We are now under two weeks to go until the 2011 NFL draft and I have touched quite a bit on the Steelers current free agents and the upcoming draft. Now is the perfect time to fast forward a little ways and look at the Steelers players that will enter the final year of their contract in 2011. I am not listing 2010 free agent players that have been tendered like LaMarr Woodley, Willie Colon, William Gay, Matt Spaeth, Daniel Sepulveda and Tony Hills and am only focusing on players under contract who are going into their final season. I will list the players below that fit these criteria with a quick little comment on each.
Troy Polamalu – It is hard to imagine Polamalu not getting extended at some point in 2011 or early 2012. While he could be candidate for a franchise tag, it would only be used on him to buy more time to get a new deal done with him. Unless he suffers a career ending injury or decides to retire, he will be a top priority.
Mike Wallace – Wallace made the jump in his second season most hoped for in 2010 and he looks to build on that in 2011. He can stretch the field like very few others can in the NFL and if he has another great year in 2011; the Steelers could reward him with a new contract. Depending on how the new labor agreement pans out though, Wallace might be deemed a restricted free agent and the Steelers could put off his long term deal by tendering him a one year deal. It is hard to see him not getting one or the other this far out.
Lawrence Timmons – Timmons is easily one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL and is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Depending on if he is deemed a restricted or unrestricted free agent under the new labor deal will determine how the Steelers treat him. Should he end up being unrestricted he could be a candidate for the franchise tag and if restricted, a candidate to get a first round one year tender. The Steelers also could decide to go ahead and lock him up with a long term deal, but they have plenty of time to make that decision. Regardless, he will be back in 2012 barring something unforeseen.
Aaron Smith – At 35, 2011 will be the final season that Smith is with the Steelers. Should he stay healthy and contribute he will be an unrestricted free agent, but I am willing to bet he retires.
Flozell Adams – Adams has not even made the decision on if he wants to play in 2011. If he does, his future could be tied to the status of Colon as a free agent. The Steelers might also want him to restructure his contract as he is scheduled to earn 5 million in 2011. Even if he restructures to include one more year, 2011 will be his last in Steelers uniform. There is no need to worry about his future past this upcoming season.
Isaac Redman – Redman looks like a very safe bet to back up Rashard Mendenhall this season and could see his role increase depending on if unrestricted free agent Mewelde Moore is brought back. Redman will likely be an exclusive rights free agent after 2011 and the Steelers could tender him a minimum contract that he would have to sign if he wants to play anywhere in 2012.
Ramon Foster – Foster was an undrafted free agent and 2011 will be his third accrued season. The best case scenario for him is that he plays well and stays on the roster all season. If he does, he likely would be termed a restricted free agent depending on how the free agency works out and then at best receive a low grade, one year tender to come back and compete for a roster spot in 2012.
Keenan Lewis – Lewis has yet to live up to expectations since he was drafted in 2009 and the clock is ticking on him. He will likely be given every opportunity to win a starting spot in 2011 and his future with the Steelers relies on him contributing heavily in 2011. He will likely be termed a restricted free agent and could be in line for a one year tender for 2012 if he turns the corner.
Charlie Batch – Batch very well could make it out of training camp as the Steelers #3 quarterback. Dixon has been tendered so it likely will result in a training camp battle that will cost either Batch or Dixon their roster spot. Should Batch win the #3 spot, it undoubtedly will be his final year with the Steelers and I can\’t see Batch getting extended past this next upcoming year.
Byron Leftwich – Depending on the progress that Dixon makes this summer, Leftwich could find himself in a quarterback battle for the backup quarterback role. Both battled last year to see who would start while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended and it looked like Leftwich had won the battle until he was injured in the final preseason game against the Panthers. Leftwich has long since recovered from his knee injury and is the odds on favorite to back up Roethlisberger in 2011. Should Leftwich lose the backup job to Dixon I think he still will be the #3 quarterback on the roster at worse, but like Batch, he will not be a priority to get re-signed after the season.
David Johnson – Like Wallace, DJ is entering the final year of his rookie contract as well. He could have competition for his roster spot in 2011 should the Steelers draft another tight end and Spaeth ends up being brought back. Should Johnson stick in 2011, he likely will be termed a restricted free agent and his best hope is that the Steelers tender him a one year deal at the lowest level to compete for a roster spot in 2012. Regardless, he will not be a priority for the Steelers and 2011 will likely be his final season in a Steelers uniform.
Steve McLendon – It is unlikely that McLendon will even make the 53 man roster, but should he stick due to some unforeseen circumstance, he would be an exclusive rights free agent like Redman.
Limas Sweed – Sweed is a long shot to even make it out of training camp as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. The Steelers looked poised to draft yet another receiver later in the upcoming draft and Sweed would have to prove he is recovered from his Achilles injury and also must prove he has overcome the mental block he has. If he somehow makes the final 53 man roster the likelihood of him getting extended is remote. The best he can hope for if he sticks and ends up being restricted, is to get tendered for one more year. Miracles to happen I suppose.
In closing, Polamalu, Wallace and Timmons are the high priority guys as you can easily see after 2011. The Steelers do a great job of only having just a handful of these to address every offseason. I think Polamalu of course will be the highest priority of the 3 as he very well could end up being the only restricted one of the three.