Pittsburgh Steelers: Evaluating the Team's Top 5 Free Agents
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team nearly 11 million dollars over the salary cap, so it's safe to say that the organization has some decisions to make regarding their free agents in 2011.
Now that the NFL Lockout is officially over, the Steelers need to focus on signing their 2011 NFL Draft picks as well as undrafted free agents. Once that is complete, they can focus on the re-signing of their veteran players.
This is a Super Bowl squad from one year ago returning a heavy multitude of starters on both sides of the football.
Here's my evaluation of the team's top five free agents going into the 2011 NFL season.
5. Chris Hoke- Defensive Line
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Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke won't make any spectacular plays for your defense, but he's a veteran defender who does his job and knows the 3-4 scheme well.
That being said, Hoke is an older defender and the team is looking to get younger on the defensive line. The 35-year old has been with the Steelers since 2001 playing in reserve duty as a defensive lineman.
Thanks to the injuries on the defensive line, Hoke has been starting for the majority of Pittsburgh's last few seasons and done a reasonably good job. His stats are underwhelming (12 tackles last season) but due to the nature of his position and the immense talent around him on defense, Chris Hoke is only expected to take up space and open up lanes for his Steelers teammates.
It's not imperative that the team re-signs Hoke, but he's a lifelong Steeler and well liked in the locker room. If they can work something out then Chris Hoke could be back for his 11th NFL season in the Black and Gold.
4. Mewelde Moore- Running Back
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Steelers back-up running back Mewelde Moore finds himself without a contract and battling with an influx of young talent at his position going into the 2011 NFL season.
The 29-year old third down back has seen a major drop-off in productivity in the last two seasons with Pittsburgh. Last season he rushed for a meager 99 yards and caught 26 passes out of the backfield in 15 games for the Steelers.
Moore has only scored two touchdowns in the last 31 games he's appeared in. He may have been a key contributor during the 2008 Super Bowl run, but he was practically a ghost in the Steeler offense last season.
The emergence of Rashard Mendenhall as the feature back and Isaac Redman on the goal line already spelled doom for Moore going into the offseason.
Couple that with the fact that the team drafted a pass-catching back from Texas Tech in Baron Batch and signed former Big Ten Player of the Year John Clay today, and it seems fairly certain that Pittsburgh has little use for Moore's diminishing services.
Don't expect to see Mewelde Moore in a Steelers uniform in 2011 and beyond.
3. William Gay- Cornerback
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Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay is at a make-or-break moment in his brief NFL career. Can he be a legitimate starter or will he forever be a nickel or dime package player?
Gay had to start a lot for the Steelers in 2010. He recorded 48 tackles and 11 pass break-ups for the defense. Unfortunately, Gay had some poor performances in key moments for the Steelers and lacks elite speed to keep up with some of the receivers he plays with man-to-man.
The Steelers secondary was shredded in the Super Bowl and the team to this point hasn't addressed the defensive backfield outside of the 2011 NFL Draft. Gay doesn't have the power to demand much of a pay raise and will need to give Pittsburgh reason to believe he can improve in the future.
This is a team desperate for talent at cornerback, so it's not out of the question that William Gay returns to the team. But it wouldn't surprise me if they parted ways with him either.
2. Willie Colon- Offensive Line
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Offensive tackle Willie Colon suffered a season-ending injury in 2010 that could end up costing him his job with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011.
Colon, 28, missed the entire 2010 season thanks to a preseason injury. However, he was a starter for the 2008 Super Bowl squad and didn't miss a start from 2007-2009 at the tackle position.
Colon's injury prompted the team to sign Flozell Adams in 2010. Adams started in place of him and did a fairly nice job. But the fact of the matter is that Pittsburgh's offensive line needs an influx of talent after a few seasons of getting away with murder talent wise.
A few things need to happen for Colon to be brought back. The Steelers need to release the 36-year Flozell Adams, which would open up $5 million in cap space. The organization needs to believe that Colon's injury was temporary and won't hinder his long-term future.
The team also drafted mammoth rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert who they'd rather not start in his inaugural season. I think that Willie Colon could feasibly be re-signed by the club if the circumstances allow for the team to be flexible on the offensive line.
1. Ike Taylor- Cornerback
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The biggest question on the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason: should the team re-sign starting cornerback Ike Taylor?
Taylor has been the starting cornerback for Pittsburgh since the 2005 season. Taylor is a polarizing figure to Steelers fans.
On one hand, he's a great man-to-man player and is capable of having shut-down performances. On the other hand, he doesn't grab a lot of interceptions, and he's going to want a pay raise for his solid play, something that Steelers ownership is reluctant to do for their players.
This is a team that's struggling to get under the salary cap, and they'll need to pay Taylor at least more than the $4.5 million he's been making the last four seasons. Pittsburgh also needs a quality starter at cornerback and star free agent cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha and Carlos Rogers are simply out of the question financially.
I think at the end of the day the Steelers should re-sign Ike Taylor because he knows defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's defense and gives the team a solution at a position of need. He been healthy, reliable and productive for an otherwise weak secondary.