Pittsburgh Steelers: Who Will Be on the Roster Bubble in 2014?
It seems like every season, NFL teams have to part ways with veteran players. For some teams, every offseason is a time to jettison players before they demand huge contracts. Other teams hang on and do whatever it takes to keep certain players, even if it means robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The Pittsburgh Steelers had typically split the difference. As a very successful franchise historically, it is evident they understand how the salary cap works, and how to maximize it.
Taking this sort of approach means there are times when it is accepted practice that veterans are going to leave. You can make a long list of great Steelers players who left via free agency or were released, in many cases to the chagrin of the fans.
Just this past season, the Steelers let multiple high-profile players leave. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker James Harrison all found themselves on new teams.
But who's on the block for 2014? Well, aside from the players under contract that we will discuss later in the week, there are some high-profile free agents on this team who could very likely end up in another jersey for the 2014 season.
Who's on the roster bubble this offseason? Read on and check it out.
All references to positional rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
All stats provide by ESPN.com.
No Bubbble for These Guys
Ryan Clark, Safety: It is highly likely that Clark will retire this offseason and pursue a career in broadcasting. Nonetheless, should he want to return, there's a one-year veteran minimum contract waiting on him somewhere. Hopefully, not in Pittsburgh.
Plaxico Burress, Wide Receiver: Burress holds a special place in Steelers lore, but it's unlikely he will return in 2014.
Greg Warren, Long Snapper: Warren does his job well, and will be back at the vet minimum for one more year.
Al Woods, Defensive Tackle: Woods showed real flashes in 2013. Considering his value, he should be given a new contract.
Jason Worilds, Linebacker
For Worilds, it is all about the price. His perception by other teams will be what determines his market and how much he is worth. Worilds' season was solid, but the Steelers cannot get caught up and overpay for his services.
The additional factor in how firm Worilds' bubble is has to do with how the Steelers choose to handle linebacker LaMarr Woodley. If the Steelers cannot restructure his contract, or choose not to release Woodley, it will cut into the money they can pay Worilds, and also his role on defense.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Worilds was the seventh-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker among those who took at least 60 percent of their snaps.
2013 Stats: 63 tackles, 8.0 sacks
Emmanuel Sanders, Wide Receiver
Going into the 2013 season, the Steelers had to feel like the future was bright with wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders leading their passing offense. Both are young, talented and explosive players.
Unfortunately, things have not gone as planned for Sanders. He has been plagued by drops and lapses in concentration that have forced the hand of the Steelers' coaching staff. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery started to vulture his targets progressively more as the season progressed.
I am sure there will be teams who see the potential in Sanders and choose to offer him a contract this offseason. However, one of those teams should not be the Steelers. This team is in capable hands with Brown and Cotchery, along with the young receivers behind them.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Sanders ranked 45th among wide receivers who played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps.
2013 Stats: 67 catches, 112 targets, 740 yards, six touchdowns
Jerricho Cotchery, Wide Receiver
While Sanders is on his way out, veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery's bubble is much more sturdy. Cotchery proved himself to be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's most dependable red-zone target.
When you balance production with economics, the decision to keep Cotchery, while letting Sanders walk, is an easy one. The decision makes even more sense, as Cotchery would be an excellent mentor to the young wide receivers on the team.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cotchery ranked 25th among wide receivers who took at least 50 percent of their team's snaps.
2013 Stats: 46 catches, 76 targets, 602 yards, 10 touchdowns
Ziggy Hood, Defensive End
Going into the 2013 season, defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward were entering make-or-break years. Both players are former first-round picks and hadn't really shown it to this point.
Heyward stepped his game up in a big way in 2013 and was one of the best defensive players on the team. Hood, on the other hand, showed flashes, but for the most part remained pretty average. Whether Hood remains with this team will depend on two factors.
First, is the price. The Steelers probably shouldn't offer him more than a veteran minimum contract at this point. If the market for Hood isn't such that he isn't offered a better deal, he stays.
The second factor is fellow defensive end Brett Keisel, who also is a free agent. It's tough to speculate if the Steelers would be willing to keep both, but should Keisel return, that could mean the Steelers would opt to let Hood sign elsewhere.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hood ranked 23rd among 3-4 defensive ends who got at least 50 percent of their team's snaps. To compare, Heyward was ranked 12th.
2013 Stats: 39 tackles, 3.0 sacks
Brett Keisel, Defensive End
The Steelers and their fans have come to understand that no matter how beloved a player is, there are times when they will have to move on. This could be the case with defensive end Brett Keisel.
No one wants Keisel to leave, and even as a 35-year old defensive end, Keisel can still play. The question would be is he inclined to continue his career with the Steelers for a veteran minimum deal, or could he go somewhere else and make a little more money?
Considering how thin the Steelers are along the defensive line, they would certainly like to have Keisel back for a season or two more. He's a great tutor to the young players, and it is hard to imagine that glorious beard anywhere else.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Keisel ranked 19th among all 3-4 defensive ends who took at least 50 percent of their team's snaps.
2013 Stats: 29 total tackles, 4.0 sacks