As July approaches, the anticipation will begin to mount for the opening of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But this time of year is not only reserved for the players to get back to work, but also the front office.
Often times, Pittsburgh's front office negotiates contract extensions during camp. This year will be no exception as a number of veterans are in the final year of their contracts.
This article will examine whether or not five projected starters deserve contract extensions prior to the start of the 2013 season.
The Steelers rarely allow former first-round selections to leave after just one contract—unless they are a wide receiver. Ziggy Hood may buck the trend.
Hood has been a relative disappointment at defensive end.
Despite being one of the strongest players on the team, Hood has not been able to translate his strength to the field. He has been the weak link on the defensive line, but has not been as bad as fans have made him out to be.
Hood has increased his total tackles each season and has played his best football in December.
For example, last season Hood had 24 of his 42 tackles over the final five games of the season. He also had two of his three sacks and both fumble recoveries during that time.
It is all about consistency for Hood. He has the talent to be a good defensive end, but does not show it nearly enough.
However, that does not mean the Steelers should not re-sign him. He will be quite affordable and they can easily retain his services for a fairly low cost if signed to an extension before the season.
Ryan Clark may have been the Steelers' most consistent and—besides Lawrence Timmons—best defender last season. But Clark is on the downside of his career.
He will turn 34 years old this season and the Steelers are looking to get younger and faster on defense.
Clark recently told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that there are currently no negotiations (subscription required) for a contract extension. However, he does want to remain on the Steelers beyond this season.
Pittsburgh drafted Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round, but he can only fill one of the two safety spots and the Steelers need future replacements for both Clark and Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu may be the more popular player, but he has missed 22 games over the last four seasons. Clark has only missed five games over the past five years and he has played some of the best football of his career the last two seasons.
Clark may not be a big-time playmaker, but he is a steady presence in the secondary and rarely misses his assignments.
Even though Clark is a valuable part of the defense, the Steelers need to get younger and they would be best served to wait until after the season to decide if they want to keep Clark.
By waiting, the front office and coaching staff can evaluate the progress of Thomas and decide whether or not he is ready to step in as a starter. They will also see if Polamalu can survive a full season.
If there are concerns with the progress of Thomas or Polamalu’s health, they can re-sign Clark. However, if they feel comfortable with each player, it will be time for the Steelers and Clark to move on.
The 34-year-old Brett Keisel has been a steady presence on Pittsburgh's defensive line for the past seven seasons and figures to make it an eighth this season.
For years, Keisel was the Steelers “worst” defensive lineman behind Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton, but now he is their best—though Steve McLendon will challenge him for that title this year.
Keisel has fended off two first-round draft picks to keep his starting job and will have to do so again this season.
Cameron Heyward has been getting better and needs to be on the field this season, but that should come at the expense of Hood, not Keisel.
Keisel is still a productive player and will be the unquestioned leader of the defense heading into the season. His play has not dropped off and he should be a strong candidate for a short-term contract extension this summer.
The Steelers do not want to repeat the situation they had at wide receiver this offseason with the defensive end position next year.
After nearly losing Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers do not want to be in position to lose Keisel and Hood. Losing one player will leave them thin at the position, but losing both would mean virtually no depth.
Given his age, Keisel will not demand a huge contract and may even take a team-friendly deal to finish his career in Pittsburgh.
Dick LeBeau uses a three-man rotation with the defensive line and Keisel can easily be a part of that for another two to three years, either as a starter or the first man off the bench.
Emmanuel Sanders signed an offer sheet from the New England Patriots earlier this offseason, but rather than take a third-round pick and lose another veteran receiver, the Steelers decided to match it.
Next season will be a different story as Sanders will be an unrestricted free agent, but he told 93.7 The Fan that there has been talk of a contract extension:
“Of course, and those conversations are going on right now,” Sanders said.
How those conversations go is another story.
Sanders watched as the Wallace situation played out last season and he saw the type of contract the star receiver got from Miami this year. He may expect a big deal himself according to his agent Jordan Woy, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
"It would have to be a very good deal for us to sign a multiyear agreement," Woy said.
While Sanders is a talented receiver, he has yet to establish himself as a viable starter. He only has 94 receptions in three years and has never had more than two touchdowns in a season. Combined with some injury issues, Sanders may not be worth a “very good deal.”
Sanders has not shown enough to warrant a huge contract. The only way the Steelers should extend his contract is if it is for a team-friendly deal.
With Markus Wheaton drafted to eventually develop into a starter, the Steelers have some flexibility when dealing with Sanders. They have lost better receivers over the years—Wallace, Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress—and will not sweat it if Sanders is the next to go.
Jason Worilds finally has his chance to show everyone what he can do as a starter, but his lack of experience will mean he will not get a contract extension.
When you have two Pro Bowl outside linebackers ahead of you, it is a challenge to get on the field. When you finally get that chance, you have to make the most of it and Worilds didn’t.
Despite gathering five sacks in only three starts in 16 games played last season, Worilds hasn’t shown to be a dominant pass-rusher.
He is unproven against the run and dropping into coverage and lacks variety of pass-rushing moves. In fact, his best move may be when he can run right at the quarterback with no blockers in front of him, if you catch my drift.
Now in his fourth season, Worilds has a chance to fully blossom or wilt under the pressure of being a full-time starter. Regardless of what he does, he will have to do so in the final year of his contract.
The Steelers can’t risk signing Worilds to an extension when he may be a backup as soon as next year.
LaMarr Woodley figures to bounce back after a down season and the Steelers didn’t spend a first-round pick on Jarvis Jones to sit on the bench—though one could argue they did that with Hood and Heyward.
Whether he has a good year or a bad year, this is likely Worilds’ last season a member of the Steelers.