Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Under-Contract Veterans Who May Be Gone in 2011

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IMarch 22, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Under-Contract Veterans Who May Be Gone in 2011

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    Antwaan Randle El was brought back to Pittsburgh to electrify the offense, but instead he finds himself among players who will be vying for a roster spot come training camp. Overshadowed by the emergence of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, the veteran could find himself without a job by the time the regular season opens.

    Every team has players on its roster who can be classified as "on the bubble" either because of emerging youth or declining skills.

    Here's a look at five Pittsburgh Steelers who will be in a fight to make the roster this year.

1. Antwaan Randle El, WR

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    Why He's in Trouble

    Randle El was brought back for his versatility, which was especially important during Ben Roethlisberger's suspension (Randle El was a collegiate quarterback and has thrown passes in his NFL career). It was expected that he'd return to the slot and be a reliable third option for the offense.

    Instead, Randle El virtually disappeared as rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown proved themselves worthy of increasing playing time. Sanders has emerged as the favorite to replace starter Hines Ward when his career reaches its conclusion, and Brown has been a force in the slot.

    With Limas Sweed returning from injury and likely getting one final shot at a roster spot, Randle El may find himself on the outside looking in. There's also the possibility that Pittsburgh will choose to spend a draft choice late in the draft on a receiver to groom, which would all but assure Randle El's departure.


    Why He Might Stay

    You may have heard that Randle El can be part of some trick plays. He threw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, the only wide receiver to do so in the game's history. That versatility and unpredictability could keep him on the roster as an option for coordinator Bruce Arians.

2. Flozell Adams, RT

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    Why He's in Trouble

    Adams solidified the right tackle spot for Pittsburgh after Willie Colon went down with a ruptured Achilles. He surprised everyone by having one of his best seasons in recent memory and justified the team's faith in him.

    The problem now is that Adams, who is at the end of his career, is due $5 million for 2011. That salary number, for a player who has virtually no chance of starting this year, is unjustifiable.

    Chief among the concerns beyond the salary is the fact that Adams is due to hit a wall. His play was on a steep decline before last season, so it's reasonable to believe he doesn't have much more in the tank. There was a belief that he would retire, but he's so far said nothing to that effect.


    Why He Might Stay

    If the Steelers cannot find an acceptable solution along the offensive line, they may be forced into keeping Adams for another year as they try to stabilize one of the team's biggest weaknesses. That would be a last-ditch attempt, however, and is very unlikely given the number of available players in both the draft and free agency.

3. Larry Foote, LB

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    Why He's in Trouble

    Like Randle El, Foote was brought back after an absence to be a supporting character on the team. He would, it was thought, provide stability at inside linebacker where Lawrence Timmons was trying to grow into a starting role.

    Timmons had a breakout year, leading the team in tackles and proving to be a very disruptive force in the middle. Not only that, but Stevenson Sylvester emerged as a potential successor to James Farrior and challenged for playing time in special packages and late in games down the stretch. Foote became little more than a special teams contribute by the end of the season.

    Due a hefty salary for his expected contribution level in 2011, it's likely that Foote will be in a fierce competition with Sylvester to be a primary backup on the inside.


    Why He Might Stay

    James Farrior's age is a concern. Foote isn't anything close to the player Farrior is, but he's a steady inside linebacker and could fill in if Farrior were out long term. The team may not be ready to hand the reins to Sylvester yet.

4. Keenan Lewis, CB

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    Why He's in Trouble

    Lewis was drafted with the idea that he'd eventually emerge as a starter opposite Ike Taylor at corner. Unfortunately, he's never lived up to those expectations.

    Lewis is prone to costly penalties, lapses in concentration and poor decision-making. None of those make a starting corner. With 2010 draft choice Crezdon Butler waiting in the wings and the potential for one or more new additions through the draft or free agency, Lewis' time in Pittsburgh is ticking down fast.

    When he's on his game, he's got a lot of talent to showcase. Unfortunately, he's rarely in that mindset and has actually seemed to regress in the last year. It's telling that Lewis saw little extra playing time with all of the problems Pittsburgh had at corner this year.


    Why He Might Stay

    If the Steelers do not get their man in the draft, they may keep Lewis around and hope that Carnell Lake, the team's new secondary coach, can turn his career around. If the team can nab Aaron Williams or another corner early in the draft, they won't likely have a spot for Lewis, who's not a top special teams contributor either.

5. Byron Leftwich, QB

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    Why He's in Trouble

    The Steelers pushed the panic button to some extent when they traded to reacquire Leftwich from Tampa Bay and planned to start him for four games while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended. Leftwich never got on the field during those contests after suffering an MCL sprain in the preseason and was used only sparingly in mop up duty at the end of the year.

    Leftwich does not possess much athletic ability and isn't the most accurate quarterback, so his value even as a backup is limited. The Steelers were much better under the steady command of Charlie Batch. The team could choose to re-sign the younger Dennis Dixon as well.

    In short, Leftwich has virtually no upside for Pittsburgh. The Steelers would be best served by parting ways and will likely do so if they feel they can upgrade the position.


    Why He Might Stay

    Experience. Leftwich has more starting experience than Dixon and certainly more than any rookie the team might draft or sign. That might keep him here, where backing up Ben Roethlisberger is important thanks to his style of play.