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Steelers Salary Cap: Will Willie Colon cost too much in 2013?

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A breakout year for converted tackle already makes him one of the position's highest paid players.

Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

Steelers left guard Willie Colon is improving more each week, and the Steelers are finding something of a balance in their running game. That will invariably lead to likely AFC Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger having his pick of play-action throws with which the Steelers can shred the opposing secondary.

All of this comes at a cost, though.

The Steelers ended their rabid acquisition mindset of wide receivers with a run of three of them in two years that are today a large part of the Steelers organization. Not far behind that is mammoth investment they placed in their offensive line - first round picks on right guard David DeCastro and center Maurkice Pouncey and second round picks on offensive tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert.

In fact, it seems at least a good possibility those four former high draft picks will join Colon for what could be a formidable offensive line.

The problem comes in fitting the rest of the team inside what looks to be a fairly rigid salary cap.

Next year may not be as much the issue for Colon, but with the contracts of Pouncey and Gilbert ending after the 2014 season, and DeCastro, Adams and Colon ending in 2016, the Steelers will need to evaluate their statuses very quickly.

Expect Pouncey to receive an extension, likely after the 2013 season. The going rate for a high-end center isn't as much per year as the franchise tag will be, considering the tag goes off the top five paid among offensive linemen, and isn't position-specific. It's too early to project what the tag value will be for the 2016 season, but it was $9.383 million for 2012.

Colon, by far the oldest among the likely 2013 starters, is heading into his eighth career start at left guard after he signed a contract in 2011 as the team's starting right tackle. Colon went down after one game with a torn triceps, and was lost for the season. Now as a guard, he's playing for the contract he signed, but it's interesting how the Steelers will approach him by way of comparable contracts.

Adams was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft, and projected as a left tackle. He's filled in for Gilbert the last two games, raising legitimate questions over whether he's not a better fit for the right side. That could mean a shift of Gilbert to the left side to replace Max Starks, who signed a one-year deal this off-season.

DeCastro is the second Steelers first round pick to sign inside the new collective bargaining agreement, meaning his first contract is four years, unlike Pouncey's, who's deal was for five years.

Working a team inside the salary cap sometimes means the better of two players must be let go. While it seems silly to suggest Colon would be released next year, seemingly for no reason other than being one of the highest paid players at his position (a fact the Steelers were fully aware of when they moved him to guard a year after signing him to an extension), but it is something they may have to think about in the years to come, considering the youth movement they have at the position.