The Pittsburgh Steelers have some intriguing pieces on the free agent market, both restricted and unrestricted this offseason. The Steelers must sit down and figure out which free agents they can bring back and which ones they cannot.
On the flip side of that coin is whether or not these players want to return to the black and gold. There's a certain amount of flight risk for any free agent, regardless of the team and situation.
Here's a look at the flight risk for each free agent.
Here's the scale I'll be using to evaluate the flight risk for each of the team's free agents.
These are the players that, for whatever reason, won't be back next season. This includes players that don't fit the team and players that the team won't want back.
These players aren't likely to return for whatever reason, but the team will probably still attempt to bring them back for any of various reasons.
These players are at about the 50-50 mark. They may stick around with the Steelers, or they may end up on another team's roster next season. At this point, it's all about how things unfold.
Not Very Likely
These are players who have at least a 75 percent chance of being back in black and gold once the season opens next fall.
These are players who have a 90 percent or higher chance of staying put in Pittsburgh.
Here's a look at players who have a 90 percent chance or better of not returning to the team in 2012.
I just can't see why. The team brought him back after a bad knee injury for the 2011 season, chose him after a camp battle with Jeremy Kapinos and then had to bring Kapinos back when Sepulveda hurt his knee again. The team can't rely on a guy with this kind of injury history. He'll be punting somewhere new next year.
Dixon was a mildly surprising returnee last season. He didn't want to be a backup again, and he seems to feel slighted by the fact that he hasn't gotten more of a chance. He's able to go wherever he wants now, and the team doesn't have any apparent interest in bringing him back anyway.
The former fifth round pick just doesn't possess anything that the team needs. He was brought in as a body to fill in behind the team's injury-riddled tackles, but he had no impact in 2011. The team will likely go with some fresh players there in 2012, perhaps in the draft. Meredith doesn't make sense.
The 2009 third rounder doesn't fit any need. The Steelers have perhaps the deepest wide receiver depth chart in the NFL. Williams is currently at the very bottom of that list, and the team doesn't have a lot of money to spend. Bringing him on board makes little sense.
The undrafted Brooks is in the same boat as Meredith. He's had no real impact in his time here, and he doesn't factor into the team's future plans along the offensive line. The Steelers are likely to look for better players in the draft. Brooks would occupy a roster spot that's better suited to another player.
These players have a 75 percent chance or better of playing in different cities next season.
Tantalizing is a good word to describe him. He's been excellent when he's been on the field for Pittsburgh, but he can't stay there because he's never healthy anymore. The Steelers might be upgrading their quarterback depth this offseason. Bringing back Leftwich, who will be more expensive than the older Charlie Batch, doesn't make a ton of sense.
I've been wrong about him before. He plays a valuable role in the team's offense, but they didn't miss him when he was hurt. They have a lot of younger pieces in the running back department too (Baron Batch and Jonathan Dwyer chief among them, with John Clay also in the mix). Moore doesn't have a ton of upside at his age.
Unless he wants to take a veteran minimum deal and be a full-time backup and tutor, I don't see him coming back. The Steelers have precious little money to spend and few roster spots for new, young impact players. They badly need to get younger defensively. Smith doesn't do that for them at all.
Until the team restructured Willie Colon's deal and moved Marcus Gilbert to left tackle, I had Starks around the 50-50 mark. ACL injuries are bad news. Combine that with the recent reshuffling, and I don't think Starks fits anymore. He saved the team last year, but this time he just may not be in the plans.
He was a nice piece in 2011, providing a nice safety valve for Ben Roethlisberger and proving he's a great possession guy. Unfortunately, while the Steelers would love to keep him, I don't see him fitting into their salary restrictions. He's going to want a bigger role too, so he will likely head somewhere new.
These players are at about the 50-50 mark. They could come back in the right situation or could end up somewhere else.
Gay played excellently this year, turning some heads and answering a lot of questions about his ability to play in the NFL. He certainly proved me wrong after I begged for him to be cut. He may have played his way into a starting job somewhere.
I'm not sure Pittsburgh wants him back, although I think they'd like to have him again for the right dollar amount, which is likely to be the reason he either stays or goes.
I'd say he's on the outside looking in at this point. There has been no indication from the team that they need or want him back. Their efforts have been focused elsewhere.
Essex was let go before and didn't garner much interest on the market. He came back and was okay, but I don't know how much other interest he gets now. He's a guy who could come back later if needed.
Might he be a better bet than Byron Leftwich? I would say yes. Batch hasn't had the recent health problems that Leftwich has. He's been a stalwart for years too. He's also almost a field coach. That gives him an edge in my book. He'll also come cheaper. That's powerful.
These players have about a 75 percent chance or better of being in Pittsburgh when the season opens this fall.
You've been waiting for him to show up. I'm not buying any of the recent concerns that he'll leave. I could be wrong, which is why I'm not saying he's staying for sure, but I do think he is someone the team will try very hard to keep.
You have to remember he's a restricted free agent, so he'll be very expensive for anyone else to get, and the team has the option of tagging him.
He's closer to 75 percent or maybe a little less. He's a restricted guy, and the team values his ability to play at either safety spot and sub in for Ryan Clark when necessary. He knows the system too, which helps. His special teams work is excellent.
I'd see him getting a modest tender, but I don't see a widespread interest in him outside of Pittsburgh, which could keep him in town.
He's a valuable guy if William Gay walks. He came on last season and had a nice year. He probably increased his value significantly over previous levels, but I also don't see anyone lining up to get him. Gay will draw the most attention at the position (at least among former Steelers). Lewis will get tendered and will probably be back.
The only question I have here is how new coordinator Todd Haley's system will value him. He's played tight end and fullback for the Steelers, and he's good. The Weslye Saunders suspension might play into his situation as well. I think he's coming back. I'd be surprised if the team didn't have him back as their second tight end.
These are the players who have a 90 percent chance or better of playing with the Steelers next season.
He is extremely versatile and talented. I think he'll be a starter at guard next season. The biggest question with him is health, but I think he'll be fine by the time camp opens. He fought through a lot last season and was invaluable. With Chris Kemoeatu likely to go, he's an important piece to keep.
He'll be the starter unless Rashard Mendenhall makes a miraculous recovery (not likely). He's also a restricted player, making it a tricky situation with his tender. I think he'll get an extension that's modest yet gives him the room to earn a lot if he ends up becoming the long-term guy.
He's in the same spot as Legursky. He's versatile and played well at guard last year. The team doesn't seem to value him, which may hurt his chances, but I don't see him not getting a tender. I also don't think anyone else knows who he is, so he's almost a lock to be back in town.
Casey Hampton is injured, and his salary is prohibitive. The team could be looking to bring him back at a lower number, or they could entrust the nose to McLendon, who's played well in relief and has the skills to man the position for a year or two while they draft a future starter at that spot. I don't see any reason why he wouldn't come back at this point.