4 Veterans the Pittsburgh Steelers Must Part with Before 2014 Season

Andrew WatkinsCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2014

4 Veterans the Pittsburgh Steelers Must Part with Before 2014 Season

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    As has been the case so often in recent years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have jettisoned some more stalwart players from their Super Bowl-winning teams.

    Larry Foote's release and LaMarr Woodley's imminent one, per ESPNs Adam Schefter, indicate that the team is committed to cutting dead weight and plunging headfirst into its rebuild.

    Still, it’s unlikely that the Steelers have issued their last pink slip.

    The futures of several Steelers have been debated again and again, and the time to find out what their fate may hold is fast approaching.

    The following four players are among the least likely to return to the Steel City next season.

Ryan Clark

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    As with so many others on what was once a veteran-laden defense, Ryan Clark’s best years are clearly behind him.

    Clark’s aggression and big-hitting ability are what endeared him to Steelers fans. However, in 2013, those same attributes seemed to bite him in the rear more than ever before.

    A down year might be considered an aberration for a younger player, but at 34, Clark’s regression is more likely a sign of things to come.

    If recent evidence is any indication, the Steelers appear to be thinking along the same lines.

    Consider that the team was quick to re-sign veteran backup Will Allen. It’s unlikely Pittsburgh would have been so swift in locking up a midseason depth signing if it didn’t foresee a need for him next season.

    And, of course, it also kicked the tires on former Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas.

    Delmas was recently signed by the Miami Dolphins, according to ProFootballTalkMichael David Smith, but just the fact that the Steelers had him in seems to suggest they’re eyeing a new partner in crime alongside Troy Polamalu.

Brett Keisel

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    As with Clark, Brett Keisel was a key cog on several Super Bowl-caliber defenses, and it’ll be a shame to see his storied career come to an end.

    That being said, Keisel will turn 36 early next season, and it’s fair to wonder just how much he’s got left in the tank.

    The bearded BYU product made a push to prove he’s worth being retained at the end of last season with two sacks and a forced fumble in the team’s last two contests.

    But that pales in comparison to what his presumed replacement accomplished.

    Cameron Heyward didn’t begin the year with a bang, but the second-half tear he went on proved why the Steelers deemed him worthy of a first-round pick back in 2011.

    In the season’s final nine games, Heyward piled up 48 tackles and five sacks.

    That stellar performance, combined with Keisel’s age, makes it tough to see him back in black and yellow next season.

Emmanuel Sanders

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    If the going rate for Emmanuel Sanders were what he’s worth, then re-signing the 26-year-old would be a nonissue.

    However, seeing as this year’s class of free-agent wide receivers isn’t exactly ripe for the picking, Sanders will likely be a beneficiary of that and receive a big new contract.

    What makes Sanders expendable to the Steelers is the fact that they appear to have a contingency plan in the form of Markus Wheaton.

    Wheaton, a third-round pick a season ago, had a minimal impact in his rookie year, but he’s got a skill set comparable to Sanders’.

    Even if the team isn’t fully confident in Wheaton’s ability to take on a bigger role, it should be afforded a bevy of options in the NFL draft.

    Supposing the Steelers don’t get a chance at Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans, long considered the tops among incoming wide receivers, there’s still a cornucopia of options that should be available to them in later rounds.

    Any one of Marqise Lee, Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews, Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant could prove a capable replacement for Sanders immediately and, in a few seasons, would likely be an improvement.

Jonathan Dwyer

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Jonathan Dwyer proved to be an adequate backup to Le’Veon Bell a season ago, but it’s in the Steelers’ best interest to explore different options behind him before next season.

    The primary reason for that is Dwyer is essentially a poor man’s Bell. Neither will amaze viewers with Chris Johnson-like speed but will, for the most part, produce consistent yardage.

    Aside from a 76-yard gallop in his second season, Dwyer has never topped 34 yards on a single rush.

    That’s not necessarily the nail in his Pittsburgh coffin, but it’d behoove the team to look for a more explosive threat behind its featured back.

    After all, on those days when Bell can’t seem to pick up more than three yards on a single run, Dwyer likely wouldn’t either.

    On the contrary, all it takes is one well-blocked play for a speedier back to alter a game’s outcome.