This time last year, the Steelers were pondering whether or not to accept a third round pick from the Patriots in place of Emmanuel Sanders (who would become an unrestricted free-agent just months later). The Patriots signed Sanders to an offer sheet in April of 2013, but Pittsburgh was set on retaining him. We all know how the story goes - Sanders walks at the end of the season, and the Steelers are left with maybe a mid to late round compensatory pick in next years draft.
Cue Maurkice Pouncey - who no doubt is a better player than Sanders, but in a very similar predicament. Though plagued with injuries early on, Pouncey has had nothing short of a stellar, young career - appearing in three Pro Bowls since entering the league in 2010. Clearly a player of his pedigree and importance must be retained, right?
Last week, center Alex Mack signed a 5-year $42 million offer sheet with the Jaguars (which was later matched by Cleveland). The Browns elected to keep their Pro Bowl center in orange and brown for the foreseeable future, but not without cost. A contract extension for Pouncey figures to match, or even exceed Mack's numbers.
If you have been following the Steelers salary cap situation closely this off-season, then you would know that they are strapped basically down to their last penny. Although Pittsburgh will gain a little more financial freedom come June 1st (by cutting LaMarr Woodley), it likely won't be enough to extend Pouncey's contract with making additional costly cuts.
Now is the time for the Steelers to seek a trade in exchange for their former Pro Bowl center (or at least keep an open mind). With a market figuring to draw high interest for a center like Pouncey, the Steelers could be looking at a return as good as a second round pick (which is more than they will receive if they let him walk after next season). Cody Wallace was surprisingly solid when filling in for Pouncey last season, and the Steelers recently rewarded him a three-year contract extension (at a much more manageable price than Pouncey). The Steelers could also flip the high pick they would receive via trade and use it to replenish the offensive line with younger, cheaper talent.
The Steelers are sitting at a cross-road with a difficult choice to make: stick with Pouncey and hope to extend his contract without making costly cuts, or insure financial security and youth for the teams future. As good as Maurkice Pouncey is when healthy, it may be in the best interest of the Steelers to part ways with the anchor of their offensive line. Either way, it's an important decision the Steelers will have to make in the near future.