The Pittsburgh Steelers are up against the salary cap again this offseason and they will have to make a lot of tough roster decisions. Last offseason, the team cut ties with veterans Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Bryant McFadden and others in order to get under the cap. This time around the Steelers are looking at the possibility of losing six starters from week one of last season to free agency and they may cut two or three more.
Max Starks OT, Ramon Foster G, Mike Wallace WR, Keenan Lewis, Larry Foote ILB and Casey Hampton NT are unrestricted free agents with James Harrison OLB, Brett Kiesel DE and Willie Colon G as candidates to be released. Realistically the Steelers will probably not lose every single one of these players and I believe Foster, Lewis, Foote and Keisel have the best chances to be retained. Until contracts are reached nothing is certain however and we will all have to wait and see how the Steelers handle free agency.
If Starks and Foster are allowed to leave in free agency and if Colon is then cut, that would mean the Steelers would have a completely revamped offensive line going into 2013. If they do not sign anyone in free agency or use a high draft pick on a guy the projected starting offensive line would be LT Marcus Gilbert, LG Kelvin Beachum, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Mike Adams. The only two spots that are decided as of now are with Pouncey and DeCastro as both will be uncontested starters going into the season. At the tackle positions there will be a competition between Gilbert and Adams for the LT spot and the loser will become the starting RT. Kelvin Beachum performed admirably late in the season at RT and it will be interesting to see how he handles becoming the starting LG.
If that truly becomes the Steelers starting offensive line the team will definitely be assuming that each player can handle the responsibility. Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams have both performed pretty well at RT but who knows if either is ready to become the starting LT for this team. Max Starks has done a great job protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside and the team better be sure one of these young guys is ready to make that step if they allow him to go to another team. If Ramon Foster is retained then he would be the starting G but if he is not, the Steelers would really be assuming that Beachum can make a smooth transition from guard to tackle and that he can handle a full season as the starter.
I am not trying to put down Gilbert, Adams or Beachum and I have been calling for the Steelers to play more young guys however, the offensive line is the one place where I’d rather have a few veterans. It’s not about whether or not I feel these guys can’t get the job done but more about the fact that none of us know for sure at this point. If this happens I will definitely be excited to see how these guys look in camp and how much they have developed.
I’ve watched the Steelers’ running game go nowhere the past few seasons and seen Ben get killed too many times because of an overmatched offensive line. I’m more worried about the LT spot at this point considering the beating Ben took when the Steelers decided to start Jonathan Scott instead of re-signing Starks a couple of seasons ago.
The key, obviously, will be for everyone to stay healthy as the two guys on the line to stay healthiest last season were the two who may be gone in Starks and Foster. If they do stay healthy I think the offensive line has the potential to be pretty good but until the 2013 season comes around we won’t know for sure.