The Steelers have always used the same business practices each and every year when it comes to the offseason and deciding who to sign, for how long, and how much. Teams all around the sports world try to emulate what the Rooney’s do, and with good reason. Who can argue with 6 Super Bowl Trophies in their offices. This year with the uncertainly of the CBA clouding virtually everything though, the Steelers figure to still stay the course.
The two key free agents that they will concern themselves with are Cornerback Ike Taylor and Linebacker Lamarr Woodley. Under the most recent CBA a team could use a franchise tag or a transition tag on a player to buy themselves more time to work out a long term deal. The Steelers used the Franchise tag on Max Starks in 2009, and also on Jeff Reed in 2010. Normally when teams use a Franchise tag, a long term deal is reached before the start of the season and thus the tag can be discarded. The Steelers don’t take this procedure lightly and it’s rare to see them break out this type of scenario on a player unless they really feel it’s warranted.
Right now no player can sign with another team until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached. So guys like Woodley, Taylor, and the rest of the NFL free agents are in limbo. The teams can actively sign players to new deals if both parties agree, however doing so could possibly set a market value for that player’s position around the league and also lock a team into a deal that may not be so friendly to whatever the new cap may be. There will be some signings between now and March 4, however the chances of seeing a blockbuster deal get done anytime soon is remote. Everybody is waiting to see what happens over the next few weeks, and if a deal gets done you’ll see a flurry of teams scrambling to designate their players with tags (assuming the new deal has them in place). It’s widely assumed that when a new deal gets done, (if it’s beyond the deadline) there will be a grace period allowed for teams to place tags on their top priority players, so either way staying patient is a must right now. The Steelers haven’t over extended themselves heading into 2010 even with the absence of a salary cap, so don’t expect them to change now.
Woodley talked last week about expecting to get the Franchise Tag placed on him, and it very well could happen, but probably not until we know more of how the new CBA is going to work. The Steelers would be foolish to not bring back Lamarr, he has blossomed into a top pass rusher and his performance in the playoffs alone is worth it if you ask me. Ike Taylor has been the Steelers most consistent corner for years, but he will command a pretty hefty payday. The chances of the Steelers being able to bring back both are remote, however the consequences could pretty extensive if they don’t. The Steelers secondary is already a concern even with Taylor in the lineup. Gay is a good nickleback but often got picked on this past year . McFadden was injured off and on all season and just didn’t seem to be himself consistently. Regardless of what happens with Taylor the teams needs help at Cornerback for 2011. It was never more evident than in the Super Bowl; no need to relive that though.
Jason Worilds would be the next OLB in waiting if Woodley were to leave. The linebacking corp would still be strong but Worilds would be a question mark until proven otherwise. Plus you have to then address the linebacker position in the draft and/or free agency for depth. In the end it may cost more to go through all that than to just keep Woodley. Consider also that even with James Farrior coming back for a 15th season, he won’t last forever so the Steelers will need more depth at ILB sooner rather than later. Stevenson Sylvester appears to be ready to take the next step and has a good upside. The veteran Larry Foote could also come back to added support.
There is much work to be done this offseason, which we outlined in our article about the 2011 Free Agents, but right now it’s all just a waiting game. Regardless though the Steelers will stay the course, as we would expect, and let the NFL and NFLPA work out a deal and then start to work on a competitive 2011 roster.