Pittsburgh Steelers: 6 Moves the Steelers Simply Must Make This Offseason
As the 2011 NFL season's final chapter is written by the New York Giants and New England Patriots, every one of the league's 32 franchises will be in full-blown preparation for the 2012 season. Some teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, have been at this for awhile.
Every team has moves that simply must happen for them to be successful and improve in 2012. Here's a look at several such moves for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Extending Mike Wallace
This is pretty obvious. Wallace and Antonio Brown are the top two receivers on the roster. Wallace is a restricted free agent and stands to make big money. The Steelers don't want to let their top guy end up on another team, so giving him an extension now makes sense.
Another option is to use the franchise tag, but the cost would likely be higher for 2012 than if they give him a long-term contract. The Steelers are already in cap trouble (more on that in a minute), so franchising someone will be very difficult for them to overcome.
Restructuring Ben Roethlisberger
He stands to make more than $11 million in 2012. While one could argue that Roethlisberger, a top-five NFL quarterback, earns every penny behind a deficient offensive line and through a myriad of injuries, it's also problematic when one player eats up almost 10 percent of cap space.
The Steelers are roughly $25 million over the 2012 projected salary cap. They need to clear that plus about $10 to $15 million for draft picks and potential free agents. A lot of that space could be freed up by getting Roethlisberger to rework his contract. He has said he's willing to do that, so it's just a matter now of sitting down and getting it done.
Drafting Offensive Line Help
Max Starks damaged his ACL against Denver. That could keep him out well into next season. Willie Colon is a likely cap casualty because he hasn't played a full season in a long time and has had catastrophic injuries in both 2010 and 2011. Marcus Gilbert and Maurkice Pouncey are now mainstays. Everything else is in a flux.
The Steelers need a young tackle to take over for Starks (either in 2012 or soon after). Someone like Mike Adams would be a great fit for Pittsburgh and he has the talent to come in and contribute right away. They could also use a guard or two in the draft this year, a position that looks primed for an overhaul.
Balance on Offense
I'm not totally for returning to the smashmouth days of Jerome Bettis or Franco Harris. I'm also not in favor of the pass-heavy system of the last few years. Neither system is likely to be as successful for a diversely talented Pittsburgh offense as a truly balanced system.
Ben Roethlisberger can make any throw. He's also artful with play action. Isaac Redman looks like a budding star. The Steelers boast the best collection of receivers in the NFL. Don't forget about tight end Heath Miller either.
If the Steelers can field a healthy offensive line that improves on run blocking, they could really benefit from a system that is about 55-45 in favor of the pass. A balanced system could really put them over the top in every category.
The time has come for some tough choices. There are several long-time Steelers that may not be back in a black and gold uniform in 2012. It will be hard to do, but it might be time to say goodbye so that the Steelers can get younger and a little less expensive in 2012.
Aaron Smith is at the top of that list. With a multi-million dollar salary next season and the knowledge that he can no longer start for this team, the Steelers will likely wave goodbye to the stalwart and underappreciated defensive end.
James Farrior is another tough call. His skills have diminished some, particularly against the run. Stevenson Sylvester is the heir apparent right now, but the Steelers could draft someone, too, or play Larry Foote on the inside for a year. Foote also could go because of salary concerns.
Chris Kemoeatu is surely a goner. Willie Colon we've already mentioned. Max Starks and Casey Hampton are injured veterans who could find themselves elsewhere in 2012. It will be tough, but some of these guys just won't be around when camp opens.
Staying In-House for Offensive Coordinator
Tell me who that was mentioned from outside the organization really represents a good fit. Todd Haley's personality doesn't seem like it would mesh well with the Steelers. Alex Van Pelt doesn't even make sense for any team after he flopped in Buffalo. The handful of other mentions also don't inspire much.
Randy Fichtner or Kirby Wilson represent stability on a team that's famous for it. They don't have to be Bruce Arians and likely wouldn't be. What they would be are men who know the offensive personnel and the mistakes made by the previous boss.
I'm kind of pulling for Wilson because it would represent a great story and an underrated hire for Pittsburgh, especially if they are planning to lean on the run more than they did the last two years. Fichtner is very highly-regarded as well. Pittsburgh has been successful promoting from within before, so this just makes the most sense.