The hiring of Todd Haley as offensive coordinator was the talk of the town, only to be topped by the status of Hines Ward—there is a real chance that the Steelers will release him.
We haven't even gotten a chance to discuss the potential releasing of several other veterans including Chris Kemoeatu, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton. These are just a few moves that General Manager Kevin Colbert will have to consider to get the Steelers under the salary cap by March 13th.
While there will be an unusual number of changes for the Steelers, they still expect to contend next year.
We’re not at a crossroads. We’re not in the rebuilding stage. The best way to put it is we need to re-tool, Colbert told Steelers.com. We need to keep adding young players into the mix, continue to hope our overall progression out-runs our regression. If we continue to do that, we’ll have our chances to be successful.
The Steelers have to be smart with the moves that they make and as history has proven, they usually are.
With that said, here are the moves that the Steelers should avoid this offseason.
The Steelers have two part-time players sharing the role at inside linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons.
James Farrior, an unquestioned leader of the defense, is at the tail end of his career and Larry Foote is nothing more than a quality backup.
The fact that one may be the clear-cut starter entering next season is a problem for the Steelers, particularly against athletic running backs and tight ends, not to mention their lack of pass-rushing ability.
Neither player can adequately carry the load for a full season as starter, and the Steelers need to find an upgrade for the position either through free agency or the draft.
Pittsburgh needs to go outside of the organization because Stevenson Sylvester may not be able to start, and there are no other linebackers who could step into the position.
If either Farrior or Foote is expected to be the full-time starter next season, they instantly become a target for opposing offenses.
When Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns, we all knew that he would be in for a long road to recovery.
So it was no surprise when Kevin Colbert told Steelers.com that Mendenhall may not be ready for the start of next season.
Potentially Rashard Mendenhall might not be ready for camp, said Colbert. In my mind, I never feel good about an ACL until a year. I am not a doctor but that’s just my mindset. If he gets back before then, to me it’s a bonus. Is he a potential candidate for the PUP List? Absolutely.
That leaves Isaac Redman as the Steelers only proven back and even that is a stretch.
Redman had only three games with at least 15 carries last season, though he performed very well against the Browns and Denver Broncos, rushing for 213 yards on only 36 carries and a touchdown over the final two weeks of the season.
Behind Redman are Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay and Baron Batch, who is recovering from ACL injury. Other possibilities include Chad Spann and Mewelde Moore.
Unless the Steelers revamp their offensive line, it is not a particularly inspiring group, though do have potential. Redman almost always picks up positive yardage and Dwyer was considered to be a draft day steal.
Clay is a solid straight line runner with good power and Batch has the ability to be a quality third down back.
However, since the backfield is so unproven the Steelers need to find an experienced back who can step in if needed or share the load with Redman. A mid-round draft choice is another possibility since Mendenhall is in the final year of his contract.
Running back is not a position that should be ignored.
The most talented group on the entire Steelers roster is at wide receiver.
Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders make up one of the best receiving corps in the entire league and could be in for a breakout 2012 season.
Watching the Steelers in training camp last year, the offense looked poised to have a huge 2011, but that did not happen.
Instead, Bruce Arians is out and Todd Haley is the new sheriff in town.
Pittsburgh's offense is very close to being elite. They have the talent at the skill positions and the stats are there to prove it, they just need to do a better job putting the ball in the end zone.
For that reason, a brand new offense will set the team back, which is one of Ben Roethlisberger's concerns.
That was my biggest talking point to Mike and those guys -- I would hate to just throw everything out and start over because I feel it would set us back two or three years because these guys are just starting to get it, Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It may take a full season just to begin to get comfortable with a new offense and the Steelers do not have a season to waste—they are ready to win now.
A simple tweak of the offense would be best for Haley and the Steelers.
Haley can gear the Steelers' current offense and combine it with his to design a scheme to best fit the talent on Pittsburgh's roster.
As the years go by, Haley can integrate more of his own ideas into the offense and this would avoid any major setbacks this season.
Possibly more than any other position, nose tackle is the biggest need for the Steelers.
Casey Hampton suffered an ACL injury and for a man his size, to expect him to be ready for the season when Rashard Mendenhall may not even be ready is a bit much to ask for.
Beyond Hampton, Chris Hoke has retired leaving Steve McLendon as the only nose tackle on the roster. McLendon played pretty well in his reserve role last season, but he does not have the look as the player to anchor to the defensive line.
One possible solution would be to move Ziggy Hood to the center of the line and have Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward at defensive end.
While a decent idea in theory, this move would weaken multiple positions.
Hood could probably do a fair job at the position and even improve the pass rush, but it would also give the Steelers a need at defensive end.
Pittsburgh actively uses a three or four man rotation at end and moving Hood to the center would leave Keisel as the only proven player on the outside with hopes that Heyward lives up to his draft status. More importantly, there is no depth behind these two and that could cause a lot of problems, especially as they wear down as the season progresses.
Hood is also a downgrade from Hampton at nose tackle, though that could be said about just about anyone who replaces him. He would not be able to occupy the blockers that Hampton did, but he would provide a more athletic presence.
With the talent at the top of the draft at nose tackle—including Dontari Poe—the Steelers would be making a mistake to not find a rookie who could immediately step into the position, or at the very least share it with McLendon.
That would allow the Steelers to have quality depth at both nose tackle and defensive end as well as give them three young, talented players across the defensive line.
Still estimated at $11.7 million over the salary cap, the Steelers would put themselves in more of a bind if they use the franchise tag on Mike Wallace.
Though Colbert told Steelers.com that the franchise tag is "available" for use, it would not be prudent for the Steelers to use the tag on Wallace.
According to Will Brinson of CBSSports, the franchise tag will be $9.4 million for wide receivers this year.
The franchise tag is a significant jump over the $2.742 million first-round restricted free agent tender that Wallace is expected to get.
Pittsburgh would have to be very creative to make enough room under the cap to place the tag on Wallace prior to the start to free agency.
Wallace would not expect to hold the tag for long—team president Art Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that signing Wallace to a long-term deal "will be one of the priorities" this offseason.
Regardless what happens once free agency begins, the cap problems that come with franchising Wallace would be a lot to overcome, and the Steelers may need to risk another team signing him away, but get the first-round pick in return.
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