As the lockout draws to a likely conclusion this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers are turning their attention toward the long-delayed free-agency period. They have several targets in mind and several needs that still should be filled by that process.
There are, however, several possible outcomes to any situation. For the Steelers, there are a few nightmare scenarios that could possibly play out.
Here's a look at the six worst-case scenarios for the Steelers in free agency.
Probably the biggest fish out there for the Steelers is one of their own players.
Ike Taylor has been a solid starter for Pittsburgh for the better part of the past decade and could be in line for a big payday as he tries to land one more big contract.
He supposedly wants to stay here, and the Steelers have been pretty obvious about sharing in that desire. The trick is making the numbers work out. If they don’t, things could get a little dicey in the Steel City.
If you remove Taylor from the depth chart, the Steelers have nobody solid at the corner position. Bryant McFadden was a huge disappointment after returning from a year in Arizona. Keenan Lewis hasn’t shown anything in his time. Crezdon Butler didn’t play as a rookie. The list goes on.
There isn’t a ton of affordable starting talent on the free-agent market either, so losing out on someone in house could put the Steelers in quite a bind.
Failing to re-sign Ike Taylor would be a huge blow to the team’s season, but not finding a solid replacement would be just as much of a doomsday scenario for the Black and Gold.
There isn’t a ton of talent out there at the position that the Steelers can easily afford. They aren’t the type to make a run at Nnamdi Asomugha.
Carlos Rogers would be an option, but he’s a lateral move from Taylor and doesn’t represent the improvement the Steelers usually expect when they buy into a free agent. Behind them, it’s a sea of ifs, maybes and buts.
If the team can’t re-sign Taylor, they have to move quickly to nab someone else. Rogers is the obvious choice, but he could sign quickly as well. Everything comes down to the Steelers being proactive and moving very quickly once the season resumes.
One of the worst things that can happen to a team is that they hand out a good contract, and the player disappoints. Ask the Washington Redskins how they feel about Donovan McNabb or Albert Haynesworth if you need references on that topic.
The Steelers don’t buy often in free agency, so the risk they face is usually minimal. But everybody gets burned at some point. This year, Pittsburgh might be facing just that type of scenario.
Willie Colon, when healthy, is considered one of the best linemen on the team. He does commit a lot of avoidable penalties, however. Plus, there’s no guarantee when big guys get hurt. Achilles injuries are risky business too.
Still, the Steelers may tender Colon a contract with the hope that he’ll be back at 100 percent and be able to step in at right tackle or right guard and be his usual effective self. But if they give him a good contract and he disappoints, it could be a very bad spot for the team to be in.
I know what you’re thinking. Why is the third string quarterback so important? When it’s a guy like Charlie Batch, the value goes beyond what happens on the field.
Don’t discount Batch’s ability to contribute either. He stepped into a tough situation last year and ended up surprising everyone by being a huge part of the team’s 3-1 start during Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension. He can still step in for short spurts and be effective.
But Batch’s contributions go beyond the field. He’s like another coach to Ben Roethlisberger, and the offense and will probably be a great coordinator or head coach somewhere, someday if his desires lie in that field. He’s a good guy for the locker room too. He means a lot to this team.
Money doesn’t figure to be an issue. Batch has taken less to stay here and be a backup before. He’s a local guy. But space could be rough. Byron Leftwich is still under contract for another year. The team is likely to be in the market for a young backup (maybe even Dennis Dixon) that can be a long-term solution behind Big Ben.
But before they go after someone young and leave Batch out, they will hopefully consider what he brings to the table in the intangibles department. Having him around seems to be more important than getting a new guy right now.
Lamarr Woodley isn’t going to be a free agent this season. As long as there are no surprising rule changes in the new CBA, Woodley will be able to play 2011 under the franchise tag.
It seems likely that the team will extend Woodley as soon as possible, and it was rumored that there was a handshake agreement in place before the lockout began, but there’s nothing finite right now. If it stays that way, it could become a huge problem.
Woodley is likely to command a huge salary (and an even bigger salary increase) on the open market, so Pittsburgh needs to make sure he never gets that far. Bidding wars are bad news for the Steelers, who won’t overspend to keep someone on the roster.
If they don’t extend Woodley before the season, they may have to negotiate in season, which isn’t their policy and isn’t very easy. If that fails too, they may have to start looking at alternate scenarios for 2012 and beyond.
Even with Jason Worilds growing as an understudy, that’s not a good situation to be in come next offseason.
Sometimes, doing nothing is as bad as doing something wrong.
The Steelers aren’t big players in free agency and usually don’t need to be. They sign a few complementary pieces and spare parts and go with the guys they’ve grown themselves through the draft. That formula has worked for a very long time.
Still, those complimentary pieces can be important. Ask Sean Kugler, the team’s offensive line coach. He had to use so many different offensive linemen last season that it’s hard to remember exactly who played where when and for how long.
Some of those complementary parts are free agents right now. Retaining them or bringing in a new crop of backups is going to be important. With the now-short time before training camps begin, getting veterans is going to be more important than ever. Rookies won’t have enough time to be ready to go the first game.