Let's continue our assessment of what the future might hold for the various Pittsburgh Steelers players whose contracts expired after the 2010 season. Let's turn our attention to a player who I felt improved quite a bit in 2010, Matt Spaeth.
2010 salary: $1.101 million
Free Agent status: Restricted
The back story: Like they did with all of their restricted free agents, the Pittsburgh Steelers tendered restricted free agent, Matt Spaeth, prior to the March 4th deadline. Last year, he was offered $1.101, or the original pick compensation for players with four accrued seasons. It will be interesting to see what the provisions of restricted free agency under the new collective bargaining agreement, and frankly, with a guy like Spaeth, it's very difficult to asses his future with the Steelers until we know the rules are governing free agency in 2011.
That said, because of his improved play in '10, I think it's fairly likely that the former Minnesota Gopher will be back in Pittsburgh for at least another season. Spaeth's contributions were limited in the passing game -- he caught just 9 passes for 80 yards and 1 TD -- but I thought he looked much better in run blocking assignments than he had during his first three seasons. I'm not sure Spaeth benefited from the introduction of Sean Kugler to the coaching staff or if he just naturally improved his strength and conditioning since being drafted in '07. He wasn't dominant in his second tight end role, but he progressed enough to earn his paycheck and there's reason to believe he can improve a bit more as he enters the peak of his career physically.
What I'd Do: Again, it all depends on what free agency looks like when a new CBA is finally reached. You can bet your last dollar that players won't need six years of accrued experience before hitting unrestricted status. And frankly I doubt that it will be five years before a guy like Spaeth can test the open market. If so, then Spaeth would theoretically be an unrestricted free agent when teams are finally free to start signing players again either this spring, summer, or God forbid, fall.
That means it might take more than what the Steelers are willing to pay Spaeth considering David Johnson has also proven to be reliable and versatile enough to be the team's second TE behind Heath Miller. I mean, it won't take too much to re-sign a reserve tight end who's not really had a prolonged stretch of games to prove he can be a productive pass-catching threat. He did hold his own in 2008 when Heath Miller was injured for a handful of games, but I just can't see any scenario where a team would invest heavily in Spaeth to be a bigtime part of its offense.
So, I'd try to re-sign Spaeth if I were the Steelers for the next three years -- a window where he'll be 28 to 30 years old. Figures I think might make sense? How about 3-years, $4.6 million, with $1.2m guaranteed and performance and roster bonuses thrown in there.