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Steelers restricted free agent tender projections

The deadline for the Steelers, and all NFL clubs, to tender their restricted free agents is quickly approaching.  They have key RFA’s that they can choose to tender if they want to retain the right of first refusal for them once free agency begins. WR- Mike Wallace, OL – Doug Legursky, OL – Ramon Foster, S – Ryan Mundy, TE – David Johnson, OL – Jamon Meredith, & CB – Keenan Lewis.

Here’s a look at what will take place starting on March 13th:

March 13, 2012: Start of free agency, 4 p.m. ET
March 13: Beginning of trade period, 4 p.m. ET
March 13: Deadline for submission of qualifying offers by clubs to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with fewer than three accrued seasons, 4 p.m. ET
March 13: Deadline for submission of qualifying offers by clubs to retain a right of first refusal / compensation to their RFAs, 4 p.m. ET

The first round tender will cost the team $2.74 million – ensuring they get a first round pick as compensation.

The second round tender will cost them $1.92 million – ensuring they get a second round pick in compensation.

The equal draft round tender will cost them $1.26 million – ensuring they get a draft pick equal to the round the player was originally drafted in.

As of the most recent cuts, the Steelers are between $10-$11 million under the salary cap but a good chunk of that, if not most of it, figures to be used up on their RFA’s.  Given the release of so many players the team may not go with the usual tendency to offer tenders to all of their restricted players, so we’ll have to wait and see. Most of them though figure to play a predominant role next season so it shouldn’t surprise us if they do try to bring back most or all of them. Assuming they stick with the par for the course mindset, here’s how it could play out.

Mike Wallace: This one is a given. Unless the front office can come to a long term contract offer with Wallace before the deadline, they’ll use the 1st round tender on him to ensure they get compensation should they decide to let him leave. Any team can sign Wallace to an offer sheet and the Steelers have that 7 day window to match it.  The market for him is still potentially there but given the huge list of free agent receivers out there he may not get what most originally thought might be available to him. Teams generally don’t give up first round picks for restricted free agents so the Steelers should be able to keep Wallace. If they were to let him go though, that first round pick could be used to help bolster the offensive line or middle linebacker positions for sure. – Projection: 1st round tender.

Ramon Foster: The Steelers figure to bring back Foster as well, he was the starting RG for most of the season after a short experiment with Doug Legursky in his place.  Foster is a solid run blocker and has been improving his pass protection over his first 3 years in the league. He had a very good year in 2010 playing between rookie Maurkice Pouncey and Flozell Adams. With the struggles at both center and right tackle last year, Foster had his ups and downs but he’s worth bringing back. He’ll be in the mix for the starting job again with Legursky and any potential draft picks.  Projection: 2nd round tender .

Doug Legursky: The best utility lineman in the NFL, Legursky is the quintessential jack of all trades, master of none.  “Gursk” has been a savior for Sean Kugler’s group since he’s been with the team, now 3 seasons. He started Super Bowl XLV at Center, and has played every position on the line since then due to injuries and inconsistent play of others.  With Maurkice Pouncey’s ankle injuries last year, Legursky played in his position quite extensively and is a valuable asset to the team.  He is recovering from shoulder surgery but should be fine for next year. Projection: 2nd round tender.

Ryan Mundy:  He’s been the main backup to both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark the last 2 years and considering he’s the only reserve Safety on the roster besides Will Allen, losing Mundy is not an option in my opinion. He was a originally a 6th round draft pick in 2008 and is certainly worth more than that to the team. Considering that the Safety pool in this years draft is weak, they would be wise to ensure his services. Mundy is also a standout on special teams as well, something they will certainly take into consideration.  Projection: 2nd round tender.

David Johnson: Played in all 16 games this season, at reserve tight end and also full back. He had 12 catches for 91 yds and 1 touchdown. Early in the year he was a regular safety valve for Ben Roethlisberger, picking up key first downs. Johnson was a 7th round pick in 2009 and probably isn’t going to get much attention in free agency. The Steelers should have no problems keeping him with a low tender. Even with rookie free agent Weslye Saunders suspended for the first four games of the upcoming season, Johnson isn’t worth using a 2nd round offer on at this point. Should he somehow leave, they can draft a late round player at his position to hold them over during Saunders’ suspension. Projection: draft round tender.

Keenan Lewis: Even with last years draft picks Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen on the roster, Lewis will have his shot to fight for the starting job opposite Ike Taylor next year. He played in all 16 games in 2011, ending with 37 tackles, 6 passes defensed, and 1 interception. After ending up in Mike Tomlin’s dog house in 2010 he turned things around last year and was the regular NB behind starter Will Gay. With Gay an unrestricted free agent, Keenan has a great of landing that starting job. Projection: 2nd round tender.

Jamon Meredith: He was signed to provide depth on the offensive line last year with Willie Colon went on injured reserve. He was inactive for most of the season except for a stint mid year when he filled in due to all the injuries.  There’s no reason to waste a tender offer on him at this point given what else they need to take care of. If they really want him back for training camp he’ll likely be available: Projection: No tender offer.

If this scenario unfolds they would be giving out over $11 million in offers which will eat up all of their available cash recently freed up, and then some. The front office can still restructure the deals of players like Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, and Casey Hampton for example, which will free up additional resources and give them some breathing room. I would expect to see a couple more restructures this offseason yet for sure. They’ll want to have some breathing room available for free agency should something happen this with injuries and what not.

If they would choose to not do more restructures then that makes David Johnson and Ramon Foster expendable most likely as well as possibly. Another move could be to release Will Allen, which would free up another $1.2 million or so. Clearly there is still work to be done but so far the front office has done an outstanding job, like always, in getting the team ready for next year.

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