It's that time of year again; the time to dry the tears and hang up the towel.
The time to catch the occasional Penguins' game and try not to think about how far away April is.
The time to place the bets in Vegas on the Pirates actually coming out of their 17 season slump.
The time to watch old favorites disappear.
It's hard to imagine that just a year ago today, the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl title. Yet in the present, they've been spectators for the entire playoffs. The sad reality of this time, though, is the end of the season meaning the end of several players' contracts.
The Steelers enter the 2010 NFL offseason with a number of notable free agents, including such names as Jeff Reed, Deshea Townsend, Willie Parker, Willie Colon, Ryan Clark, and Casey Hampton, just to name a few.
Judging by the past offseasons, it's easy to see the Rooneys' tendencies in free agency. The rule is usually not to re-sign a player over 30 years of age for equal or a greater amount of salary as the past contract. Jerome Bettis is the only player in the past decade to negotiate past that rule.
The Steelers have made it obvious that it is a priority to re-sign kicker Jeff Reed, who has been with the team since his rookie season in 2002. Others looking for a renewed contract will most likely be Willie Colon, Daniel Sepulveda, and Charlie Batch.
For others, it's not that simple. Safety Ryan Clark is a restricted free agent this year and wants to stay with the team, and Pittsburgh would like to see him back. However, entering into an uncapped year, Clark will more than likely ask for more money, which he undoubtedly will not receive from the Rooney family, but in turn will from another team.
Then there's Deshea Townsend, who has been with the Steelers all 12 years of his career. At the age of 35, the Steelers aren't making it a priority to re-sign the veteran as a nickelback. However, given the play of last year's starter William Gay, the situation is a bit unpredictable. The Steelers drafted two cornerbacks in the 2009 NFL Draft to fill Townsend's nickelback position, and if Townsend doesn't take a heavily reduced pay rate, his days in the black and gold are done.
Casey Hampton, another free agent, who was drafted by the team in 2000, is now 32 but still at what some think the top of his game. Hampton did show desire in leaving the Steelers early in the season because he wants to be closer to home in Texas, but the 320 pound nose tackle appears to have changed his mind. If the Steelers don't come to an agreement with him, they will more than likely slap the franchise tag on him as they did to Max Starks several years ago.
Over the years, players come and go. Some last and some don't. For Willie Parker, his story is no different. An undrafted free agent out of North Carolina, Parker took up the starting role for the Steelers at running back in 2004.
In his first game of the season, he rushed for 161 yards. Parker, in his five seasons as a starter, had 26 games of over 100 yards rushing. In 2007, Parker was the NFL rushing leader through Week 15 until he broke his fibula.
What Willie Parker will most be remembered for is his explosiveness and speed, which helped him grab the Super Bowl record for the longest run (75 yards). Parker's touchdown gave the Steelers an insurance score against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
With Rashard Mendenhall rushing for over 1,000 yards this season, Parker's return is highly doubtful and will more than likely join teammates of old, such as Alan Faneca, Joey Porter, and Plaxico Burress, in leaving the black and gold with fond memories.
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