Fans do not want to hear the word “rebuilding” attached to next season, but that might be exactly what it is for Pittsburgh in 2013.
Perhaps a more appropriate question here is: “Can the Steelers contend in 2013?”
While this flies in the face of competitive nature, it may be better if they do not. Sometimes, as in the last three seasons at Three Rivers Stadium (1998-2000), it’s better to be just outside contention for a year or two if it means that, in the long run, you’ll be competitive for a long time.
Another 8-8 or 7-9 season isn’t out of the question. There’s simply too many holes and too little space under the cap to fix everything.
The brutal truth is that the front office loaded up during the uncapped 2010 season for another run, handed out some big extensions around that same time and didn’t come away with another trophy.
Now the piper must be paid in the form of some tough choices to get and stay under the cap.
For that reason, expect Mike Wallace to go (which is a good thing, really), Keenan Lewis to likely also depart and for some hardship cuts like James Harrison.
Casey Hampton won’t be brought back because of the expense. Larry Foote could come back, but that money is better spent somewhere else.
The other problem for consistently good teams is the erosion of the roster that comes with 10 or more years drafting late in every round. The Steelers haven’t picked in the top half of the draft since 2004 (Ben Roethlisberger at 11th overall) and will be picking their highest since that season in 2013 (17th overall).
As for where to start the rebuilding of this proud franchise, the best bet is on defense, where the age issues are most prevalent. It’s time to start thinking about replacements for Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark. None of those players have more than five years of starting left in them barring some strange encounter with a fountain of youth.