According to Steelers insiders Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribs Scott Brown, Kevin Colbert stated that no free agents on the Steelers roster are likely to be signed before the March 13th deadline at 4pm. That means all players who are not under contract at that time will hit the free agent market.
This doesn’t come as a real big surprise though when you think about it. The team still has work to do to get under the salary cap, which means more restructures and possible roster cuts as well. Even though they’ve made good progress over the last weeks with restructured deals for Ike Taylor, Lamarr Woodley, and Lawrence Timmons along with releasing Arnaz Battle and Bryant McFadden, they still need to free up a significant amount of money, rumored to be around $10 million.
This doesn’t mean that Mike Wallace is automatically gone, not by any means. Wallace is a restricted free agent right and the team said signing him to a long term deal is a top priority. They could use a franchise tag on him if they had too but that’s not going to be a very cap friendly deal no matter how you look at it. It would buy them some time though to work out a deal with him before he would hit the market in 2013.
There is a bit of a silver lining though in that the Steelers really only have 1 high priced free agent to worry about, and that is Wallace. They secured Woodley, Timmons, Ike Taylor, and Troy Polamalu last year which even if they are in salary cap jail right now it’s better than trying to scramble to get all those deals done quickly. They will want to try and retain other key players though too if they can, such as DB Keenan Lewis, G Ramon Foster, S Ryan Mundy, & Jerricho Cotchery. Isaac Redman is an exclusive rights free agent which means that he cannot talk with any other team but the Steelers so it will just be a matter of time before they get him signed to a deal.
Let’s remember too, things can change in a hurry. Just because the team as of right now is still over the cap; they can make moves to free up significant money quickly so keep an eye out in the coming days and weeks as more changes are sure to come.
Colbert also mentioned Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward today saying that there’s a good chance that Mendenhall won’t be ready for the start of the season and could be on the PUP list at that time. Also he reiterated that no decision has been made on the future of Hines Ward yet.
An excerpt from Colbert’s press conference, you can read it in it’s entirety here:
Q. What’s the process involved in deciding who gets cut? Does it lean more toward the cap number of the player, his age, or is it always more about his production?
A. Ultimately you make decisions based on what’s best for your football team, and that’s a combination of talent and cap. It’s not solely cap. If a player has a high cap number, then he should be performing at a high level and have a chance to continue performing at a high level. Your evaluations are going on all year. It’s not something you sit down and do at the end of the season. You get a feel for where your team is and where it needs to improve even as you’re still playing. You’re trying to win week to week, but that’s more the coach’s job. Part of my job is to be thinking about how we can assist the coaches in trying to win week to week, but I’m also keeping an eye on the big picture as to what we really are and what we need to do, not only to try to win a championship in a given year but also to try to secure opportunities to win a championship in future years.
Here’s a list of the Steelers free agents and their status heading into the 2012 off season:
Restricted Free Agents: Team can tender offer these players before Free Agency begins and have to right to match any offer they receive from another team if they choose too based on that tender amount:David Johnson -TE Doug Legursky – OL Ramon Foster – OL Keenan Lewis – CB Ryan Mundy – S
Exclusive Rights Free Agents: Player can basically take what their current team offers or leave the NFL.Isaac Redman – RB Steve McLendon – NT
Unrestricted Free Agents: Once the players contract is up they are free to entertain any offer from any team and sign where they choose. It’s best to lock up these players before they hit the open market if it’s the current teams desire to keep these players.Byron Leftwich – QB Charlie Batch – QB Dennis Dixon – QB Mewelde Moore – RB Jericho Cotchery – WR Trai Essex – OL Max Starks – OT William Gay – CB Daniel Sepulveda – P