State of The Steelers - Offseason Primer
The Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Primer
The Steelers head into the 2012 offseason coming off of an embarrassing 1st round playoff loss to the 8-8 Denver Broncos. Worse yet, they are an estimated $25 million over the salary cap with a roster full of aging stars and several notable holes in the roster. Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan certainly will have their work cut out for them over the next few months. Let's take a look at each key component to the offseason.
Salary Cap Management
At roughly $25 million over the cap, the franchise will need to cut players and restructure contracts in order to get down into cap compliant range. Figure the team needs to clear away about $30 million in order to sign their RFA's, UFA's, and draft picks and still get under the cap. One important note to keep in mind is that next year is when the new TV revenue deal kicks into place and at that time we should see a large spike in the cap number. If the Steelers can shuffle some money due from this year to next year, they shouldn't have a major problem with the cap. That said, let's take a look at key contracts that could be restructured or cut:
|Player||Savings if Cut|
|Total Estimated Savings||28,000,000|
First off, there are some easy cuts. Players who lost starting jobs due to poor performance are the first to go. Bryant McFadden, Jon Scott, and Chris Kemoeatu all seem to be primary candidates to be cut. Those three players free up a whopping $7.1 million, without really hurting the roster. Aaron Smith and Hines Ward each should be headed for the retirement home, willingly or forcefully, which frees up another $5.5. They can't afford to continue paying both Farrior and Foote starters money. Since Farrior is the starter and the lower cap hit, I assume they ask him to restructure and play one more year. Sylvester and a likely draft pick each pick up the slack at the ILB position. Ask yourself this question, if the Steelers played the 2011 season without Ward, Smith, Scott, Kemoeatu, McFadden, or Larry Foote, would their record have been any different? That is $15.6 million in cap room that can be cleared away with minimal effect to the roster. Now things get a little bit trickier. Casey Hampton who has a huge cap number due is the only experienced NT on the roster now that Chris Hoke has retired. The logical scenario is they ask him to restructure and take a pay cut to mentor a draft pick for a year at the NT position. Steve McClendon can slide to his more natural DE position where he played well in spot duty this season. I suppose it isn't completely out of the realm of possibility that they could cut Hampton outright to clear additional cap space if they were set on drafting a NT in the top 2 rounds come April. Lastly, there are some fringe roster guys like Arnez Battle and Will Allen that could be cut as well to free up a little more space. Willie Colon's ridiculous contract is an albatross around the neck of the franchise. A marginal starter when healthy, Colon has missed the last two seasons due to injury, yet is one of the highest paid players on the roster. Cutting him frees up little unfortunately. Figure the Steelers go back to vets like Colon, Roethlisberger, Miller, Woodley, and Harrison to further restructure deals to get to their ultimate cap goal much like last year. Remember, next year should see a spike in the overall cap number and provide the franchise further relief.
Steelers Free Agents
The Steelers have to first deal with their own Restricted Free Agents (RFAs). Typically any player worth a damn will get tendered by the team to stay. This year we are looking at Ramon Foster, Keenan Lewis, Mike Wallace, Doug Legursky, Ryan Mundy, & David Johnson. One would assume all of those players get tender offers and the team decides if it wants to offer Mike Wallace a long term contract. All indications are that he is a top priority of the franchise this offseason according to the interview with Mr. Rooney earlier this month. Between the players currently under contract (that I did not cut in the Salary Cap Management section above), and the RFAs the Steelers roster is around 46 players deep at this point. Now we get to the Steelers Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs). Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich, Trai Essex, Max Starks, Jerricho Cotchery, and William Gay are the Steelers players that they no longer have a claim to. You would have to assume they make an effort to keep at least one back-up QB, likely Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich at a cap friendly level. Trai Essex isn't likely going to command much if anything more than the vet minimum on the open market, and yet another injury to Max Starks should hinder his value as well. The Steelers would be wise to make an early cap-friendly offer to each player. Jerricho Cotchery is a very nice #4 Wr to have on your roster if they can afford him. The Steelers were fortunate to sign him for the low dollar amount they were able to last year, and would be wise to try and sign him to an extended deal at a similar level this year if possible. That leaves William Gay. This is maybe the hardest decision of the bunch as the team certainly needs a 5th CB who is worthy of playing in packages and possibly starting, but does bringing Gay back hold back Lewis, Allen, and Brown from emerging into bigger roles within the defense? I can't fathom any team offers Gay much on the open market, so the Steelers may be able to bring Gay back at a reasonable number to round out their top 5 CB positions on the roster without being forced to drop another draft pick on the position. Also, don't rule out the Steelers cutting Suisham and making a move on a veteran Free Agent kicker. Tomlin obviously lacked confidence in his kicker much of the season. Figure the Steelers find a way to sign 3 or 4 of their own UFAs and get their total roster number near 50 players before adding draft picks to the mix and not including fringe players on futures contracts.
Outside Free Agents
Stop laughing, it's possible they could sign an outside free agent, though not likely. We all know the team preferred to build through the draft and re-sign their own players as opposed to bringing in players from other organizations. For the sake of argument we can at least look at who may be available.
D-line: Paul Soliai & Kendall Langford are both free agents from Miami who is switching from a 3-4 to the 4-3, so both players may be expendable. Soliai made the Pro Bowl as a replacement player this year and could be a fit if the team decides to cut Hampton. Red Bryant is a player the Steelers scouted in the draft a few years ago, and he shouldn't command much on the open market. Bryant has the ability to play NT or 5-tech and could be a valuable back-up across the D-line. Jets DT Sione Pouha is a solid 3-4 nose tackle who also could be an option if the team is able to pay him.
O-line: Demetrius Bell is an improving young LT of the Buffalo Bills who is an UFA right now. Perhaps Kugler has a connection there and may want to bring Bell in as the swing tackle to replace Starks and Jon Scott on the roster. LG Ben Grubbs of Baltimore is also available and would fill a big hole on the roster, but likely is too costly as is Carl Nicks. Perhaps they could make a play for a lesser guard to come in and compete like a Chilo Rachel who has been up and down in San Francisco.
LB: If the Steelers need to cut Larry Foote and still need a veteran back-up, it is possible they could look at bringing Keayron Fox back into the mix. His salary would be around $1 million which is way better than the $3 million they pay Foote for the same role and production. Browns ILB DQwell Jackson could be a candidate to replace Farrior, but again the cost would be too great.
K: Suisham is mediocre. Some good kickers will be on the open market, notably Josh Scobee of Jacksonville. Nick Folk, Jay Feeley, Rian Lindell are some other names that may be out there. If the team does make a big free agent splash, it could very well be at the kicker position.
There are three positions that are glaring needs for this roster as it's currently constructed. First would be a starting caliber LG which the team hasn't had since Alan Faneca departed. Secondly, there is a big gaping hole at ILB with Farrior and Foote both aging, declining, and being cost prohibitive at this point in their careers. The third need is a young NT on the D-line to replace Casey Hampton. The secondary needs for this team is Safety, Offensive Tackle, and a WR/TE with some size and speed to help in the redzone. Some will argue Offensive Tackle as a bigger g need, but with Marcus Gilbert emerging as a starter at one position and Willie Colon being paid like a quality starter at the other, you have to believe the team will drop this position down their needs list more than most fans would like to see. Most likely they will be in the market for a veteran swing tackle, which could mean bringing back Jon Scott or Max Starks. The WR/TE position is a bit trickier. The roster badly lacks a tall redzone presence at either position, and if Ward and Cotchery leave they need at least a competent #4 WR. In addition, I wouldn't count on Antonio Brown being used as the primary return man much longer as he has emerged as the top WR on the team. I could see a 3rd or 4th round pick being used on a WR/KR or an athletic TE to help stretch defenses.
Early Draft Prospects at Positions of Need
|Position||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Rounds 4-5|
|ILB||Donta Hightower-Alabama; Luke Kuechly-Boston College||Bobby Wagner-Utah St||Keenan Robinson-Texas; Audie Cole-NC St||Emmanuel Acho-Texas; Nigel Bradham-Florida State|
|OT||Mike Adams-Ohio St||Zebrie Sanders-Florida S; Bobbie Massie-Ole Miss||Brandon Mosley Auburn, Nate Potter-Boise St||Matt McCants-UAB; Jeff Allen-Illinois (OG ot T) Andrew Datko FSU|
|OG||David Decastro-Stanford (trade up); Cordy Glenn-Georgia||
Kevin Zeitler-Wisconsin; Brandon Washington-Miami; Kelechi Osemele-Iowa St
Amini Silatoulu - MWS
|Brandon Brooks - Miami, OH, Senio Kelementi-Washington; Lucas Nix-Pitt||Tony Bergstrom-Utah|
|WR/TE||N/A||Coby Fleener-Stanford; Orson Charles-Georgia||Joe Adams-Arkansas; Juron Criner-Arizona; Michael Egnew-Missouri; Ladarius Green-La. Lafayette||Jarius Wright-Arkansas; TY Hilton-UCF|
|NT||Dontari Poe-Memphis||Alameda Ta'amu-Washington||Josh Chapman-Alabama||Mike Martin-Michigan;Hebron Fangupo-BYU|
|Safety||N/A||Markelle Martin-Oklahoma St||George Iloka-Boise St; Harrison Smith-Notre Dame; Antonio Allen-S. Carolina||Aaron Henry-Wisconsin; Tramain Thomas-Arkansas; Brandon Taylor-LSU|
Compensatory Draft Picks
The secretive formula for compensatory draft picks has been picked apart by amateur draftniks online over the years. Basically what we know is teams are rewarded additional picks beginning at the end of the third round for players lost in free agency the previous year. They take the number of players lost minus the number of players signed from other teams, factor in contracts, playing time, and awards then pass out 32 picks to various teams to compensate the ones who lose the most in free agency. Last year the Steelers lost Matt Spaeth to the Bears, Keayron Fox to the Redskins, and Nick Eason to the Cardinals. They only outside free agent they signed was Jerricho Cotchery, however since Cotchery was cut from the Jets he does not factor into the formula. Matt Spaeth's contract numbers fall just below the range where 6th round picks were awarded last year, so it is safe to say he will net the Steelers a 7th round pick. Eason and Fox's deals were below the range where comp picks are generally awarded, however since the Steelers were -3 in the FA department the net loss of Eason and Fox should net a late 7th rounder in the Mr. Irrelevant territory. There is a chance that both players will bring late 7th round comp picks bringing the total compensatory picks for the Steelers up to 3. My guess is the Steelers are awarded two 7th round picks. One will be in the 220's range, and the other will be in the 240's range.