Discounting their 2014 draft picks and prospective undrafted players, the Pittsburgh Steelers have just 27 players signed past this season.
And six were selected during last year's NFL Draft.
PITTSBURGH -- After two seasons where injury and attrition led to instability, the Steelers offensive line could be the most set position on the team.
Maurkice Pouncey returns as the starting center after missing all but eight snaps last year due to a severe knee injury. Ramon Foster and David DeCastro are the guards, while Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert are the tackles. And Mike Adams, Guy Whimper and Cody Wallace return as key backups.
The majority also are under contract for at least two years -- Beachum, DeCastro, Foster and Adams -- while Wallace is signed through 2016. Whimper was re-signed for this season, while Pouncey and Gilbert have just this year remaining on their rookie contracts. The Steelers must decide what to do with these two, especially Pouncey, who should be a key player in their future.
Pouncey worked hard to rehabilitate his knee and certainly should be ready to go by the time training camp begins in three-plus months. So, the Steelers are likely to make him a priority and extend him before the regular season begins, but not too early so they can get a good look at him early in camp. Pouncey is set to make $1,288,375 this year, plus a $200,000 roster bonus, and should command a salary among the best centers in the game. He was a Pro Bowl pick in each of his initial three NFL seasons before the year-long injury in 2013.
Gilbert certainly won't be as sought-after as Pouncey, so that could keep him with the Steelers if they want him long-term. Gilbert has started at both left tackle and right tackle since his rookie season and appears to be settled into playing the right side this year. Gilbert will make $815,103 this season, and while he won't make among the top offensive linemen in the future he certainly would get more than $1 million at least initially.
Beachum, DeCastro, Foster and Adams all have two years remaining on their current contracts. Adams -- a second-round pick in 2012 (56th overall) -- is the least likely to be extended before the others, because his career took a turn downward when he was demoted in favor of Beachum after starting four games at left tackle. Adams reportedly gave up four sacks and 19 quarterback pressures during those opening four games, while the Steelers went 0-4. New O-line coach Mike Munchak has been charged with turning around Adams' career. He is set to make $712,150 this year and $873,225 in 2015.
Beachum, a 2012 seventh-round pick, was quite a find for the Steelers. In 22 games over two seasons, Beachum has made 17 starts and basically stabilized the offensive line from both tackle spots. He will make $570,000 this year and $660,000 in 2015, but likely will command much more when re-signed.
The same could be said about Foster, who went from being an undrafted free-agent signing to a leader on the O-line. He signed a three-year, $5.8 million contract, including a $900,000 signing bonus, in March last year. Another $500,000 is available with incentives, along with annual workout bonuses for $100,000. Foster will make $1.65 million this year and $1.85 million in 2015.
DeCastro, the Steelers No. 1 pick in 2012, has two years remaining on his rookie deal. He is set to make $1,100,354 this season and $1,030,531 in 2015 with a $325,000 roster bonus also available. He appears to be a rising star, so re-signing him should be a priority at this time next year.
Wallace and Whimper are key backups. Whimper can play both guard and tackle spots, so the veteran received a one-year contract for $855,000. Wallace, who ended last season as the starting center, signed a three-year, $3.48 million contract. He will make $730,000 this year, $1.1 million next season and $1.2 million in 2016. Wallace also can play both guard spots.
David Snow, Nik Embernate, Chris Hubbard and Bryant Browning are interior linemen also on the roster. Embernate, who signed a three-year, $1.485 million contract last year, suffered a season-ending knee injury in camp and will need to prove himself all over again this year. He will make $495,000 this year and $585,000 next year, before becoming a restricted free agent.
Snow was signed for depth last year, and he will make $570,000 this year. He was promoted from the practice squad late last year, but never played. He played in five games with two starts for the Buffalo Bills in 2012. Hubbard and Browning signed one-year future contracts for $420,000 each.