Since the ship has sailed on the 2006 season, it's time to take an early look at the 2007 Steelers roster. I personally blame all of the problems on filming that music video with the Povertyneck Hillbillies. That supercedes all Cowher distractions, motorcycle crashes, appendectomies, torn ACLs, concussions, or nagging hamstring injuries as the downfall of the 2006 campaign. But enough about the Curse of the Hillbillies. On to your 2007 Steelers roster:
QB: Large Ben should be around for a while, and I am guessing Chaz Batch will be there to carry the clipboard and occasionally step in when Bart Scott tries to decapitate old #7 in future Ravens games. Brian St. Pierre will continue to be cut and re-signed well into the next decade. Long story short, don't plan on any new QBs other than the usual late-rounder and/or training camp sacrificial lamb that fans eventually fall in love with (hellooo, Mike Quinn and Pete Gonzalez).
RB: Willie Parker is on pace for a 1,300-yard, 13 TD season, yet the annual rumors persist about the Steelers acquiring T.J. Duckett as "Bettis II". You could bring back Bettis circa 1997 and he wouldn't make much of a difference behind this line. Just because he's big, burly, and a perceived malcontent does not mean he's another Jerome Bettis. Duckett had a career high of 779 yards in 2003, and his career has been in free-fall ever since then. Since he was dealt to Washington this season, and we can safely say that experiment has blown up in the lab, he's now failed with three coaches (Reeves, Mora, Gibbs). I just fail to see the infatuation with this guy. It seems like John Clayton has rumored Duckett as a possible Steeler since the moment he was drafted by Atlanta. I can understand drafting a young power-back as a change of pace back, but I think the ship has sailed on Duckett.
Parker, on the other hand, is one of the very few Steelers who is having a better 2006 than 2005. I think if the Steelers could figure out a way to truly utilize his talents, he could be a valuable asset for many years to come.
Najeh is an unrestricted free agent, so I'd put his odds on return at 50/50. Verron Haynes should be back is he has recovered from his knee injury as the third-down back, and John Kuhn will toe the line of practice squad/emergency RB.
Available UFAs include Ahman Green, Correll Buckhalter, Ron Dayne, Dominic Rhodes, and Musa Smith. But here's an even better choice as an RFA than a re-tread like Duckett: Michael Turner of San Diego. Speed and power. And he's never going to displace Tomlinson.
If the draft is the route you prefer, the top prospects are Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, and Kenny Irons.
FB: Dan Kreider, the pride of New Hampshire, should be back for his 8th campaign.
WR: You can pencil in Hines and Santonio and probably Willie Reid, if only because of the high pick invested in him. After that, anyone is fair game. Wilson and Washington are just not exceptional wideouts. And I was one of those pleading to give Washington a chance in the preseason, saying "if he can play, his pedigree (or lack thereof) should not matter". He has been simply too inconsistent. I guess you can technically count Sean Morey as a WR, but I am hoping he's not around in '07. He certainly hasn't helped the special teams one iota.
The free agent market has very little to offer in terms of potential help. The top UFAs are St. Louis' Kevin Curtis, Tennessee's Drew Bennett, and Houston's Eric Moulds. The top RFAs are Jacksonville's Ernest Wilford, New Orleans' Terrence Copper, and Dallas' Patrick Crayon. Slim pickins indeed.
The draft offers such intriguing prospects as Ted Ginn, Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Jarrett, and Jeff Samardzija. I wouldn't argue with seeing any of the aforementioned in black and gold.
TE: Whether they throw to him or not, Heath Miller is the present and the future. Jerame "It's Not a" Tuman will more than likely be back for his 800th season as a backup. Probably little change at this position.
OT: Max Starks and Marvel Smith have not had good years. Starks is an RFA, so there is at least the potential that he may not be back. The depth is in Willie Colon and Trai Essex, and I don't think either one is pushing for a starting job yet.
If there is a change made, there's always 6'6', 366 pound Leonard Davis of the Cardinals on the free agent market, or in the draft, 6'8", 315 pound Joe Thomas of Wisconsin. But if the Steelers are picking high enough to take Thomas, that means their problems are deeper than we could have ever imagined.
OG: Kendall Simmons' hold on the right guard spot has been tenuous at best. He could be replaced by Chris Kemoeatu any week now. Alan Faneca has endured a very trying season, but he will be back next year. Other than that, the cupboard is pretty bare. This will probably be their #1 or 2 pick in the draft. There's 6'4", 329 pound Justin Blalock of Texas, but not many other high-profile guards in this year's draft. If they want to make things interesting, they could sign Eric Steinbach, the Bengal UFA who was famous for "boating under the influence".
Center: I would guess this is the last go for Jeff Hartings, whether he wants it to be or not. Chukky Okobi could take over, or they could slide Simmons in and let Kemoeatu take his guard spot. Marvin Phillip is there as the backup in any scenario. Should be status quo, minus Hartings, in '07.
DE: Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith are both locked up long-term. Travis Kirschke will be there for depth. Rodney Bailey is a UFA, so he may not return. This could be a possibility for a mid-to-late round draft pick.
NT: Casey Hampton is one of the best in the biz. Chris Hoke is one of the best backups in the biz. No changes should be necessary.
LB: Here is where it gets reeeeal interesting. My gut tells me Joey Porter's days are numbered. There was a reason that James Harrison was signed for an extension last year. He will take Porter's slot in 2007. Farrior, Foote, and Haggans should all be back to round out the group. Chad Brown is a UFA and will probably be finished.
Farrior has probably seen his better days, and you could argue the same for Haggans. I don't know if Rien Wallace would be ready to step in for Farrior, perhaps in 2008, so they may be looking for an ILB high in the draft. As far as OLBs, Penn State's Paul Posluszny could be a possibility, depending on where the Steelers pick. I think if they don't go O-Line, it will be a LB in round one.
CB: Wow. We all thought the signing of Ike Taylor was the answer to our D-Back questions for the next five years. How quickly things change. Regardless, I would imagine Ike to enter camp as the starting CB opposite Bryant McFadden. I don't see Deshea Townsend as a starter next year. At least I hope I don't. This is a position crying out for depth and playmakers.
The top draft prospects are Leon Hall of Michigan, Darrelle Revis of Pitt, and Marcus McCauley of Fresno State. I can't speak for the other two, but I can say Revis is a prototypical shut-down corner. And as you know, he can also return a punt on occasion.
S: The big question facing the Steelers next is the long-term contract status of one Troy Polamalu. Persistent rumors have our favorite safety going to the west coast, but I'm hoping they find a way to get the job done. I think Ryan Clark and Anthony Smith are pretty safe bets to pencil in, but beyond that, there's not much else left at safety. Tyrone Carter and Mike Logan are both UFAs, so there is a chance one or both will not be back. They may go for a safety in a mid-to-late round, but don't expect any top picks invested in this spot.
P: Please, I beg of you, rid us of Chris Gardocki. That's all I ask.
K: Skippy Reed has not had a good year by anyone's account, but I don't anticipate a change here.
Coach: I think Kenny Wiz gets the job and Bill Cowher retires to watch girls' basketball for a year or two. By then, Joe Gibbs and/or Bill Parcells should be out of their respective situations and they will be at the top of the list to sign Mr. Bill.
Cowher will probably command $8-10 million a year upon his return, and if that's what Mike Holmgren gets, I don't know how Cowher could only be making $4 million. If you were making half of what you thought you were worth, I doubt you'd be enthused about your job either. Money gets brushed to the side when discussing Cowher's status, but trust me, money always talks. If the Rooneys pony up with the bucks I referenced above, I can guarantee Cowher would sign an extension tomorrow. And Kaye and the kiddos would have to made do on their own for a while longer