Signing Ryan Clark, Drafting Help Are Pittsburgh Steelers' Top Priorities

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IMarch 1, 2010

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Ryan Clark #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after James Harrison #92 of the Steelers scored on a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against  the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Disappointing seasons on the field often portend busy offseasons off it.

That's not exactly the case in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers have an already talented roster that simply failed to meet expectations in 2009 after winning Super Bowl XLIII.

Sure, there are needs and wants, but for the most part the Steelers are only retooling in small ways, hoping that they can win mostly with players already on the roster.

As always, the Steelers will look to improve through the draft.

Here's a breakdown of where the team needs to concern itself as it prepares for the 2010 NFL season.

Free Agency

Forget about the uncapped year. The Steelers (as well as any other teams smart enough to know better) will not go all in for what is probably a one-shot chance to buy a championship.

In fact, attempting to buy a championship hasn't worked for most professional sports franchises (see the New York Yankees 2001-2008 for examples).

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The Steelers have already gone public saying that they will tabulate the probable number for a 2010 salary cap and then spend accordingly. As fans, we should expect nothing less than that intelligent approach.

That being said, the Steelers will at least look into some of the potential free agents, particularly when it comes to defensive backs and even role-playing running backs.

Could the team potentially make a run at LaDainian Tomlinson for a Jerome Bettis-type role behind Rashard Mendenhall? If the price is right, sure. Tomlinson's bruising style could be just what the team needs, but the Steelers won't overpay for an over-30 running back who will likely get less than half of the touches in 2010.

What about Antrel Rolle, recently released by Arizona? He can play corner or safety, so he could potentially help out at either position (depending on the status of Ryan Clark).

Rolle will probably be too expensive. He was expecting to make $12 million this season, so his price won't come down far enough for the Steelers to consider him a viable option.

The biggest potential signing off the free agent list?

Ryan Clark.

Clark is steady, he knows the system (having played in it obviously), and he wants to be here. If the numbers are right, and there is every indication that they will be, Clark should be back in black and gold soon.

If he's not, then things get dicey.

After Clark, I'd like to see the Steelers kick the tires on Tomlinson and at least see what he wants and what he thinks his role should be. There's no harm in talking.

If not that, I'd say the Steelers could look at other running backs (not Thomas Jones or Darren Sproles, who are too expensive and still looking for starting gigs) to fill in the depth behind Mendenhall. I have no illusions about Mewelde Moore being the team's top backup, so I'm certain some addition will be made.

Free agency is never a big concentration for Pittsburgh, and the uncapped year and plethora of names available likely won't change that fact.

The Draft

Here is where the Steelers do their work every year. They are one of the top drafting teams in the NFL and haven't missed on a first round pick in over a decade. Their second round success is quite shaky, but they did pluck LaMarr Woodley from there a couple years back.

The Steelers select 18th this year by virtue of their 9-7 record. The middle of the first round has been dicey the past few years with a lot of hits and misses.

The Steelers are likely to look for secondary help and offensive linemen with their first round pick, so safety Earl Thomas (Texas) and linemen Mike Iupati (Idaho) and Trent Williams (Oklahoma) are their top targets.

The Steelers could trade up in the round if they seek a potential James Farrior replacement (such as Rolando McClain of Alabama), but the team has holes that need to be plugged now, not in the future.

My personal bet would be a lineman since the Steelers haven't been able to find consistently productive guys in the middle and late rounds.

Whichever spot the Steelers don't address in the first round will likely be taken care of in the second round. It's anyone's guess right now who will be available when they pick again, however.

The Steelers would be wise to look into safeties even if they re-sign Clark. Troy Polamalu's injury history is worrisome, and Clark is no spring chicken. Being ready for the future is always a Steelers philosophy.

After the secondary and offensive line, the Steelers should address their defensive line, linebackers, and possibly even wide receiver. While Mike Wallace's emergence gives the Steelers a viable trio, Hines Ward won't be around forever. Farrior is also reaching the end of the line, so his replacement should be sought soon.

In the late rounds, the Steelers might want to look at kickers just in case they can't hammer out a long-term deal with the clutch Jeff Reed.

Contract Situations

Jeff Reed and Ryan Clark are the obvious internal issues to resolve first. Clark's is paramount because he is not under a tag for 2010. Once his situation is resolved, the Steelers should focus efforts on signing Reed long-term.

Usually, kickers are replaceable. But with the uptick in kicker importance (although Sebastian Janikowski's contract was a bit over the top) in the last few seasons and the unique importance for the Steelers (given the difficulty of Heinz Field's conditions), the Steelers may be wise to shell out a few more dollars in an offer to Reed.

Contract extensions shouldn't be too important this season. The new collective bargaining agreement will likely change contractual provisions in some way, so the team might be wise to hold off on long-term deals for veterans who have a year or more left on their current contract.

The salary cap situation on the other side of this labor unrest is also up in the air, meaning the team could have more or less money to spend in the long run.

It's never bad to be cautious with money. Plus, any time the Steelers have let a player walk who balked at contract figures (Mike Merriweather comes to mind here), they've managed to come out on top.


The Steelers have their coaching staff completed for 2010, but the team will benefit from a few stylistic changes.

Dick LeBeau got exposed a little last season. He's still one of the best, if not the best defensive mind in football, but he gameplans for scenarios involving Troy Polamalu. Without one player, the Steelers defense fell apart.

A little more exotic look would help tremendously. If the Steelers incorporate some different formations and player combinations (utilize Ziggy Hood even when his top linemen are healthy), the team could be a dangerous and unpredictable unit in 2010.

On offense, the Steelers must achieve better red zone results. A renewed interest in running the ball near the goal line would help, as would vastly improved play calling. With Bruce Arians on board for at least one more year, the improvement in the play calling can only come from Ben Roethlisberger taking over in the huddle and calling his own plays.

I have full confidence in Roethlisberger as a play caller, and I think he would know better than anyone how to create a score.

There's the blueprint. I'll revisit this article in Training Camp and see how close I came. Stay tuned for that!

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