The 2012 season is over for the Pittsburgh Steelers a lot earlier than it really should be and now all that’s left to do is look forward to 2013.
The team could be in for more major changes like last offseason, when it chose not to bring back Hines Ward, James Farrior or Aaron Smith.
Looking at only unrestricted free agents at this time, here are players the Steelers must keep and those they should let walk.
Byron Leftwich has been a solid backup QB for the Steelers in the past. However, he just hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his second stint with the team.
With Ben Roethlisberger’s style of play, the Steelers' backup should always be ready to at least keep the team afloat and Byron hasn’t been able to do that.
I would much rather the Steelers let Byron go in free agency and keep Charlie Batch, while bringing in a young guy to develop.
I never thought I’d say this, but I really think the Steelers need to keep Will Allen as a backup for at least one more season.
Before 2012, Allen had not played any significant snaps on defense in his time with the team and I thought he was a waste of a roster spot.
With the injury to Troy Polamalu, however, Allen came in and had a more-than-solid season on defense, outshining Ryan Mundy by a long shot.
Leonard Pope was brought in to be the backup to Heath Miller and provide a huge target for Ben Roethlisberger in the red zone.
Well, Pope was passed by seventh-round pick David Paulson on the depth chart and ended the season with a whopping three receptions for nine yards and two touchdowns.
I would have rather seen the Steelers keep Weslye Saunders over Leonard Pope, but what’s done is done and it is just time for Pope to go.
With the possibility that Willie Colon stubs his toe and is put on injured reserve next year, again, Ramon Foster could end up starting for the Steelers in 2013.
The Steelers' offensive line is seemingly hit with major injuries every season, so it would be smart to keep solid backups on the team.
Foster may not be an elite player, but he can step in and start in addition to providing some positional flexibility with his ability to play both guard spots as well as right tackle.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the signing of Plaxico Burress during the season, but he struggled to get on the field—let alone catch passes.
Burress’ final numbers for the Steelers amounted to three receptions for 42 yards and the one touchdown he caught was versus the Browns in Week 17.
If the Steelers indeed lose Mike Wallace to free agency, they will need another receiver. However, it is much more likely they bring someone in through the draft than keep Burress.
The Steelers are most likely going to get rid of more veterans this offseason and there is a strong possibility that Larry Foote is one of them not brought back.
After Lawrence Timmons, however, the Steelers have nothing at inside linebacker and it would be a good idea to bring Foote back.
If he isn’t retained, the starting linebacker next to Timmons would either be Stevenson Sylvester, Sean Spence or a rookie from the draft.
I have been a Rashard Mendenhall supporter over the years. However, he has just worn out his welcome in Pittsburgh.
Mendenhall has the talent to be a starting running back, but he sometimes just looks like he doesn’t care enough, which showed this season.
There is also the fact that he is most likely going to demand a lot more than the Steelers are willing to give him. Mendenhall has definitely played his last game with the team.
Though I think Mike Adams is the future at LT for the Steelers, he is not ready to step into that role at this time.
Both Adams and Marcus Gilbert are coming off injury-riddled seasons and Max Starks had a nice season protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side.
I know the Steelers are trying to get younger, but at worst Max Starks should be brought back to camp and if he is beaten out by the younger guys, then keep him as a backup.
Mike Wallace, and every other Steelers receiver, had a very disappointing season and most think he will leave in free agency.
Personally, I am hoping that the Steelers are able to keep Wallace, but not for a huge contract that would cripple the team.
Wallace is a talented receiver and he deserves a new contract. However, there’s no way he is going to get something much higher than Antonio Brown.
This is probably the biggest no-brainer of any of the Steelers' unrestricted free agents and the team needs to find a way to keep Keenan Lewis.
Keenan Lewis finally turned into the player we all thought he would be when he was drafted and hopefully he gives the Steelers a hometown discount.
With how well Cortez Allen finished the season, the Steelers could have a combination of Ike Taylor, Lewis, Allen and Curtis Brown still developing if they are able to re-sign Lewis.