If you've read about Steelers GM Kevin Colbert's comments regarding the 2013 offseason, you could probably tell he wasn't happy with the way the team performed in 2012. Among other things, Colbert was quoted as saying, "If we don't change a roster that produced 8-8, we'd be silly to expect a better result." To me, this suggests there will be more than a few uncomfortable changes this offseason.
Colbert went on to confirm what we already knew about the Steelers' cap situation, saying that many contracts will be terminated, extended or reconstructed to give the Steelers more freedom with their money. Regarding their impending free agents, Colbert said that the Steelers are "not married to anybody." This suggests they will probably let everyone test the market and offer only modest contracts, if at all. In this post I want to try to both predict what changes Colbert is referring to, and suggest a few of my own.
First and foremost, the Steelers will again have to restructure some contracts in order to get under the salary cap. As Steelers Depot explains, the 4 best candidates for this are Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Lawrence Timmons, and LaMarr Woodley. If all 4 contracts are restructured the Steelers could save as much as $20 million in cap space. Other ideas would be Willie Colon, Ike Taylor, or Troy Polamalu, but Colbert will not likely want to risk it with these three due to injury concerns, age concerns, or both respectively.
It's safe to say all of the Steelers' restricted free agents will be tendered, since it is a team-friendly, cheap way for them to keep some young players. That means Emmanuel Sanders, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Stevenson Sylvester, and Steve McLendon will all probably be back with the team in 2013.
Now, I told you to expect changes, did I not? With all that out of the way here is a short analysis of players who could be in different uniforms next year, as well as my prediction as to what their future might hold.
Mike Wallace- Wallace's situation has been discussed ad nauseum for the past year, so I will try to be brief. The Steelers are in a better place to negotiate with Wallace after a down year for him. Resigning him to a modest deal is now more likely, but probably still not going to happen. Some team will be infatuated with his speed and throw him a ton of money and the Steelers will make little to no effort to match. Prediction: Not resigned.
Keenan Lewis- The Steelers finished tied for only 15th in sacks last year, yet still allowed the least passing yards in the league in 2012. This was because the defensive backs were probably the most consistent unit on the team in 2012, and Lewis was a big part of that. He was second in the league in passes defensed, which illustrates how rare an uncontested pass was when thrown in his direction. He needs to be Colbert's first priority this offseason, and although he might be allowed to test the market, I expect the Steelers to do everything they can to keep him. Prediction: Resigned.
Max Starks- Starks has been the Steelers' most consistent offensive linemen since he was drafted in 2004. Never spectacular, but rarely a liability, he has shown time and time again that he can play in this league. I think he recognizes that he's had a great career in Pittsburgh, and both he and the organization can part ways respectively. He has outperformed his past 2 contracts, and will likely seek greener pastures elsewhere, while the Steelers have drafted two OTs in each of the last two second rounds. They might still offer him a contract, but it will be backup money, which he doesn't deserve. Prediction: Not Resigned.
Ramon Foster- Like Starks, Foster has been consistent if not spectacular throughout his career. And like Starks, I think it is unlikely the Steelers resign him. With a good amount of money tied to Willie Colon and having drafted David DeCastro in the first round last year, Foster seems like the odd man out. However, if the Steelers decide to release Willie because of injuries they might make him a priority. If I had to guess, though, I would say the Colts outbid us for him. He'll have familiarity with Bruce Arians and the Colts have spending money now that they're not paying Peyton Manning $20M a year. Prediction: Not Resigned.
Rashard Mendenhall- It's pretty uncommon to see a player fall out of favor with a team as quickly as Rashard Mendenhall did this year. He had such a bad year that you would think he was on the cover of Madden 13. He spent 9 games on the sideline and another at home because he didn't think he had to show up. I think it's clear that Rashard's time in Pittsburgh has run its course, but heck, if no one is touching him he might still be worth a veteran minimum contract. Prediction: Not Resigned.
Casey Hampton- A fan favorite and mainstay of the Steelers' defense for over a decade, Hampton's time in Pittsburgh has come to an end. His play dropped of significantly this year, and he can no longer demand a double-team or dominate in the run game like he used to. I thought there was a chance the Steelers could bring him back at a minimum deal, but after Colbert's comments I think they are ready to move on. Prediction: Not Resigned.
Larry Foote- Foote is another veteran who might not be back because the team is looking for more at his postion. He wasn't bad by any means this year, but he never stood out. The only difference is the team hasn't drafted a viable replacement for him yet. Banking on 2012 3rd round pick Sean Spence to make an impact after losing his entire rookie season to a torn ACL would be like selling your house to buy lottery tickets. Like the others, Foote will be allowed to test the market, but he knows he is more valuable to the Steelers than any other team by a long shot. Prediction: Resigned.
Ryan Mundy- Mundy was the first up to replace both Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu early in the year; and to put it bluntly, he failed miserably. After 4 games he was benched in favor of Will Allen, and rarely played a defensive snap for the rest of the year. Prediction: Not Resigned.
Byron Leftwich- In relief of Ben Roethlisberger, Leftwich showed 2 things: first, that he is as brittle as ever; and second, that he is not a good fit for Haley's offense. Prediction: Not Resigned.
Will Allen- As I alluded to earlier, Allen replaced Mundy but actually played pretty well starting alongside Ryan Clark. He's older, but I expect him to get a minimal contract for veteran depth. Prediction: Resigned.
Plaxico Burress- Burress was brought in because the Steelers were desperate at receiver and they will have to be similarly desperate to bring him back again. Prediction: Not Resigned.
Charlie Batch- Charlie was able to bring one last incredible victory to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, that was likely his last game because the Steelers will want to target a backup QB not battling Father Time. Like Burress, the Steelers will have to be desperate at QB to bring him back. Prediction- Not Resigned.
Greg Warren- A consistent long snapper, Warren should be back. Prediction: Resigned.
Doug Legursky- Legursky has proven to be a decent backup at Center, but when given the opportunity to play Guard, he has disappointed. So much so that Maurkice Pouncey had to be moved there to avoid Legursky getting steamrolled. Similar to Casey Hampton, I still thought there was a chance he could be brought back at the right price. Not anymore. Prediction: Not Resigned.
Leonard Pope- Pretty much all of Pope's appeal lies in his familiarity with Todd Haley, and that might save him in light of Heath Miller's injury. But if the Steelers can find an upgrade they won't hesitate. Prediction: Resigned.
Brandon Johnson- He was one of the last guys to make the roster this year, and will be lucky to stick for a second year in a row. Prediction: Not Resigned.
James Harrison- More than any other player, I think Colbert's comments yesterday mean the end for James Harrison's career in Pittsburgh. It's a shame, because I think he played his healthiest and best football of the year at the end of the season. But the Steelers cannot afford to risk another injury setback with him, and cutting him could save about $5 million. Barring a substantial pay cut, the Steelers will cut ties with the All-Pro linebacker. Prediction: Released.
Willie Colon- His injury history could leave him searching for a job this summer, but Colon was really starting to take to his new position and it's no coincidence that the running game was most productive when he was healthy. Releasing him would also only save the Steelers a little more than $1 million, while leaving over $6 million in dead money. In staying consistent with my prediction for Ramon Foster, I think the Steelers will stick with Willie for another year. Prediction: Retained.
Brett Keisel- Keisel's situation is like a mix between Max Starks's and James Harrison's. The Steelers have drafted defensive linemen early in recent years; so like Starks, he must be looking over his shoulder. I also think Colbert may have been referring to Brett the same way he was with James. Keisel's play did take a dip this year, and the Steelers won't want to suffer if the trend continues next year. His salary is just under $3 million, which isn't terrible; but that didn't stop the Steelers from parting ways with Hines Ward last year, either. In what might be the most painful move of the offseason, I think the Steelers will cut The Beard. Prediction: Released.
Troy Polamalu- Polamalu spent the better part of 10 games on the sideline, but came back strong in the final 5 games of the season. Like Harrison, I think he is leaving this season healthier than he entered it. However, his contract is a bit more manageable than Harrison's and the Steelers don't have anyone lined up to replace him. Plus, the last time Polamalu missed over half the season was 2009, which was also the last time the Steelers missed the playoffs. Prediction: Retained.
As always, I'm open to constructive criticism and want to promote good discussions. Share some thoughts here and I'll get to work on more draft info and maybe have a Steeler Mock based on these predictions.