the #4 receiver, but a number of experienced players might be willing to sign at or slightly above the veteran minimum. Possibilities include Mike Furrey (ex-Lions), David Patten (ex-Saints), Marty Booker (ex-Bears), Joe Jurevicius (ex-Browns), and Ike Hillard (ex-Bucs).....LIKELIHOOD:  MEDIUM


6) Sign A Veteran Offensive Tackle

Although the Steelers now have Starks, Willie Colon, and Trai Essex under contract for 2009, the quality level at OT still needs improvement. Both Colon and Essex are essentially being paid backup money, so the team could spring for a midrange veteran free agent to compete with Colon for the starting RT position. Possibilities include Mark Tauscher (ex-Packers) and Jon Runyan (ex-Eagles). If the Steelers could sign either for $3-$4 million per year, it could upgrade the o-line and offer protection in the case of injury to Starks. Such a signing would also give the team more flexibility in the draft, as they would not need to choose an OT on the first day. But the signing of Essex probably indicates the Steelers plan to stay out of free-agent OT market.....LIKELIHOOD:  LOW


That’s my list. Other Steelers in the last year of their contracts include Ryan Clark, Deshea Townsend, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, Justin Hartwig, and Jeff Reed, but you guys can work on those. P.S. Thanks to Maryrose for all the cap figures.

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