Even though we have zero idea what free agency might look like under the provisions of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (whenever that might be), let's continue on with our breakdown of all the Pittsburgh Steelers players whose contracts expired after the 2010 season. Let's turn our attention to the veteran Chris Hoke, whose situation shouldn't really be affected all that much by what or what doesn't happen in the negotiations.
2010 salary: $1.5 million
Free Agent status: Unrestricted
The back story:
Hoke was selected as an undrafted free agent out of BYU in 2001. The fact that he served a two-year mission during his collegiate career probably had something to do with him not being drafted, but . It wasn't until 2004 that Hoke got an opportunity to contribute on game day when an injury to Casey Hampton six games into the season gave Hoke his chance. He took advantage of it, helping the Steelers continue their usual dominance against the run from his nose tackle position. When Big Snack returned, Hoke was relegated back to a reserve role, but you'd be hard pressed to find any evidence of him complaining about a thing. Since then, Hoke has missed just two games, the most recent being in 2010 when he was out for the Steelers Week 4 tilt against the rival Baltimore Ravens.
Hoke is consistent, durable, and perhaps more versatile than we realized. He played some defensive end this past year in the wake of Aaron Smith's injury, rotating with Ziggy Hood on occasion in addition to his usual role of spelling Hampton throughout the course of the game each week.
There are certain veteran guys around the league that must be hoping like hell that a new CBA is reached before the start of the 2011 season.Chris Hoke has to be one of them. The man will turn 35 in early April, and while it's plainly clear that he can still make important contributions at this stage in his career, it's hard to say with as much confidence that the Steelers or another team would invest in him -- even for just a single season -- in 2012 when he would be 36.
What I'd do: Assuming there is in fact a 2011 season -- even one that's abbreviated by a small handful of games -- there's no reason why Hoke wouldn't be back in Pittsburgh next season. Hoke has to know he won't command much on the open market as an URFA, so I'm sure the Steelers can dictate the terms in which he'd be able to resume and finish his career with the team who took a chance on him a decade ago. Hoke earned himself a nice chunk of change with his last URFA contract, so no need to offer him anything more than one-year deals at this point until it's clear that (A) he's no longer worth investing in as a reserve, or (B) the youth movement along the defensive line is far enough along where there's just no room for him anymore. The fact of the matter though is that neither of those variables are really in play in 2011. Hoke can still play and is well worth the modest investment even at his age, and the defensive line is not yet close to being overhauled with younger talent.
So, I'd say Hoke should be offered a one-year deal worth $1.2 million, with a number of incentives (performance + roster bonuses) thrown in there to sweeten the deal in the event that Hokey is again asked to step up big for an injured mainstay along the line.