All of the focus this offseason has been whether or not the Steelers could re-sign Ike Taylor or not.
What? You mean no one has worried whether or not Chris Hoke is re-signed? If Pittsburgh keeps Matt Spaeth or Dennis Dixon?
No surprise, after LaMarr Woodley signed his franchise tag, Taylor became the lone focus of the Steelers offseason.
Maybe bigger than signing Taylor is the impending 2012 free agent class, which features both long-time starters as well as up-and-coming stars.
It is the combination of experienced veterans and young talent that keeps Pittsburgh in championship contention on a yearly basis.
Even if it comes at the expense of Taylor, the Steelers must extend the contracts of these five players.
It is no secret that not only will LaMarr Woodley get a contract extension, but it may have to come rather quickly given his $10 million franchise tag.
An extension of Woodley’s deal will provide much needed cap relief for the Steelers, which will help enable them to sign their other free agents and rookies.
More importantly, Pittsburgh will lock up one of the top young pass rushers in the league.
In his four years with the Steelers, Woodley has 39 sacks in the regular season and has averaged over 11.5 sacks in his three years as a starter.
Woodley has been even better in the playoffs, where he holds the NFL record for four consecutive multi-sack games and has an NFL record seven straight postseason games with a sack.
Just about to enter his prime, Woodley has proven to be more than a sack artist, excelling as a run defender and has improved his ability in coverage, with 10 pass defenses over the past two seasons and three career interceptions.
With defensive leaders James Farrior and James Harrison getting up there in age, Woodley will be the defensive playmaker at linebacker to lead the next generation of Steelers.
Even more than Woodley would be for the Steelers to extend the contract of the best defensive player in the NFL: Troy Polamalu.
Pittsburgh has a great defense, but when he is healthy in the lineup, Polamalu raises their performance to another level.
There is no player that can do what Polamalu can do. He can be near the line of scrimmage one second and back in coverage the next. He will come out of nowhere to make a spectacular interception at key a moment in the game.
Few defensive players in the league have his impact, and that is reflected in the Steelers win-loss record with and without him in the lineup.
Over the last two seasons, when Polamalu is in the lineup, the Steelers have gone 14-4 compared to 6-7 without him.
Granted, the injuries that are associated with his style of play are a concern, but that is no reason to not give Polamalu the contract that he deserves.
Aaron Smith has been the ultimate Steelers player over the course of his career. He went onto the field every week, did the dirty work to free up the linebackers and rarely got the national attention that he deserves.
However, with three injury shortened seasons in the past four and a big cap number, Smith could find himself out of a Steelers uniform.
The better solution would be to offer Smith a short-term contract extension, even if it was only through the 2012 season.
When healthy, Smith is still one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the league. The problem is staying healthy.
After plenty of rest, Smith should be ready to go for this season and has an up-and-coming Ziggy Hood who will be able to takeover some, if not a majority, of the snaps from Smith.
Less in-game reps should help preserve Smith’s health throughout the season and extend his career.
Pittsburgh likes to rotate their defensive linemen, and with Smith and Hood on the left side, along with Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward on the right, the Steelers would have the deepest, and most talented, set of defensive ends in the league.
The Steelers know they want to go out every week and stop the run, and as long as Smith can still do that, he should be a member of the team.
There were times last season where Lawrence Timmons looked like the best defender on the field. Though he slowed down, it was still a breakout season for Timmons and he should continue to improve.
In his second season as a starter, Timmons nearly doubled his career tackle total, finishing with 135 on the season, 96 solo.
As one of the most athletic linebackers in the league, Timmons ability to drop into coverage helped revive James Farrior’s career last season.
Timmons has the speed to run with just about any running back and tight end in the league, even some receivers.
Though this resulted in a decrease in his sack totals, falling from five in 2008 and seven in 2009 to only three last season.
If his progression continues, Timmons should be even better this season, and the Steelers would be wise to lock him up before his value explodes.
Though he would only be a restricted free agent after this season, Pittsburgh should strongly consider extending Mike Wallace’s contract.
The Steelers do have time to work with Wallace, but he has done nothing but impress over his first two seasons, establishing himself as one of the best deep threats in the league.
As a rookie, Wallace averaged 19.4 yards per reception and was even better, averaging 21 yards on his 60 receptions.
Wallace expanded his game and began to show that he could do more than run deep on his way to a 10 touchdown reception season.
He figures to be the Steelers go-to big play receiver again this year, so his reception totals can be expected to go up.
Another big season will only increase Wallace’s value, and recent history has suggested that the Steelers do not have problems letting receivers leave town.
They let Plaxico Burress leave via free agency and traded Santonio Holmes after an accumulation of off-field issues.
As great as Wallace is, if he prices himself out of the Steelers range, they may let him walk as they value other positions more.
It would be in the Steelers best interest to get a deal worked out this year so Wallace does not price himself out of Pittsburgh.
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