We all know that the Steelers have many important decisions to make during the offseason, which will make the Steelers and intriguing team in March. I have these decisions broken down into 1) Options 2) What the Steelers should do 3) What will the Steelers most likely do? and 4) Other options.
Brown, Wheaton, and Moye are coming back for sure. Sanders and Cotchery are free agents.
Options: The Steelers could try to keep both, keep one, or let them both walk.
What the Steelers should do: Try to sign Cotchery at a bargain price, and let Sanders walk. I think he will price himeself out of the Steelers' price range.
What will the Steelers most likely do?: I think Sanders will walk and Cotchery may stay.
Other options?: At some point, the Steelers may draft a WR on draft day, however, they may also kick the tires on Santonio Holmes (pure speculation, based upon the sheer number of free agents who have left, then "came home") . I believe they will add a WR either via the draft or practice squad additions. The Holmes deal can make sense on a number of levels. First, he should come cheap, due to lack of production/injury concerns. With Holmes having missed significant time and not in his prime, he should get a reasonable deal. That doesn't mean he can't be productive, as most of his "lack of production" was more due to butt-fumbler Mark Sanchez. Holmes has not missed significant time over multiple seasons, but just the fact that he is coming off an injury will scare other offers away. Secondly, he has chemistry with Ben. Sure, he may not be as fast as he once was, but Steeler Nation knows Holmes has great hands...as his SB catch will go down in history as one of the best ever. The Steelers offense is more dynamic than the Jets, because the Jets can't reliably throw downfield, where Holmes tends to get open. Finally, I think Holmes has the potential to still be a #2, but the Steelers may not need him to be a 2nd, or even a 3rd. I think the Steelers are fully prepared to let Wheaton be #2 next year, so if that pans out, Holmes would be asked to be a 3 or 4 and could provide insurance if Brown or Wheaton go down. If Wheaton doesn't pan out, there are certainly worse options than Holmes as a #2.
The only certainty here is Bell will be the starter next season.
With Dwyer, Jones, and Stephens-Howling being free agents, there will definitely need to be decisions made here.
Options: The Steelers could sign 1 or more of their own FA RBs or look to the FA pool and draft to fill roster spots.
What the Steelers should do: Re-sign Dwyer and Stephens-Howling. Dwyer gives them an option at the goal line and if Bell goes down, Dwyer isn't completely awful. Stephens-Howling is a change-of-pace back that may be useful in no-huddle situations. Then, look to the draft late for a gem or find another quality UDFA.
What will the Steelers most likely do?: I really think they might dip into the free agent pool here. I'm pretty sure Jones will go, not that he was terrible, but I think they can find younger and better options. I think Dwyer stays, because he will sign for cheap, without any other offers.
Other options?: Well, Mendy will be a free agent, should the Steelers welcome him back with open arms? No? Me neither. However, if nobody picks him up and he's cheap, it may not be a bad pickup. Available free agents would include some bruisers in Jackie Battle and LeGarrette Blount that could maybe be a true goal line back, and some shifty guys in Rashad Jennings and Ben Tate. However, Tate will probably look for a starting gig and want starter money.
At the beginning of the season, the line was definitely offensive. However, they came together and jelled for the second half of the season. The best thing is that they will all be returning, without losing any via free agency this offseason. The question is are these guys good enough? Are they the guys who looked dismal in the 0-4 start or the guys that keep Ben upright in the last 4 games? Who wins the Mike Adams/Marcus Gilbert battle once and for all?
Options: The Steelers can stand pat, and add depth, perhaps re-sign Fernando Velasco as insurance at the C/G position. They may not be sold on Beachum at LT, and look to add another starter.
What the Steelers should do: If the money is there and the deal is right, I think Velasco would be a great signing. We all know how Steelers linemen get dinged throughout the season. Obviously, there isn't much depth at the OT position, so it will need to be added via free agency or draft. I'm not 100% on Beachum as a LT, I think they left a TE to block on the left side a lot to add protection (just going from memory), which could limit play selection. However, I don't think they are going to find someone better in free agency (at least one they can afford) or in the draft (unless Jake Matthews REALLY falls).
What will the Steelers most likely do: I think they will stand pat (for the most part) and add some quality depth pieces. I could easily see a few low-key FA signings and maybe a mid round (2nd-4th) pick addressed in the draft.
Other options?: Well, the rumor is they pursued Jake Long. Will they try to go after Branden Albert? I doubt it.
Options: The Steelers could try to sign one or two out of these three guys to play. The Steelers will almost have to address the defensive line in the draft.
What should the Steelers do: If the money is right, then sign Ziggy. They cannot afford to overpay him one dime. If that fails, sign Keisel for another year or 2 as a stopgap. Al Woods is needed for depth. I think the solution is to get the next starting NT in the draft, that way, McLendon can move to DE, opposite of Hayward, if Keisel or Ziggy aren't brought back or the new NT can develop behind McLendon for a year or 2. I think this year's draft will have a few great true NT prospects that I like better than available DE prospects.
What will the Steelers most likely do?: I think Ziggy will at least get an offer. I think they may end up overpaying him to stay. I don't want to speculate on free agency, because I don't want to pretend I have enough knowledge to know what prospects could transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4. The only names that seem to fit, based on previous 3-4 experience, would be Aubrayo Franklin (old, stopgap), Terrance Cody (most would say garbage), Johnny Jolly, BJ Raji (probably too expensive), Randy Starks and Cam Thomas (both of which probably more than the Steelers want to spend).They will definitely address Defensive Line in the draft.
Other Options?: Draft, Promote Arnfelt, Draft.
Here we go. The debate of all debates. The only certainty here is Timmons will start at ILB. Opposite of him, there is *Larry Foote* with an asterix. Obviously there is a lot of draft hype about the potential of C.J. Mosley falling to 15. At this point, the Steelers can't count on once-promising prospect Sean Spence. Vince Williams might have passed the "eyeball test" as a rookie, but LeBeau tried to cover his deficits by playing a lot of nickel and having Troy in the ILB position...so you be the judge. Oh yeah, then there's that whole Woodley/Worilds thing that nobody is talking about (note the sarcasm:).The hope is that Jarvis Jones will be more ready to start next season, despite who stays/goes.
Options: The Steelers can try to sign Worilds and keep Woodley. Sign Worilds and cut Woodley. The pros/cons of both sides of this debate has been beaten to death, but it basically boils down to this: Can Worilds be as good or good enough based upon 3/4 of one season and will Woodley ever be as good as he once was?
What should the Steelers do: Regardless of what happens with Worilds, it is time to cut Woodley. He does not come into camp in shape, so he doesn't work hard enough in the offseason. He has been injured a lot over the last few seasons (I see a correlation there). His pay is way more than his performance. So if we predict future results on past performance, we can not reasonably expect Woodley to perform at the level of his pay. I do not see Woodley ever coming near his season highs. However, if Worilds doesn't re-sign, and the Steelers have no other answers, they cannot afford to cut Woodley too as much as I feel he won't earn his keep.
What will the Steelers most likely do?: I think the Steelers will keep Woodley and try to sign Worilds to a 2-3 year deal. They will attempt to accomplish this by restructuring other players and most likely signing Ben to a new contract/extension. If that fails, they always have the option to use a tag on Worilds to hang onto him for one more season, although it will cost a lot. I don't see them using a high draft pick (1-3 rd) on any LB unless it is Mosley or if somehow Clowney would fall to 15.
Other options: They could potentially let both players go and try to sign another free agent. Maybe they try to make a splash and sign Brian Orapko, who they could probably get for less than they are paying Woodley. Sadly, and unfortunately, they still have to pay Woodley. It isn't really their style and the money probably isn't there. Another option would be to sign a stopgap such as Shaun Phillips. They could try to move Timmons back to OLB and draft Mosley to play alongside Foote/Spence/Williams. Letting both players go means they must trust Jarvis Jones enough to be productive, which I don't believe they do yet. My gut tells me they will try to keep both, but they will only get one.
Ryan Clark is a free agent, and will probably not re-sign with the team. Sharmarko Thomas didn't look great when he was in the game, and Ike Taylor is not getting any younger. Willie Gay and Cortez Allen are the other notable CBs while Will Allen and Robert Golden are the other safeties. If I haven't mentioned any other members of the secondary, they probably aren't worth mentioning *cough* Curtis Brown *cough*.
Options: At this point, the Steelers cannot afford to not address the secondary. They need to address it early and often, as the decline of these players are coming steadily. They could re-sign Clark for another year to allow a youngster to develop, but they HAVE to get younger and quick. After all, this is a PASSING league now. They could possibly find a free agent in the mix here, but not like the ones they have signed in the past (i.e. Demarcus Van Dyke, Isaiah Green).
What should the Steelers do: I think they should allow Clark to walk. I don't think he has much left. They definitely need to grab a few pieces of the secondary in the draft. This would be an area for the Steelers to address in free agency. If the Steelers wanted to address any need in free agency, they should do it here. There are quite a few quality players that are young enough to still be viable, but they won't come real cheap. Vontae Davis, Richard Marshall, Captain Munnerlyn, Aquib Talib, Walter Thurmond, Jarius Byrd, Donte Whitner. Other notables: Taylor Mays, Eric Wright. If they can secure a young CB for 4-5 year deal, they can let Ike Taylor go this year or next year, but will still need to address CB in the draft, because well, you can never have too many decent corners. If they manage to secure a safety, they can get by with Polamalu, Thomas, Golden, and Allen for another year.
What will the Steelers most likely do: If history tells us anything, the Steelers won't be making a "splash" in free agency. They will likely sign another team's backup player(s) for depth and roll the dice with Troy and Shamarko. Ike probably won't be going anywhere, which is fine, and expect Allen to start opposite of him with Gay as the nickel. Secondary will definitely be addressed in the draft. I fully expect this to be a defensive draft.
Other options: Players like Eric Wright and Taylor Mays probably won't command a high price, and won't be expected to be signed as starters. These guys could be quality depth players. Polamalu tutoring Mays could help him turn the corner to be a dependable safety. IIRC, he didn't look too bad vs Pittsburgh.