The Pittsburgh Steelers have 21 players who will be unrestricted free agents when their currents contracts expire March 21, so management has quite a few decisions to make before the roster is set.
Here is a position-by-position look at the current players and what could occur during the upcoming months. This seventh story looks at the centers.
PITTSBURGH -- The center position might have been the most surprising for the Steelers this past season. Sure, Maurkice Pouncey was sorely missed, as any three-time Pro Bowl performer (in just three NFL seasons) would be after playing less than a quarter of the opening game. But the play of the club's centers wasn't the cause for any issues with the O-line.
That's because Fernando Velasco for the majority of the season and even Cody Wallace at the end were solid performers. Both are unrestricted free agents, as is late addition to roster Eric Olsen. David Snow, who also was signed late in the year, actually is under contract for this season at $570,000. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2015, so Pouncey's backup must be determined.
There are indications that Pouncey will return at full strength by training camp, as he worked hard on rehabilitating the knee once he got off crutches and had no issues through the end of the year. How things go when he actually gets back on the field is another question, but he's young and strong and should be fine. Pouncey was in the best shape of his career last summer, and there's no reason to believe he won't return to that status.
Pouncey could be among the many Steelers playing for a new contract this fall, unless the Steelers want to hedge their bets and re-sign Pouncey to an extension. He is scheduled to make $1,288,375 in base salary with a $200,000 roster bonus and then become an unrestricted free agent in 2015. The Steelers would be wise to not let him go that long without a new contract, because talents like Pouncey don't come along every day, especially on the O-line.
The highest likelihood for free-agent signings in this area would be with Velasco and Wallace, depending on Velasco's health. Velasco was solid in 11 straight starts after Pouncey was injured in the opener after starting 16 games for Tennessee in 2012. Velasco was injured on Thanksgiving night, and it's uncertain how quickly he can return from an Achilles injury. Wallace started the final four regular-season games, his first ones in the NFL, and he has now played in 18 games professionally in five seasons.