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Steelers Nearing Extension Season; Who Stays and Who Goes for 2010?

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We are all eagerly awaiting training camp this summer for Mike Tomlin to forge the latest edition of the 2009 Steelers in his image.  While there are several training camp battles that will take place and be answered in Latrobe, several key decisions concerning which pending free agents will be a part of the 2010 and beyond will be made in the Front Office on the Southside.

Everyone knows how the Steelers do business when it comes to retaining their own agents.  The team has used its tried and true approach of not negotiating a new contract for a player until they are in the last year of their deal (exceptions being made for starting QBs Tommy Maddox and Big Ben). Players know it is pretty much useless to try the holdout card with the Steelers if you still have multiple years left on your deal, so they very seldom play it.

The team’s philosophy of waiting until the dog days of August of training camp to wave a new deal with a decent signing bonus under the nose of players has proved more successful than not for the team.  If a player is an All-Pro, then the team will try to hash out a new deal for that player before training camp begins (ex. James Harrison, Troy Polamula).

The following is a look at the Steelers most prominent players on the 2009 squad entering the last year of their deals.  Arguments will be made for keeping that player versus letting them go.  A final verdict will be given at the end.  This topic should make for good, intelligent discussion. Enjoy.

*****

The Player: Fast Willie Parker

2009 Cap Hit:  ($4.53M with a $3.35M base salary)

Role:  No. 1 RB

Staying:  FWP is a no. 1 RB and a starter at his position on a 2-time Super Bowl Champion.  When healthy, he's a feature back that is a threat to pick up big yardage whenever he touches the football.  Due to the fact he was an undrafted rookie free agent, the player still carries a significant chip on his shoulder and continually trains and works harder to improve his game.

Going:  FWP will turn 29 years old in November, which is right about the time that most NFL RB's begin to fall off.  There are two big minuses that I've seen in FWP over the years that he has yet to overcome: his inability to catch the ball and thus be a complete RB & his inability to consistently run against good defenses.  It seems FWP usually beat up on the bad teams and are usually stopped cold by the good run defenses. Even without FWP, the top 3 returning RBs next year are R. Mendenhall, M. Moore, & The Tank.

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Verdict:  FWP is gone. He's shown some signs of breaking down the past 2 seasons and if there is something that this front office and scouts have shown is that they can find RBs, whether it is through the draft, rookie free agents, free agency or off the street. Thanks for the memories, Willie, and the 2 rings.

 

 

 

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The Player: Max Starks

2009 Cap Hit: ($8.45M with $8.45M counting as base salary)

Role: No. 1 LT

Staying:  No opinion seems more divided here on this board than what the Steelers should do concerning Max Starks.  Starks has started on 2 championship teams and has started at RT and LT.  Currently, he is the Steelers best OL and has been entrusted with protecting our $100M QB’s blind side.  The talent behind Starks is backup T/G Trai Essex, untested 2nd-year player Tony Hills and

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free agent Jason Capizzi. Starks just turned 27 in January, which could mean that his best years are ahead of him football-wise.

Going:  Many will make the argument here that Max is just an average OL that is the beneficiary of the Steelers missing on many of their OL draft picks in the recent past.  He is not happy about being franchised and wants the Steelers to put their money where there mouth is. The Steelers can’t keeping slapping the franchise tag on him year after year, so this could be the last time that they do that for him.  They might just let Starks walk and use a combination of what they already have on hand, the draft, or free agency to replace him.

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The Verdict:  Max stays and will sign a long-term deal either before or during training camp.  Good LTs are hard to find and the Steelers do not have a plethora of them on the roster currently.  Our favorite insider here at BTSC, Jim Wexell, said recently that a source in the Steelers organization has told him that the Steelers are confident that they can reach a long-term deal with Starks BEFORE training camp, and then want to move on to see how many other deals they can get done with other veterans.  The Steelers want to keep him and reduce that cap hit, Max wants to stay as long as he is paid like the LT on a championship football team. I say that a deal will get done and Max stays.

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The Player:  Casey Hampton

2009 Cap Hit:  ($6.652M with a base salary of $3.075M)

Role: No. 1 Nosetackle

Staying:  Big Snack has been a big pain in the posterior for the rest of the AFC North when trying to run the football.  He has been the key (along with Aaron Smith) to the team’s success against the run. While not the player that he once was, Big Snack is still arguably one of the top 4 NTs in the game. He and Chris Hoke is probably the top NT duo in the NFL currently.  Casey will turn 32 in September, but big NT/run stuffers have been known to play into the mid-30’s and still be effective in their role of run-stuffer.

Going:   Snack hasn’t exactly endeared himself to Tomlin with his offseason training work (or lack thereof) and one has to wonder how much does he have left in the tank. Chris Hoke has proven to be a NT that you can win with, and the Steelers might get Scott Paxson and rookie sixth-round pick R. Harris ready to fill in at the spot in 2010.  The Steelers have to decide if paying big money to Casey is a wise future investment for a player who ark is no longer pointing up.

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Verdict:
  The Big Snack stays.  I believe that the Steelers will let Casey play out the final year of his deal as a means to keep him motivated and motivated this year.  If the owners and players don’t reach a new deal by the beginning of next year, then the agreement allows for a team to franchise 2 players, and not just one.  Look for the franchise to strongly consider this option and resigning Casey to a 3 to 4-year extension.  With a 27-year old superstar at QB, the window is open to win multiple championships. Keeping Casey rather than letting him walk next year could be a key in helping them win a few more during the next few years.

*****

The Player:  Heath Miller

2009 Cap Status:  ($2.4M with a base salary of $800,000)

Role:  No. 1 TE

Staying:  If there is one no-brainer among the Steelers front office to keep, it is Big Money.  Miller is probably the best tight end in the NFL that not many people know about.  He is an excellent RB and WR that epitomizes what a Steelers football player should be.  He and Ben have a great repore and he probably has the best hands on the team.  He could be more of a factor in the passing game if the Steelers had a true no. 2 tight end that could block (Matt Spaeth blows in that aspect). Still, this is a priority for the Steelers.  The fact that Miller could be a restricted free agent next year (if a new deal doesn’t get done before next year) also lends itself to Heath being a Steeler in 2010.

Going:  If  a new agreement is reached and Heath demands to be the highest paid TE in the league, then maybe that would be a reason for the Steelers front office to let him walk. Spaeth has shown that he can catch the ball as a TE, but he isn’t in the same class or zip code to Miller as far as being a player. Now need to prolong this next decision.

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The Verdict:  Heath Miller is staying and will sign a new 5-year deal, either this training camp or the next. 

*****


The Player:  Ryan Clark

2009 Cap Status:  ($2.4M cap hit with a base salary of $1.7M)

Role:  No. 1 FS

Staying:  Ryan Clark has endeared himself to Steelers coaches and fans with his heady, smart play and his bone-jarring hits.  FS is a very important position in Dick Lebeau’s 3-4 zone blitz, and Clark has shown himself to be a very good player at the position.  He and Palomula are one of the top safety combos in the NFL and he endeared himself many times over to the Steelers faithful for his knockout hits this year.  Quite simply, a good player that you can with.

Going:  For all of Clark’s attributes, he only made 1 interception this past year.  He will also turn 30 years old in October and has had to fight through some serious physical ailments during his time with Pittsburgh.  And with Clark’s sledgehammer hitting style, how long can his body hold up? There is no doubt that the Steelers are preparing 2nd-year player Ryan Mundy to be the FS of the future. The only question is will the future be in 2010 or a few years later.

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The Verdict:  Clark will stay and sign a new deal before the end of training camp.  For all of Mundy’s potential, he hasn’t done it yet while Clark has.  You also don’t want to waste the gifts of a player like Polamalu by pairing him with someone that takes away from Troy’s game and hurts the defense.  It is typical Steelers business to reward Clark with a contract commensurate to his starting on this team  while continuing to bring Ryan Mundy along.

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The Player:  Jeff Reed

2009 Cap Status:  ($1.958M with a base salary of $1.375M)

Role:  Kicker

Staying:  Jeff Reed could end up being the most accurate kicker the Steelers have ever had.  Reed has shown himself to be clutch time and time again during his career with the Steelers and though turning 30 in April, could offer the team several more effective years at the position.

Going:  The Steelers currently have no other options at kicker long-term.  Though Reed’s kickoffs have been far from consistent, his mastery of the winds and weather at Heinz Field have truly been remarkable. I know this is supposed to be an argument for him going, but I can’t make much of one for him leaving.  Franchise kickers aren’t paid a bundle and Reed does qualify as such. 

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The Verdict:  Expect Reed to sign a long-term deal with the team before reaching free agency.

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The Player:  Brett Keisel

2009 Cap Status:  ($4.998M cap hit with a base salary of $3.25M)

Role:  Starting RDE

Staying:  Brett Keisel is arguably the most athletic DL on the Steelers roster and has been a starter on the no. 1 D for the past two years.  While not an All-Pro, Keisel has shown that he can be an effective player starting that can play the run as well as stay on the field in 3rd down. 

Going:  For all of Keisel’s athleticism, it hasn’t translated to the numbers the Steelers or himself expected. Keisel has shown himself to be good at a few things, but great at nothing.  He’s also been dinged up quite a bit during the past 3 years. Keisel will be 31 years old in September and the Steelers drafted his replacement in the draft at no. 1 with DE Ziggy Hood.  The incorporating new blood on the DL has to begin somewhere, and this position seems as likely as any.

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Verdict:  Keisel is gone.  Because of his ties to the community and his love for the organization, he could give the team a hometown discount in order to stay around.  However, there will be other suitors for him if he reaches free agency and the Steelers probably won’t go higher than their amount that they deem him to be worth for the team. Coupled with Ziggy being in a place and an overall youth movement on the DL, he’s most likely gone.

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The Player:  Justin Hartwig

2009 Cap Hit:  ($2.238M with a base salary of $1.75M)

Role:  No. 1 Center

Staying:  Hartwig has proven to be an improvement over Sean "Revolving Door" Mahan.  He provided a veteran presence to a makeshift line that withstood several rough outings to end up playing their best football in the playoffs.

Going:  Hartwig will turn 31 in November and there are currently 3 other centers on the roster, D. Stapleton, A.Q. Shipley and Doug Legursky.  Hartwig has not shown himself to be anything other than "just a guy." He’s not a pro bowl caliber player nor is he an ascending young player who could reach that status.

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The Verdict:  Hartwig will be gone in 2010.

*****

The Player:  Willie Colon

2009 Cap Hit:  ($2.2M with a base salary of $2.2M)

Role:  No. 1 RT

Staying:  Colon has held the RT position for the past 2 years for the Steelers and has proven to be a durable option.  Probably the smallest tackle in the league at 6’3’’, 315 lbs, the Steelers coaches believe that Colon is the best RT option that this team currently has.

Going:  Colon has shown that he is a mediocre tackle at best.  Don’t want to be too harsh on the guy because he has started for the past two years, but he just doesn’t impress as a starter on the outside.  Between his false-starts, costly holding penalties, and his inability to regularly stymie speed rushers, everyone and their grandmother (besides the Steelers coaches) believes he would be a better fit at guard than tackle. Hard to believe there aren’t better options on the roster at RT than Colon.

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The Verdict:  He’s staying, simply because he along with Miller are likely to be restricted free agents heading into next year.  The Steelers will probably tender him at the same level that they did this year, the cost of a 1st round pick. I doubt if anyone will pay that, so he's likely back.

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There will be other free agents on this roster as well, but these are the most prominent ones. I would love to hear any and all intelligent comments.  Thanks and Be blessed.