Tough decisions lie ahead for the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason. Whether it is their long list of free agents about to be able to test the free agent waters on March 9th, the gaping holes in the secondary or even the team's precarious salary cap situation heading into the new league year.
With all of this being on the forefront, ESPN took a stab at the top 5 moves the Steelers should make this offseason, but how accurate are these suggestions? Let's break them down one at a time.
1. Sign David DeCastro to a long-term deal. I wrote about Pittsburgh's perennial cap issues back in January, so many of the ideas here are discussed at length there. The Steelers need to clear out cap space to sign departing free agents while locking up members of their talented young core. They can do both by extending DeCastro, who is signed to a one-year deal at $8.1 million on his fifth-year rookie option. A four- or five-year deal for one of the league's finest young guards would lower his 2015 cap hit while ensuring the Steelers have an offensive leader for years to come.
This absolutely should be top of the list, especially with him due to make over $8 million dollars in the 5th year of his rookie deal, but the team has other players to look into extending, not just to keep them in a black and gold uniform for the long-term, but also to help their salary cap space. Antonio Brown and especially Le'Veon Bell would be high on the team's priority list.
2. Sign Lawrence Timmons to an extension. This isn't a good idea, but it's a necessary one. The Steelers can't justify leaving Timmons with a cap hit of $15.1 million, which would be the league's highest for an inside linebacker by a staggering $5.5 million (counting Clay Matthews as an outside linebacker and assuming the Patriots cut Jerod Mayo). Timmons is a useful player, but pretty good inside linebackers have a cap figure one-third of his.
The Steelers have already had to restructure Timmons' deal twice in five years, and they now have to pay the piper again. To reduce Timmons' cap hold, they'll have to give him a new deal -- probably a three-year contract to spread out what will be a comfortable signing bonus. It's the same thing the Steelers have done in the past, with Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller, and it ends poorly, with the Steelers paying a premium for a player who is a shell of his former self. That's arguably better than paying a reasonably talented inside linebacker as if he's the best defensive player in football, but it's not a solution, either.
Lawrence Timmons is still a valuable, and effective, part of the Steelers' defense, but his contract yields a ridiculous cap hit for the 2016 season. With that said, it should be no shock to the team would be wise to sit down with Timmons and his representatives to talk about a new, more cap-friendly, contract.
However, Timmons isn't the only player who the team could approach to re-structure or extend to help decrease the hit on the team's already tight salary cap status. Those who would be smart to re-structure their current deals to help the team would be: Ben Roethlisberger ($23,950,000), Antonio Brown ($12,370,833), Maurkice Pouncey ($10,551,000) and even Cameron Heyward ($10,400,000).
3. Cut Cortez Allen and Shaun Suisham. If the Steelers designate Allen as a post-June 1 release, these moves would combine to clear out nearly $10 million in cap space.
Although it is easy to say, "Cut this guy and cut that guy." It isn't always that easy to do, especially when it comes to Suisham. The Steelers have a capable, younger and cheaper option in Chris Boswell, but the team could get something in return for Suisham. After the kicking fiasco of 2015, teams will certainly be looking for a veteran kicker to help bolster the position.
The Jacksonville Jaguars got a 6th round pick for Josh Scobee, and the Steelers could manage a similar trade if Suisham proves to be healthy and capable after a torn ACL. Although I agree with cutting ties with Allen, I think you hold onto Suisham.
4. Try to bring back Kelvin Beachum. "Try" is the operative word here because it's going to be awfully tough. Beachum emerged as one of the league's best left tackles in 2014 before tearing his ACL the past season. The injury should help bring down his market, but at 26, he's going to have all kinds of suitors. Half the league should be interested in signing him. The Steelers will have to get very creative with their contract structure to find a way to re-sign Beachum, but it's a move they should make. Although Alejandro Villanueva was better than Pittsburgh could have hoped in Beachum's absence, he would be a comfortable step down from the player Beachum looked as if he was becoming two seasons ago.
I wouldn't argue against re-signing Kelvin Beachum, but more importantly I would suggest the team signing either Beachum or guard Ramon Foster. Losing both players would equate to a huge hole on the left side of the team's offensive line, but only losing one would make the departure of either player less significant moving into 2016.
5. Buy low on Le'Veon Bell. After looking like arguably the best back in football in 2014, Bell never got going last year, as an early-season suspension gave way to an abbreviated six-game campaign before Bell tore his MCL and went on injured reserve. That's disappointing for the Steelers, of course, but it might give them a window to sign Bell at a friendlier rate than if Bell had put up a monstrous 2015 campaign. As the 2013 second-rounder enters the final year of his rookie contract, Pittsburgh might be able to save some money while re-signing a player it planned to lock up all along.
Injuries are never good, but can be helpful in contract negotiations. The Steelers don't want Bell to head into a contract year, as he is in the final year of his rookie contract, and the fact Bell hasn't been able to have a complete season in the past two seasons could bode well for the Steelers re-signing the dynamic running back at a lower price.
A lot of decisions to be made, and the Steelers will have to make some tough calls to make this offseason. Whether they lose, or retain, some of their free agents could have a significant impact on the team's success in 2016.