No one looks forward to the offseason, especially when your favorite team was one step away from the Super Bowl. Nonetheless, the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game ended their season and got the offseason kicked off.
As the team approaches the long layoff between now and spring workouts, the organization will have several burning questions awaiting them as the NFL Draft and free agency approach.
I’ve narrowed the focus down to 5 questions, and given my answers. It could be a dicey offseason with plenty of difficult decisions ahead.
DeAngelo Williams, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons are all on the back-nine of their football careers, and although Williams hasn’t stated his plans for next season, Harrison and Timmons will be prepared to play next season. However, will it be for Pittsburgh, and how much will they earn?
Timmons finally got all of the money owed him after restructuring his contract several times, and Harrison essentially played for the league minimum in 2016. If Williams decides he wants to play again, do the Steelers bring back all three of these players, and if so, how much do they pay them?
My guess is the team offers Timmons a 3-year contract with a very team-friendly cap hit involved. They give Harrison another 2-year contract which could be terminated after 2017 if the team chooses, and Williams is faced with trying to play elsewhere or calling it a career.
Sometimes the fringe players make a difference in one way or another. It can be with special teams contributions, as well as being a part-time regular. The Steelers will have to make decisions on three players who will all become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Shamarko Thomas, Jarvis Jones and Landry Jones.
Jarvis Jones has been ridiculously disappointing as a pass rusher in the NFL, and the team not picking up his 5th year option certainly doesn’t paint a good picture for him when it comes to staying in the Steel City next season. The same can be said about Thomas. Drafted as the heir apparent to Troy Polamalu, he has become nothing more than a special teams ace. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but he has also fought injury problems throughout his career. Landry Jones might be the toughest call to make for the Steelers. He has been Ben Roethlisberger’s backup for 4 years, but although playing solid when he gets into the game, has done little to gain confidence of the fan base throughout his time in Pittsburgh.
It may be sad to say for some, but I think the end of the road is here for all three of these players. They all will be allowed to test the free agent waters, and if no one throws them an offer, maybe they return, but I don’t see it happening.
There were few players who had the expectations on them like Markus Wheaton did in 2016. Entering his final year of his rookie contract, Wheaton was looking to not only cash in on a big season, but use that production to propel him into the free agent waters.
Similar to Emmanuel Sanders before him, it seemed there weren’t enough seats train, but last season couldn’t have gone worse for Wheaton. Dealing with a shoulder injury dating back to the preseason, Wheaton tried to fight through the injury, but after several setbacks was placed on injured reserve.
Wheaton had surgery to repair the injury, but he is hardly hitting the free agent market in good standing, and would it be enough for the Steelers to try and re-sign Wheaton on the cheap? Obviously it would depend on his offers elsewhere, but Wheaton knows the system, is a versatile player and has shown flashes of a competent receiver. Something for the Steelers to consider this offseason.
Bell and Brown
Possibly the two biggest questions facing the black and gold this offseason surround the team’s two most dynamic offensive players. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are both due new contracts, and I’m not even going to entertain the idea of either player not being in the lineup next season, but the question is how much will the duo receive?
Rumors have said Bell could get the franchise tag, which will cost the team roughly $12 million for one year’s services, and Brown is likely going to want to be the highest paid player at his position.
The team has some salary cap space next season, but will they spend it all on this dynamic duo?
At Mike Tomlin’s end of the year press conference he didn’t give a glowing endorsement for his coaching staff. When asked if they all would be returning, Tomlin said they will be evaluated accordingly. This is a long way from what he stated after the 2015 season when he said they would all return. Special Teams coach Danny Smith would be at the top of the “possibly fired” list, but could their be other coaching turnover? Joey Porter’s public legal troubles could sour the franchise, but only time will tell which, if any, coaches are asked to leave.