The Steelers love to sign players to long term deals during training camp and preseason. Last year was one for the ages with Lamarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, and Troy Polamalu all inking deals close to the start of the season as well as Ike Taylor’s new contract. Arguably 4 of the more important players on the team, no question. This offseason the team is running tight against the cap again as we head closer towards the 2012 NFL draft. Nobody gave them a prayer to sign any extensions last year and they made it happen. There’s no reason to think it won’t happen again this summer too if they feel there are players worthy of the honor.
There aren’t a lot of big names fortunately for the Steelers. The careful planning of Kevin Colbert and the rest of the front office made sure they took care of as much business as possible last season. Quite an extraordinary feat considering the lockout tied up nearly all of the offseason. Many of those players agreed to contract restructures earlier this year to help ease the cap burden, as per usual.
After the draft has past the front office and coaches will continue to evaluate the roster and see where they might be able to free up some additional space. They still have players to restructure if they want, like Troy Polamalu and James Harrison for example. So with that potential freed up money who else might they consider giving a long term deal too before the season starts?
We can all say Mike Wallace of course, he’s the odds on favorite in everyone’s mind. He wouldn’t have to sign his 1 yr. tender to do so either, but knowing the Steelers they’re plan was likely to get him under the 1 yr. deal and then work on a long term contract after the draft. That can still happen if Wallace is willing to do the right thing and stay in Pittsburgh.
Who else might the team consider though for an extension? There are some options available for key reserve players or injured starters. Here’s a list of possibilities that also includes some UFA’s currently still available*
Antonio Brown – RFA after 2012 season
Emmanuel Sanders – RFA after 2012 season
Isaac Redman – Exclusive Rights free agent right now who signed his deal
Rashard Mendenhall – Free agent after this coming season
Ramon Foster – recently signed his 1 yr tender
Doug Legursky – recently signed his 1 yr tender
David Johnson – recently signed his 1 yr tender
Keenan Lewis (has yet to sign his first round tender)
Ryan Mundy (has yet to sign his first round tender)
Stevenson Sylvester – RFA after 2012 season
Charlie Batch – currently still an UFA
Byron Leftwich – currently still an UFA
Max Starks – currently still an UFA, recovering from knee surgery
Mewelde Moore – currently still an UFA
Other players starting to come towards the end of their contracts:
Ziggy Hood – UFA after the 2013 season
Brett Keisel – UFA after the 2013 season
Ryan Clark – UFA after the 2013 season
Right now it’s all speculation as to who might be up for an extension but obviously one of the top priorities is to try and get Ryan Mundy and Keenan Lewis to sign their tender offers. It’s likely both will before the draft, as we’ve already seen Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky and David Johnson sign theirs this past week. Neither has received any significant interest in free agency but their value to the Steelers is still very high. Mundy is primary backup at both Safety positions and Lewis will be in the mix for the starting job opposite Ike Taylor for 2012.
It makes sense to feel that either Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich will be back at some point after the draft. Dennis Dixon is exploring his options right now and the team is prepared to move on without him. Batch and Leftwich though are both good options to return on another cap friendly 1 or 2 yr. deal. My money is on Charlie Batch because he’s been with the team for so long and showed in the last 2 seasons that he can still play when called upon. What happens in the draft will likely affect which of these 2 returns.
The Steelers wouldn’t want to head into 2013 with Mendenhall an Redman both in free agent status if they can help it. With Rashard recovering from knee surgery and likely a candidate for the PUP list to start out, Redman is the man. I wouldn’t be surprised at all tried to sign him long term. His free agent value is still in question until we see how he does this year but if they were to wrap him up long term it could be a bargain price now.
Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown you would think would both be serious options since they are both RFA”s next year and Mike Wallace’s status is still up in the air to some degree. The signing of Jerricho Cotchery helps ease things a bit with his new 2 yr. deal signed this past week. However we shouldn’t be shocked if neither gets a new deal until next year. They still have to see how healthy Sanders can stay for an entire season. For Brown his breakout year in 2011 looks to lead to a bright future but since he’s still under his first contract and they own his rights next year, if any receiver is going to get a big deal yet it’s got to be Wallace.
You could make a case for many players on that list and we’ll get a better feel of who might be ahead of the other after the draft. Make your call as to who you think those players should be on tap for a new deal. Or perhaps you’re of the mindset that it’s time to clean house with many status quo players and start fresh; you certainly wouldn’t be alone in that thinking. This draft is pretty darn important to the future of the Steelers and those that may be on the bubble come final cut down time.
*The players listed as unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) wouldn’t technically be an extension if they signed but given that they are recent Steelers players it makes sense to assume that the team may still be looking to bring some of them back on a 1 or 2 yr. deal. The same goes with RFA’s who haven’t signed their tenders yet, it wouldn’t be an extension but rather a new deal even though the team does own their rights.