Pittsburgh Steelers: Players on Their Way out of the Burgh
One of the Pittsburgh Steelers' mantras is, "we don't have backups, we have starters in waiting."
This philosophy is one of the reasons that the Steelers are prepared to handle the injuries that come to every team, because the guys that are not the starters are still preparing and practicing as if they were starters.
One of the down falls of this, at least for some of the players, is that if you are not playing up to "speed," the guy on the depth chart behind you is ready to take your position.
That is what has happened to starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu. Due to his struggles over the last few weeks, Mike Tomlin has decided to make a change to the offensive line and demote Kemoeatu in favor of Doug Legurski.
Likewise, here is a list of players that are in the process of playing their way out of the Burgh after the 2011 season.
Since taking over for the departed Alan Faneca in the 2007 season, Chris Kemoeatu has been the one constant along the Steelers offensive line.
When the Jets tried to lure Kemoeatu from the Steelers when he was a free agent in '09, many thought the Steelers overpaid to retain Kemo's services.
With a contract of five years and $20 million, with $7 million guaranteed, it was believed that Kemo would play out his entire contract until 2013.
That does not appear to be the case anymore, as Kemoeatu has been demoted in favor of backup center Doug Legursky.
Though Legursky is not clearly better than Kemoeatu, Kemo has had a run of bad games which Mike Tomlin is no longer interested in dealing with.
With the offensive line's resurgence since the arrival of the lighter Max Starks, the Steelers seem to be putting the final pieces together for another Super Bowl run.
If Kemo does not turn things around, then he could be losing the remaining balance on his contract.
When the Steelers traded with the Arizona Cardinals during the 2009 NFL Draft to re-acquire Bryant McFadden, they were beyond desperate at the corner position.
With the exception of Ike Taylor, there was no one on field that worthy of even playing nickel, let alone starting.
Here we are, two years later, and McFadden has found himself on the bench, behind Will Gay (who most thought would not even be brought back) and Keenan Lewis; McFadden has found himself playing special teams instead of defense.
Though there is nothing wrong with playing special teams—and McFadden has done a good job of it—that role is for younger players looking to ear their way on the team, as starters in waiting.
Furthermore, teams don't pay special teams players an annual $2.5 million salary.
Though McFadden lost his starting job because of injury, he has been unable to take it back now that he is healthy. That $2.5 million could go to other players that are in the long-term plans of the Steelers.
McFadden isn't one of them.
Though Aaron Smith will always be considered as one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL, it appears that his career is going to end on IR.
Smith is in the final year of his contract and the odds the Steelers bring him back for anything other than the league minimum are slim to none.
Having played in only 15 games over the last three years, there is no justification for the Steelers to keep Smith around, unless he wants to be a coach.
In an interview on KDKA-TV, the local CBS affiliate, prior to the start of the 2010 regular season, Smith said that he would play as long as the Steelers wanted him to.
When the Steelers say they are done, then so is he.
Hines Ward will always hold a special place in the hearts of Steelers Nation. He is a one-of-a-kind player, and when he leaves the NFL, he will do so as the greatest Steelers receiver ever.
Lynn Swann and John Stallworth fans may disagree with me, but looking at Wards' stats—and considering most of his career was played in the Bill Cowher era, where passing was an after-thought—Ward did more with less than Swann or Stallworth.
The reality of the NFL is, right now, Hines Ward is the fifth best receiver on the team. He is behind Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and has been passed on the depth chart by Jericho Cotchery.
The fifth receiver spot is supposed to be used for a player you are grooming for the future, not one you are holding on to for the past.
Besides, Cotchery has played like Hines Ward from four years ago, and to have Ward on the field at this point is more a liability than a blessing.
I expect the Steelers to use some of the next few weeks, when they are playing lesser teams, to try to get Ward more playing time so he can pass the 1,000 reception mark (needs 19), and the 12,000 reception yards mark (needs 30 yards).
After that, hopefully Ward will spend a year or two in the broadcast booth before deciding to return to the Steelers as the receivers coach.
As great as he has been since joining the team as a free agent after the '01 NFL season, James Farrior is another Steelers legend whose best days are far behind him in the rear view mirror.
As the defensive captain for 10 years, and the leading tackler for almost as many, Farrior has been one of the cornerstones to the Steelers defense.
Over the last two years, Farrior, and his production, has obviously started to drop off; he has become a liability in pass coverage, and at times this year, he has been replaced by Larry Foote.
As great as Farrior has been, his numbers are on the decline, as he is set to record his lowest total in tackles this year since joining the Burgh.
Charlie Batch is a great story for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Batch was a Steelers fan his entire life. After being drafted by the Detroit Lions, he came to Pittsburgh when his contract was up in, leaving behind a starting career to be a backup for the Steelers in '02.
Batch has done what so many kids from Pittsburgh dream of when they are young: being on the roster when the Steelers finally "won one for the thumb." Batch has also won one for the other thumb as well.
At the age of 37, the roster spot Batch is taking up is simply too important going forward.
With Byron Leftwich returning from a broken arm next year, and Dennis Dixon probably leaving as a free agent, the Steelers will need that roster spot for someone to groom for the future of the backup position.
Chris Hoke is a reliable backup for Casey Hampton, but at 35 it is possibly time for him to hang up the cleats.
The Steelers have Casey Hampton as the starter, and Scott McLendon as the primary back up at this point; odds are the team will be either signing a free agent or drafting another NT to be the long-term replacement for Hampton.
Hampton still has a couple good years left, so he is not going anywhere, while McLendon has shown to be a capable backup.
This leaves Chris Hoke as the odd man out.
Though all of these players have done a great job for the Steelers, and all of them will be missed, there is always a point in every NFL player's career where he must walk away.
Most of these players have finished their careers, while others simply were not good enough for lengthy careers.
The cold hard facts are, these players represent around $26 million of the Steelers salary cap, and none of them can justify their cap hits any longer.
It is said that it is better to get rid of a player a year too early, than a year too late; I think it is the right time to get rid of these players—neither too early or late.