Between now and the March 11 start of free agency in the NFL, the Steelers “have some work to do to be in compliance” with the salary cap that could include contract “terminations, restructures and extensions” along with players taking pay cuts, general manager Kevin Colbert said.
“We think everything will be manageable,” said Colbert, speaking Wednesday to a handful of writers at the team’s offices on the South Side.
Some of that could be painful as veteran players are released while under contract or not re-signed when their contracts expire March 11, as the Steelers have done the past few years with notoriety.
However, Colbert said they are in discussions with some of their own impending free agents to see if they can sign them to new contracts.
“It’s safe to say we’re exploring different ideas with different players,” Colbert said, adding that there is a “distinct possibility” they could sign some before they would become free agents.
One of those high on their list is Jason Worilds, although Colbert did not single him out. Previously, team president Art Rooney II mentioned Worilds as one the team would like to keep.
There has been a debate whether the team would keep Worilds or 29-year-old LaMarr Woodley, who lost his longtime position at left outside linebacker to the younger player during the 2013 season. Asked if both could be kept, Colbert answered, “Could we? Yes.”
However, Colbert acknowledged Woodley’s injuries that have caused him to miss 14 full games and parts of others over the past three seasons are a concern.
“LaMarr has had some durability concerns over the past couple of seasons. They have been legitimate injuries. I think any time a player has an injury, if it extends beyond the season, I think it does become a concern. It has to be, because if the player is not on the field he isn’t helping us.”
Colbert cited safety Troy Polamalu, who missed all but seven games in 2012 only to play every snap in 2013, as the “perfect example of someone who changed his [training] regimen with positive results.”
The Steelers are encouraged by linebacker Sean Spence’s potential to overcome his devastating knee injury as a rookie in the 2012 preseason, especially after he had “one great day of practice” while still on the physically unable to perform list last fall. Colbert said it would be naive to think Spence has gotten over the hump and will make it all the way back to playing again, but he will get the chance to show what he can do at least through training camp.
“Maybe the small sample he gave us [in practice] will show he can recover from his injury.”
Among other points Colbert made:
• The organization recognizes that Ben Roethlisberger, who turns 32 on March 2, has “only so many snaps left” and “we have to surround him with talent.”
“You’re fortunate to have a franchise quarterback,” Colbert said. “There’s nobody we’d rather have than Ben. We realize he doesn’t have 10 years left. … Hopefully, he stays healthy and we get the maximum number of years out of him.
“We have to make the most of those years we have left with our franchise quarterback.”
• The Steelers are “never going to say, ‘OK, we’re not going to be a contender, let’s gut this thing and start over.’ … I never want to see that day.”
• Joey Porter, added to the coaching staff on Tuesday, should help Jarvis Jones at right outside linebacker, where Porter excelled in his playing days with the Steelers.
• The Steelers’ situation at safety and cornerback is “probably not as deep as we’d like to be at either” and that “it depends on who leaves or who stays, that depth will change.”
• On the team’s second consecutive 8-8 record, Colbert feels, as does Art Rooney II, that the end of the 2013 season was more encouraging than a year previously.
“You can’t minimize the job coach Tomlin and the players did after an 0-4 start … but that doesn’t override the fact that we still weren’t good enough. Like I said, if we don’t accept the fact that we were 8-8, we’re going to mislead ourselves and we can’t do that.”
• The group of prospects available in the May draft is “as deep across the board as any draft I’ve seen in 30 years.” But Colbert is concerned that many in the record number of underclassmen opting for the draft will not be ready for the next step, thus the group “has a bigger chance of failing.”
• The Steelers do not plan to use the franchise or transition designations on any of their players. “They are always available to us. But, at this stage, I would say they would be doubtful.”