With only three games left in the season and in the thick of a convoluted AFC playoff race, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves facing uncertainty regarding the future of one of their long-time defensive anchors; defensive end Brett Keisel.
A season-ending triceps injury suffered during a 35-32 home loss to the New Orleans Saints has left the 36-year-old's immediate and long-term future in doubt. Keisel is signed through next season, but the team is free to release him should they choose to do so.
Although the soon-to-be 13-year veteran has suffered a potentially career threatening setback, the Steelers would be wise to employ Keisel's services through next season. For one, Keisel has accumulated better stats this year than his backup, free agent bust Cam Thomas, collecting 22 tackles in contrast to Thomas' 19, writes ESPN's Scott Brown. Keisel has also notched a sack, as well as an interception, the second of Keisel's career and a play which could go down as one of the major turning points of the Steelers' season.
Keisel is well-liked and respected around the league and serves as a viable symbol of veteran leadership. With young, promising talent on the defensive side like Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, and Jarvis Jones, a player who has played his entire career with the team such as Keisel could serve as a mentor and locker room influence for the new generation of Steelers defenders.
Prior to this season, Keisel signed a two-year deal worth $3 million, meaning his 2015 cap number will count entirely against the team's total cap, but this figure is only is only $1.75 million, hardly an unreasonable figure for a team attempting to retain some veteran leadership during the transition to a younger defensive unit.
Perhaps most overlooked is the role Keisel plays in the community. Playing the entirely of his career for the Steelers, Keisel's kind heart, nonchalant behavior, and "Fear the Beard" trademarks have transformed him into one of the most beloved figures in Western Pennsylvania. Keisel, despite being elected to only one Pro Bowl, brings a silent panache with him to every game, which fans have interpreted for years as a symbol of the team's nature. The hulking, bearded man who once drove a tractor to Latrobe for the team's training camp, is the type of blue-collar, down to earth figure that embodies the city of Pittsburgh.
The Steelers and Keisel both have big decisions to make this off-season. Keisel presumably will ponder retirement, while the Pittsburgh Steelers will face a difficult decision pondering whether to retain Keisel for what will probably be his final season in 2015. The Steelers, so far, have proven they have what it takes to contend in the AFC. If the team looks to contend next year as well, there are worse things they could do than keeping Brett Keisel around.