It was not long ago that the offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers meant that we would be losing most if not all of our players that were no longer under contract. The Steelers normally draft a player two to three years prior to having to replace someone, that way, when said persons contract is up, the Steelers can wish him well as he walks out the door.
Those days are now gone, and the normal Steelers offseason includes keeping a player or two that can still help the team.
Now that the Steelers are in the offseason, here is what they will probably do now that, barring a shocking CBA agreement, that the off season rules are about to change.
For those of you that do not know, if a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is not reached between now and March 1, the NFL rules about free agents is going to drastically change.
Players will not be eligible for UFA (Unrestricted Free Agency) until after their sixth season (instead of fourth). Teams will no longer have one Franchise or Transition tag, they will have two. There will be no salary cap or salary floor.
And teams that make the Divisional Playoff game will not be permitted to sign players in free agency unless it is to replace someone they lose, and the limit on the money they spend is low enough to keep top tier players from joining already good teams (I think it is about $3 million per year).
That being said, here is what I believe the Steelers have in mind for their pending free agents.
Jeff Reed : There has been much speculation as to what the Steelers plan on doing with their troubled kicker. That question has pretty much been answered by every member of the Steelers that has a say in the situation, Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney II. You can read more about that here . Suffice it to say, Reeds contract is expected to be signed shortly.
Casey Hampton : AOL Fanhouse has an article up about Casey Hampton, and his displeasure about the pending Franchise tag that is coming his way. Hampton stated in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ,
"You say we're family and you'll take care of me, and I feel like that's a slap in my face if you franchise me," Hampton told the Tribune-Review. "That's not right. You don't do business like that. I want to be treated fair, and I think franchising me is not fair."
But reality is, the NFL has set the rules, and you can not fault the team for taking advantage of the rules that are in place.
Hampton comes into camp every year out of shape, and it takes at least a week for him to get there. By using the Franchise tag, Hampton will have to come to camp ready to participate, or be cut when all of the big money teams spend is gone.
The Steelers should Franchise "Big Snack," and if he shows up to camp ready to play, give him the extension he is looking for so he can retire as a Steeler.
: The perfect compliment to Troy Polamalu
. Clark is one of the hardest hitters in the NFL, and seems to enjoy punishing anyone on the field that is not wearing the same color as he is.
The Steelers second franchise tag has Clarks name written all over it, and should be applied immediately, if not sooner.
With the way Clark plays, he can not have that many good years left in his aging body. The Steelers need to draft his replacement in either the first or second round this year, than let Clark leave after this coming season.
A year under the leadership of Clark and Polamalu should be enough for any early pick to be able to pick up the system, and contribute in year two, as Polamalu did.
Willie Parker: Parker has already stated that he believes he is a starting running back, and wants to play for a team where he will be the featured back. That is not going to happen in Pittsburgh, as Rashard Mendenhall has earned the right to be the starter.
Deshea Townsend : I have been a fan of Deshea Townsend since he came to the Steelers in the 1998 draft. He has been a cornerstone of the Steelers.
But, reality is, Townsend is getting old, and starting to slow down. He no longer has the speed to keep up with the elite receivers, or even the average ones, in the NFL.
If Townsend would be willing to switch to Safety, then he would probably be able to prolong his career in Pittsburgh, which he said he would be willing to do, if the Steelers asked him to (ESPN 1250, Pittsburgh).
The only way I can see this happening is if the Steelers decide not to keep Clark, or not draft one in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.
If Townsend's career in Pittsburgh is over, I have to say, on a personal note, that I believe he did the No. 26 proud for the Steelers. I questioned the move allowing him to wear the number of the great Rod Woodson, but he has shown through his career, he deserved to wear a number not too many other people could have worn.
Willie Colon : This is the one person on the Steelers roster that is getting, um, hosed the worst with there being no new CBA.
Colon just finished his fourth year in the league, and had there been no CBA issues, he would be an UFA. Now, the Steelers can tag him with a first round tag, about $2 million, and would get a first round pick if any team decided to sign him, and the Steelers didn't match the offer.
Colon is not worth a first round pick, especially in a draft as deep as this years, so no team will even talk to him.
So, the reality of this off season is, the Steelers are more than likely going to keep most of the players they need to be successful next year, and this draft, they will probably draft players to take the place of the Franchised players (Hampton and Clark), and the Steelers will get back to the formula that was so successful for so many years.