With most of their proven stars under contract heading into the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not a team that has to worry about losing many key players in free agency. Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Antonio Brown are all under contract until at least the next offseason. With a handful of notable exceptions, most of Pittsburgh’s future free agents are either aging veterans or young players who have yet to prove themselves.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the team doesn’t have much flexibility when it comes to negotiating with their free-agents-to-be. Given that the team’s payroll exceeds next season’s salary cap by a considerable margin, the Steelers’ front office will have to restructure contracts and make some painful cuts just to re-sign the few players it deems irreplaceable.
These financial constraints will open the door to teams looking to poach some of Pittsburgh’s personnel during the offseason.
The trick for those clubs will be figuring out which of the Steelers’ future free agents can actually contribute on the field. Not one of them is a bona fide star. Each is flawed in some way. Some have a short track record of success—meaning it’s too early to say if they are more than flashes in the pan. Others have enjoyed good runs but had a rough 2012 campaign that raised questions about their future value. A few are very capable role players who can make solid contributions in the right situation. And some just aren’t very good and never have been.
The other factor that teams in the market for free agents will have to consider is cost. It’s not possible to overpay for a legitimate star, but tying up too much cap space with overpriced mid-tier free agents can sink a club for years. Conversely, flaws don’t matter so much if a player comes cheap.
With that in mind, the following is a list of upcoming Steelers free agents who might be interesting to the right team at the right price and whom Pittsburgh might lose as a result.
They are ordered by the value they offer to prospective employers, starting with the worst bargains and proceeding to the steals. Though it is impossible to predict with accuracy the salaries each will command on the open market, a combination of their 2012 salary and the pay of similar players can give at least a ballpark idea.