According to Will DePaoli of InsidePittsburghSports and ESPN’s Adam Schefter, via twitter, the Steelers have informed long time defensive end Aaron Smith that he will be released.
@TIOPS_DePaoli: #Steelers inform long-time defensive end Aaron Smith they are releasing him
This is another one that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. His cap hit was scheduled be just under $3 million for 2012 so releasing him will free up even more money for the Steelers who just about a week ago were still about $8 million over the projected $120 million limit. It’s not even that they had to do this because of financial reasons; if Smith were healthy they could have carried that salary or done a restructure. This move seems to be more of just the fact that Smith just hasn’t been able to stay healthy over the last 3 years and they need more reliable depth at his position.
In his prime, #91 was well regarded as the best 3-4 defensive end in the game, the epitome of how to play the position. The last 3 seasons though he’s been unable to play in a combined 15 games fighting through various injuries that landed him on injured reserve. Smith has been a quiet guy; your prototypical “lunch bucket” type of player. He never gave the Steelers any reason to voice displeasure with his play and he never caused a media stir with outlandish comments. He just came to work, did his job, and went home to his family.
With all his injury issues over the last 3 seasons and the fact that Smith is such a family man, it’s unlikely that he’ll go elsewhere to find a deal and appears to be set for retirement. Smith mentioned in an interview within the last year that the Steelers would probably have to tell him it was time to leave because he won’t want to stop playing. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert talked about Aaron in some recent offseason interviews with the local Pittsburgh media and mentioned that he was continuing to rehab but hadn’t yet made a decision on whether to return.
The Steelers have spent recent high draft picks on Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward in anticipation of getting younger on their defensive line. Hood especially has been pressed into duty and has steadily improved his game as he seems to have found a home in Smith’s former position. Heyward saw limited action in his rookie year as he mainly backed up Brett Keisel but with Smith gone now and Hood the starter; Heyward should see action backing up both sides while he continues to learn his craft.
These types of moves have been a long time coming and more could be on the way with fan favorites like Larry Foote or James Farrior.