Is It Time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to Blow Up Their Roster?

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Is It Time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to Blow Up Their Roster?
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are rewriting the history books and not in a good way.

They allowed a franchise record for points and yards (610) in Sunday's 55-31 loss at New England.

Ben Roethlisberger is on pace to be sacked a career-high 62 times this season, and the 2-6 Steelers are on pace to finish with their worst record since they went 1-13 in 1969, Chuck Noll's first season.

It's tempting to just replace everyone on the team with 53 guys off the street who look big enough and fast enough to play football.

A lot of players on this team must be replaced but not all of them. The Steelers don't necessarily have to "blow up" their roster. A lot of key pieces are in place, but several positions need an upgrade, and the roster needs more overall depth.

 

Farewell to These Five

These five players should be gone after the 2013 season.

Ryan Clark

Ryan Clark used to be right in the middle of the defense, making a big hit on just about every other play. This season, the 34-year-old safety has been virtually invisible, part of the reason the Steelers are 31st in the league in stopping the run. Clark is a free agent in 2014, and the Steelers should make no effort to re-sign him.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Ziggy Hood

Ziggy Hood, the Steelers' first-round draft pick in 2009, lost his starting job at defensive end this season to 2011 first-round pick Cameron Heyward. Unlike Hood, Heyward can be disruptive on defense. He has a sack and three passes defended. He also leads the team with 15 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Heyward is part of the Steelers' future. Hood should not be.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Emmanuel Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders has caught 37 passes this season for 494 yards and two touchdowns. He's on the cusp of shattering his career highs of 44 receptions and 626 receiving yards. He'll be an unrestricted free agent next season, and his statistics likely will earn him a big payday.

Sanders has been part of the Steelers' problem this season. According to Pro Football Focus, he's been thrown to 65 times, tied for 17th in the league among receivers. However, he's only caught 56.9 percent of those passes, 73rd in the league. It seems at least once a week Sanders fails to catch a pass because of a communication mix-up with Roethlisberger.

The Steelers should let another team show Sanders the money.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Jason Worilds

Like Hood, Worilds is a milquetoast defender who hasn't been worth his high draft pick.

The Steelers' second-round pick in 2010, Worilds has 13 career sacks, including three in 2013. He has just one quarterback hit this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Worilds started at outside linebacker in New England in place of 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones and had two sacks.

If Worilds can consistently get to the quarterback over the second half of the season, the Steelers should consider re-signing the unrestricted free agent. But one two-sack game isn't enough evidence to prove Worilds all of a sudden gets it.

Jones might be struggling in his rookie season. But Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons didn't have much of an impact in their rookie seasons either.

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

David Paulson

The tight end has been a liability this season. At Cincinnati in Week 2, he lost a fumble in the red zone with the Steelers poised to go up, 10-0, in the first quarter. The Steelers lost, 20-10, to drop to 0-2.

At Oakland, Rashad Jennings got past Paulson's block and got his hand on a Zoltan Mesko punt, which led to a Raiders touchdown.

Heath Miller still needs time to get back to 100 percent following his knee injury. He's not going anywhere. Regardless of how the rest of the tight end depth chart shakes out, Paulson should not be part of the Steelers' plans.

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Pay Cuts

Five players will take up more than half of the Steelers' salary-cap space in 2014, according to Spotrac.

The three highest-paid Steelers are Roethlisberger, Woodley and Timmons.

They're all staying put.

The next two players on the list should be asked to provide some cap relief.

According to Pro Football Focus, Polamalu had the worst overall game of his career on Sunday since at least 2008.

Polamalu always has had trouble against the Patriots, however. Tom Brady knows how to take advantage of his gambling style of play.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The seven-time Pro Bowl safety still can contribute to this defense as long as he stays healthy, and he's played every snap this season. However, he's intercepted just four passes since he picked off seven in 2010, when he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Polamalu is scheduled to earn $8.25 million next season. If he wants to come back for one last season and have his farewell tour, he'll have to do it at a reduced rate.

Ike Taylor is another defensive back who should take a cut in pay. The 33-year-old has four passes defended at the midway point of the season. He's never had less than 11 in a season since becoming a full-time starter.

Among cornerbacks who have played at least 75 percent of their team's snaps, Taylor has the NFL's third-worst pass coverage rating, according to Pro Football Focus.

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Taylor is scheduled to make $7 million next season, according to Spotrac. That's too much for a player past his prime.

Polamalu and Taylor both are entering the final year of their contracts. They can come back if they're willing to take less money and, perhaps, see less playing time.

 

Free Agency

The only 2014 free agents the Steelers should think about keeping are Fernando Velasco, Brett Keisel and Jerricho Cotchery.

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Fernando Velasco

The Steelers have never had a natural center backing up Maurkice Pouncey. Assuming Pouncey is back next season, Velasco can fill that role. He's also played guard in his career.

Keisel has two sacks, 12 quarterback hurries and four quarterback hits this season. If the 35-year-old can maintain that production at defensive end over the second half of the season, he'd be worth re-signing for a year if he can take less than the $2.825 million he's making this season.

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Cotchery, 31, is having his best year since coming to the Steelers in 2011. He's caught 29 passes for 424 yards and five touchdowns. That puts him on pace for his biggest reception total since he caught 71 in 2008.

With Sanders gone and rookie Markus Wheaton still an unknown commodity, the Steelers could be thin at receiver behind Antonio Brown next season. Cotchery is making $1 million in 2013. The Steelers should keep him around if the two sides can agree to a reasonable raise.

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The Steelers traditionally look for inexpensive role players in free agency. That shouldn't change in 2014. They need to free up salary-cap space to go on a bargain-basement shopping spree and fortify their roster depth.

 

The Draft

The Steelers probably would have liked a sack or two from Jones by now, a little more durability from Le'Veon Bell and Wheaton and more evidence Shamarko Thomas will be ready to start at safety next season. But it's too early to declare the 2013 draft a disappointment.

If nothing changes by the midpoint of next season, then it will be time to worry.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2014 draft, left tackle tops the Steelers' list of needs. They could be in line to take Alabama's Cyrus Kouandijo or Michigan's Taylor Lewan in the first round.

The Steelers also must look for a legitimate nose tackle. Steve McLendon just isn't that boulder in the middle of the defense that Casey Hampton was, and opposing running backs are taking advantage.

With Clark, Polamalu and Taylor all likely gone by the end of next season, the Steelers also need to look at safeties and cornerbacks in the draft.

Who has been the most disappointing Steeler this season?

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Larry Foote likely will be back next season after going down for the year with a torn bicep in Week 1. The Steelers need to find a successor to the 33-year-old, however. Rookie Vince Williams has struggled so far.

If the Steelers nail the 2014 draft and also start reaping dividends from their 2013 class, they'll take a step in the right direction.

But that's easier said than done.

 

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