The question marks looming over Heinz Field are large enough to be seen even with one's eyes closed. One of them is beginning to bear a striking resembelance to Sean Spence, a 2012 third round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Spence had a promising beginning to his NFL career, drawing recognition from defensive coaches for his quick grasp of Pittsburgh's version of the 3-4 alignment. His future was indefintely put on pause after suffering catastrophic damage to his knee prior to the regular season opener.
The team hasn't said much of his recovery since undergoing surgery, but whispers of his recovery mention problems with range of motion. The question on Spence's return still remains an "if", and not yet a "when".
As the Steelers near the March 12th deadline, they will have to establish a clear path to a complete roster compliant with the salary cap. Without knowing Spence's future, the team will be forced to address his position in the draft or overpay to settle for what they already had in 2012.
Brandon Johnson made the final roster in Spence's place, but he arrived at camp to compete at outside linebacker with James Harrison expected to miss the first six weeks of the 2012 season. He is not condidered a long term solution, but he fixed a temporary problem.
Two-Time Steeler Larry Foote was the 2012 starter, but will be an unrestricted free agent this off-season. Foote has veteran wisdom from years of experience, but he lacks the athleticism for pass coverage of his counter-part Lawrence Timmons. Foote has expressed interest in returning to Pittsburgh for a reduced salary, although he would still only add yet another million to the team's cap problems.
Presumably, Spence was intended to replace Foote in passing situations, if not the entire base duties eventually. Now, the team may need Foote to replace his own replacement.
The fourth ILB on the roster in 2012 was Stevenson Sylvester, who is a restricted free-agent this year. There aren't any real fears of another team snatching him away with an offer better than his RFA tender, it's the $1.323 million his tender represents. While Foote could possibly be signed for slightly less, the team isn't likely to sign both to the tune of nearly $2.5 million.
Even if by some miracle Spence is ready by training camp, the Steelers would save cap space by drafting another player to take the place of Sylvester or Foote. They may even double dip for depth.
Regardless of the team's best laid plans for Spence, the team will have to act as if he will not be an option now, or later.