Breaking Down the Contract Needed to Re-Sign Every Steelers Free Agent
The Pittsburgh Steelers have 19 unrestricted free agents. That's a huge number that's made larger by the team's current salary cap situation. Pittsburgh may not be able to afford any of their players. If they can, they will have to get creative.
Here's a look at what they would need to do with each individual player to keep them in black and gold next season.
Remember these figures are not to be taken in the context of the team's salary situation and not to be taken as a group. Each player will be evaluated individually based on what they alone would require for a new deal.
Greg Warren, LS
Greg Warren's value to a team, as with any long snapper, is chronically undervalued by fans. Special teams, to a degree, are all about consistency and familiarity.
Nowhere is that more important than with the kicking game. A good long snapper has a perfect rapport with the holder, kicker and punter. They also are adept at delivering the snap while almost simultaneously jumping up to block a pile of rushers.
Warren has done all of that during his Pittsburgh tenure. He overcame a pair of early, injury-filled seasons to become a steady force.
Long snappers are not expensive, so this is one free agent Pittsburgh could easily afford to bring back. The Steelers could also spread out a deal over several seasons to make sure he's the long-term answer there.
Four years, $2.5 million
Brandon Johnson, LB
Pittsburgh began last season flush with linebackers to offset injuries to James Harrison and Jason Worilds. They also were forced to adapt when rookie Sean Spence went down injured and when Stevenson Sylvester took a long time to recover from an MCL injury.
Brandon Johnson was one of the players that stuck around, but there are no guarantees that he manages the same feat again. Johnson was one of a long list of players relegated almost exclusively to special teams.
Considering how awful the coverage units were in 2012, a wholesale change might be in order.
If Johnson is retained, it needs to be on a low offer that doesn't do any future cap damage.
One year, $750,000
Leonard Pope, TE
The situation with Leonard Pope is closely tied to how the Pittsburgh Steelers want to handle Heath Miller's injury and his recovery time.
Pope had a decent if unspectacular first season in Pittsburgh. He played well as a blocker and backup and had a few flashes in the passing game as well. He was every bit what was expected.
The question now is whether or not he represents a sound investment for a team that has very little money to spare. David Paulson emerged as a worthy second option to Heath Miller and should be fine as a starter until he returns.
There's also the issue of David Johnson, who should be returning healthy from an injury last season and has been supplanted as the team's fullback.
If the Steelers choose to bring Pope back, it won't be on more than another one-year commitment.
One year, $1.25 million
David Johnson, FB/TE
David Johnson went into training camp with the inside track on the starting fullback job in a new offense that would actually utilize that position fully.
Unfortunately, Will Johnson played fullback with aplomb and David Johnson ended up on injured reserve before he could really make any impact.
Pittsburgh now must decide whether they can use Johnson as a tight end, the position he was drafted for out of college. With Heath Miller out indefinitely, he could be a valuable piece of the puzzle.
Johnson also must want to come back knowing he will see very little playing time once Miller is healthy. This could, however, be a good opportunity to rebuild some of his value for a future contract.
One year, $1.1 million
Ramon Foster, OL
Ramon Foster has been one of the more under-appreciated players on the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster for the past couple of seasons. He, like Max Starks, is a player that consistently has been able to save the team from itself when offensive linemen are hurt or don't perform as expected.
He's versatile enough to play tackle or guard on either side, although he is best as a right guard.
He will now, however, have to take a back seat to second-year player David DeCastro at that position. While Foster could again be valuable as a backup or even as the left guard, he could also get a better deal from another team.
If Pittsburgh wants to retain him, they will have to sweeten the pot somehow with either years or dollars.
Three years, $3.75 million
Will Allen, S
The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten older on defense. With age comes wisdom and injuries. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark both missed time last year for different reasons. Will Allen and Ryan Mundy provided relief but not always success.
Allen was the better of the team's two backups, but he's also the older player on a defense that must get younger.
With Allen set to hit the market, Pittsburgh must decide if they can do more with a draft pick or younger free agent than they can do with him.
Allen has not been a particular standout in any season, but he isn't expected to be. He will be a valuable backup somewhere because of his experience.
One year, $1 million
Ryan Mundy, S
While Will Allen is the aged and experienced backup safety for Pittsburgh, Mundy is the harder-hitting and more youthful guy.
The problem is that he has a bit of a problem hitting within the rules. He's also a liability in coverage and doesn't make any notable plays beyond his hits.
Pittsburgh could choose to retain Mundy on an inexpensive contract to preserve some of the veteran backup experience while breaking in a new player or two at the position.
They could also easily let him walk away. It will be interesting to see how they approach the situation.
One year, $1 million
Stevenson Sylvester, ILB
When Stevenson Sylvester was drafted, it was thought he might eventually supplant James Farrior as the team's star inside linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons.
That hasn't happened. Sylvester has been injury prone and a mess. He hasn't shown the ability or effort to capitalize on several opportunities and only remained on the roster because of Sean Spence's injury.
Pittsburgh would be wise to let Sylvester walk. A fresh start somewhere else could benefit him as he's got a stigma attached here if he stays.
One year, $900,000
Larry Foote, ILB
Larry Foote showed great leadership skills and even greater effort in 2012. He went from backup that looked old to starter who looked to be in his prime.
But both the player and the team would be kidding themselves if they believe that 2012 was more than just a last great showing from a player on the decline. It would be hard to duplicate Foote's success in 2013.
Foote could land a contract somewhere on the market, but his preference seems to be to remain in Pittsburgh. The Steelers may or may not need him in 2013.
A lot of what happens depends on how Pittsburgh views the position in 2013 and not about dollars. Foote will accept a below-market contract to stay after finding out how the grass isn't always greener away from town.
Two years, $2.5 million
Steve McLendon, NT
Steve McLendon is the current future of the nose tackle position for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's grown up in Pittsburgh the same way so many other defensive players have over the years.
For Pittsburgh, retaining McLendon is a huge priority. He represents an opportunity to let go of the past because his presence makes Casey Hampton's unnecessary.
He's going to demand a middle-market contract that pays him on an escalating scale. To control the cap situation, the Steelers would be wise to escalate the salary each year and give him a bigger signing bonus.
Four years, $8.5 million
Plaxico Burress, WR
Plaxico Burress returned to Pittsburgh mid-year after leaving following the 2004 season. His return was thought to be a big boost to an offense that was missing several injured receivers.
Unfortunately, it just never seemed to materialize for various reasons.
Burress still has plenty of skill and could be very valuable as a slot receiver and red zone target. He would be especially useful in the latter role until the team gets red zone guru Heath Miller back from his knee injury.
Burress doesn't project as an expensive signing and the team could spread the money over a two-year deal to give him incentive to sign.
Two years, $2.75 million
Byron Leftwich, QB
Byron Leftwich has been the Pittsburgh Steelers' top backup at quarterback, but he can't seem to stay on the field and healthy for more than a handful of snaps. The same was true again in 2013.
That unreliability at the league's most important position is a death sentence for his career.
There's very little chance that Pittsburgh would re-sign the oft-injured Leftwich, but they could be forced to if they cannot find something more useful and effective on the market or in the draft.
One year, $1.5 million
Charlie Batch, QB
Charlie Batch is one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' longest-tenured players. He's been with the team since the 2002 season and has been invaluable as a leader, player-coach and substitute.
When healthy, he's a consistent performer on the field that competes and finds ways to move the offense. He's not always successful and he's never flashy, but he knows how to be a prepared, steady player.
The question now, as it always seems to be these days, is whether or not the team can stick with Batch again. Perhaps they should look in a new direction, but a complete rebuild behind Ben Roethlisberger could be dangerous.
Batch is certainly the better free agent quarterback from the team, but he is also the older one. It will be interesting to see how the team handles him.
One year, $1.25 million
Casey Hampton, NT
Casey Hampton has spent his entire career in Pittsburgh with the Steelers. He was once an annual Pro Bowl selection and a brilliant player in the middle of the defensive line.
He's now gotten older and slower, but he is coming off a fine performance in which he seemed to show he had more left in the tank than just a smattering of snaps as a backup or part-time player.
The question now is whether or not Pittsburgh wants to continue their relationship with Hampton or go in a new direction. Hampton wants to play and will find a contract somewhere if Pittsburgh allows him to leave.
If the Steelers want to retain him, they won't be able to get away with just a single-year deal.
Two years, $4.5 million
Doug Legursky, OG/C
Doug Legursky is one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' most versatile offensive linemen. He's best as a center and could start on several teams at that position. He is blocked in Pittsburgh by Maurkice Pouncey, however.
As a guard, Legursky has been a mess. He gets hurt easily as well. Neither are attractive for a team trying to get more consistent work out of the line and that will be breaking in a new coach at the position.
Legursky has value, however, as a backup. The question is how he sees himself. If he believes he can be a starter, there are plenty of teams seeking help along the line that would jump at a versatile center.
Three years, $3.75 million
Max Starks, OT
It would be very easy to call Max Starks the savior of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. He's come in each of the last two years and gone from afterthought to starter.
Both times, Starks has looked like a player that should command a deal from another team that is both lucrative and commensurate with his services.
That may not be in the cards for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Good left tackles, especially with experience, are expensive. There are a ton of teams with that need already out there. Pittsburgh doesn't necessarily have a need there with Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum all flashing ability.
If the Steelers bring Starks back again, it will be because he wasn't able to find the deal he wanted somewhere else.
Two years, $4 million
Rashard Mendenhall, RB
In 2008, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall with the intention of making him the next in a long line of great running backs that have donned the Pittsburgh uniform.
That never really happened as Mendenhall piled up yards at a lower clip than expected and never really took ownership of the backfield job.
This season, things hit an all-time low. He skipped a game and was suspended. His social media ineptitude has been problematic his entire career as well. He just didn't produce on or off the field for a team that expects both.
While the Steelers won't bring back Mendenhall unless something unforeseen occurs, here's a look at what he might demand if the team did want to bring him back as a starter.
Three years, $8.5 million
Keenan Lewis, CB
Of all of the team's free agents, Keenan Lewis is the one player that the Pittsburgh Steelers should do whatever is necessary to retain. He represents a young, emerging talent that has just finished an excellent season in his first year as a starter.
If Pittsburgh wants to remain one of the best defenses in the NFL, they need Lewis.
The good news is that the market is saturated with good talent in the secondary. Lewis could end up with a smaller market than normal and could end up getting only a middle-market deal.
If he's willing to take that kind of deal up front for some job security, the Steelers would be wise to use whatever cap space they can carve out on him. The salary could be offset some by a signing bonus and could escalate through the length of the deal.
Four years, $11.25 million
Mike Wallace, WR
Mike Wallace picked the worst possible time for a bad season. He not only did it in a contract year, he did it after demanding to be paid as one of the league's top receivers.
There's no denying that Wallace has talent and that the Pittsburgh Steelers have benefited from having him on the team. He's one of the fastest receivers in the league and will likely bounce back from a rough season.
He figures to be a top target for teams like the Miami Dolphins that need a top receiver. For Pittsburgh, it isn't financially reasonable to retain him for top dollar, but if they were able and willing to negotiate that kind of deal, it would do to use Antonio Brown's extension as a point of departure.
Five years, $54 million